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Meaningful Conversations

Updated: Sep 30, 2021

Went to a conference recently and heard a presentation by Carolyn Bryant of ThinkFeelKnow Australia on meaningful conversations.  Thought I would provide a brief summary of her talk here.

Lots of conversations as leaders (or really as humans) are difficult to have.  As you are reading this your mind is probably wandering straight away to a difficult conversation – or confrontation.  Whether it was a performance management discussion, difficult conversation with a family member, or just having to tell someone something difficult to receive, having these kinds of conversations is just hard work!

Here are seven steps to holding a meaninful conversation – particularly in a work setting:

  1. Set an Agenda – but not yours.  By all means set a global agenda of what the meeting is about, but start the meeting by asking the other person what they would like to get from the meeting.  Your agenda can get solved too, but unless you hear from the other person in the meeting up front what they are expecting then the whole meeting can be derailed from the beginning.  I hear you saying “but they will just say you called the meeting you tell me” – that’s ok – what you are trying to do is open communication lines so that you hear from the other person up front in case they have other issues that need to be dealt with as part of the meeting.

  2. Set the Scene – talk through the meeting process, what time it will finish, and any expected interruptions etc.

  3. Ask Questions – get all the information needed regarding the specific agenda that is being discussed, taking into account the answers given to step 1 by the other person.  Ask lots of questions to help improve understanding of the issues.

  4. Engage – move to engaging in the meeting to work through the issues.  When you engage in the discussion, you need to engage in BOTH THINKING AND FEELING.  This means you need to listen as well as talk, and read the other persons body language (after all 70% of all communication is non verbal).  Listening helps you understand both content and context, so learn to listen.  We have one mouth and two ears – try to use them in the same proportion.

  5. Pause – breathe, slow things down, take in what is being said and process it.  Make sure you have covered everything that needs discussing.

  6. Summarise – an important step.  Summarise the conversation and the outcomes and get agreement from the other person to the summary.

  7. Action – discuss minutes and outcomes from the meeting – who is going to do what.

The above are some useful steps to go over in your head, to make sure you are not prematurely sabotaging your meetings by cutting out important steps and alienating the other person.  Some of these steps are challenging, but give them a try in your leadership and you may find that they improve the meaningfulness of your meetings too.

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