Countdown to #DevLearn: The Importance of Conversational Competence

There are a number of different skills that L&D professionals need to develop competency in. Depending on your role you may need competency in design, development, strategy, support, administration, technology, change management, or a host of other skills. But there’s a new competency emerging, one that is becoming increasingly critical: Conversational Competence.

What is Conversational Competence?

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The phrase “conversational competence” literally means “the ability to engage in a conversation”. But in practice, the definition is more complex. For me, the definition is less about the mechanics of participating than it is in the context.

For example, if you were to start a conversation with me about Star Wars, I could participate and contribute to the conversation at a deep level due to my knowledge of the subject (I’m a big fan). My conversational competence in that subject would be high. Contrast that with a scenario in which you asked me to join in a discussion about ancient Egypt. I know very little on that subject, so my conversational competence in that area would be very low.

In short, conversational competence is the level of conversation someone can participate in based on the knowledge one has on the subject.

Conversational Competence Yesterday

In order to understand why conversational competence is becoming so important for L&D professionals we need to go back in time a bit, and examine some of the major technologies that disrupted the way businesses operate and, in turn, shifted some of our approaches in L&D.

Think about the desktop PC. It launched a major change in how businesses operate, including how we train, educate, and support people in their work. Younger readers may not recall that disruption, but you may instead relate to a similar arc with the emergence of the smartphone. In both cases, L&D professionals needed to develop knowledge on what these technologies were and how they worked in order to participate in conversations on how we might use them for L&D.

PCs and smartphones have another few things in common in their emergence in L&D. Both were major disruptions that fundamentally changed how we distribute and consume information. For the most part – and this is a critical point – they were both single disruptions that we could focus on largely in isolation. In other words, there weren’t other major changes of that magnitude going on at the same time.

This enabled conversational competence to be a natural byproduct of the emergence of the technology. As the technology continued to rollout out more broadly and become normalized in our day-to-day, our conversational competence developed accordingly. We didn’t need to be intentional about conversational competence. It developed as a natural part of the emergence of these technologies.

Conversational Competence Today, and Tomorrow

Today’s technology landscape is radically different than what we’ve seen in the past. Where desktop PCs and smartphones emerged largely in isolation over the course of almost 20 years, we are now seeing a host of new and disruptive technologies, many of which have the potential to be as or more disruptive than PCs or smartphones, all emerging within the same very tight timeframe.

While exact timelines are difficult to predict, it’s reasonable to expect a number of new technologies to emerge in our lives over the next few years including AR, VR, IoT, AI, Data Analytics, Machine Learning, Blockchain, and more. Each of these has the potential to shift how we live, work, and learn in significant ways.

This creates a unique challenge for L&D professionals. While some L&D groups might proactively explore some of these technologies, few will actively explore all of them. At the same time, many organizations are already exploring ALL of these new technologies and more. That creates a gap, and a risk.

Another way of looking at conversational competence is via this example. Let’s say the head of your I.T. Department comes to your desk and says “We’re giving the front line AR headsets to improve their productivity. Let’s talk about how you’re going to support it.”

Are you ready to contribute to that discussion?

Many of the disruptive technologies that are coming to our organizations will be coming through I.T. and business units, and they’re going to expect L&D to support the rollouts.

Conversational competence is about being knowledgeable enough about the emerging technology landscape so that when a conversation emerges, we are ready, able, and willing to contribute to it. It’s also something that is critical in today’s rapidly changing world, and something that we can no longer be passive about. We need to make be intentional about developing our conversational competence.

How to Develop Conversational Competence

So how does one intentionally develop conversational competence? There are a number of ways that you can develop this skill set as part of your day-to-day work.

Be Curious

Curiosity plays a big role in learning, especially when you want to develop conversational competence in an area you aren’t using in your day-to-day work. Developing a natural curiosity about new technologies is one of the best ways to stay ahead of the curve.

Look Outside L&D

While understanding new technologies within the context of L&D is great, it’s increasingly not enough. If you want to understand how technology will change the ways we learn, you have to look at how technology is changing how we live. That’s a conversation beyond L&D. Look to sources that explore how cutting-edge technologies are emerging (Consumer Electronics Show, TechCrunch, etc.) to tap into tech conversations, and then put that information into the context of L&D.

Ask Contextual Questions

As you explore new technologies, always consider core questions that put what you’re learning into context, such as:

  • “How does this technology change behavior?”
  • “How would my organization use this?”
  • “What new capabilities might this tech bring to L&D?”

Connect with Forward-Leaning Peers

One of the best ways to develop conversational competence is to connect with peers that stretch you in that direction. These could be early adopters, people naturally curious about emerging technologies, or peers from other industries. Being intentional about connecting with those who have the conversational competence you’re looking to develop is a great way to develop your own conversational competence.

Develop Your Conversational Competence at DevLearn

One great resource that can support all of the developmental suggestions made above is the DevLearn Conference and Expo, taking place October 24-26 in Las Vegas. DevLearn is where our industry gathers each year to explore how technology is changing the future of training, education, and learning.

At DevLearn you’ll find sessions and resources exploring all of the technologies described in this post, plus more. It’s a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the cutting edge technologies that are poised to disrupt organizational learning in the future. You can spend a few days learning and developing your conversational competence, as well as competencies to support all of the knowledge and skills you need for your job today.

More importantly, you’ll connect with peers that can help continue your development all year long.

Join us for DevLearn this fall, and prepare yourself for the future of learning.


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