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2 Steps to Continually Improve Your Conversations

What to do before and after a conversation to ensure effective results.

Key points

  • Preparing intentions for a conversation and then taking time after to reflect on what transpired can improve the flow of your interactions.
  • Before the conversation, set two intentions—one for the goal you want to achieve together and one for how you want the other person to feel.
  • To continually improve the effectiveness of your conversations, carve out time to reflect on what transpired shortly after the experience.
Source: Jirsak/Depositphotos
Source: Jirsak/Depositphotos

If you want good results from your conversations, both live and remote, there are two steps you should take each time. Whether you think the conversation will go smoothly or be bumpy, these two steps will help you achieve the outcomes you desire from all your interactions. They are intention preparation and follow-up reflection.

Intention Preparation

You will have two intentions, one focused on achieving a task goal and the other on how you want people to feel.

Goal Intention: You may have a desired outcome for the interaction based on a tangible goal you want to achieve. You should also consider what the person or group you are addressing wants to have as a result of the interaction.

To let people know you understand and respect what they want, start with this statement when you first speak. Clearly and sincerely explain what you believe to be their desired outcome. Let them know your intention is to find a way to work together so they walk away feeling you have found a way forward together. People need to feel you genuinely care about their desires or they will assume you just want them to do something for you.

Then you can share what you want as an outcome. If your desire for a solution or new way forward complements theirs, then say how what you want overlaps with their desires. If your goal is different, then share what you are willing to do to negotiate so everyone accomplishes something of value.

You might ask for confirmation that you understand what they want to be sure there is an agreement before working to blend your outcomes. This agreement will make it easier to create an acceptable plan.

People Intention: Know how you want people to feel during the conversation and when you walk away. Whatever you want them to feel — curious, comfortable, courageous, patient, or hopeful — you should intentionally feel the same way as you mentally prepare.

Whether you are alone in your office or in a crowded hallway, before you engage in the conversation choose two emotions you want others to feel. Say these words to yourself as you breathe them into your body. Feel the emotions settle in to your heart and gut.

If you get irritated or anxious during the conversation, take a breath and remind yourself of the two emotions you chose to feel. Remind yourself that you value your relationship before you respond to their words. It is important you model the behavior you want others to portray. It’s also important you consistently model the emotions you want everyone to feel.

Be aware of your emotions when you ask questions. When you ask how they see the challenge and what solutions they have considered, ask out of curiosity, not to overtly point out holes in their logic. If your intention is to get them to see the faults in their thinking, they will see you trying to convince them they are wrong instead of working to find a solution. They will either become defensive or shut down instead of opening up.

Ask questions with the intention to understand how they think about a situation and how their past experiences led them to believe what will happen next. Your questions should stimulate them to consider the validity and relevancy of their thoughts without you pushing this analysis. Seek to understand their thinking. This could open them to want to understand your perspective as well, leading to creative collaboration.

Even a why question can be generative if you are asking with compassionate curiosity. Ask "why do you think that happened or will happen?" not "why did you do that?" to keep the conversation open.

If you take even a few minutes to mentally prepare your intentions for an interaction, you will have a broader context for the follow-up reflection. When you are clear about what you might achieve together and how you want people to feel you are more likely to stay in control while allowing an easy flow of ideas.

Follow-up Reflection

The educational reformer John Dewey said, “We do not learn from experience ... we learn from reflecting on experience.” Often this reflection happens days, months, or years after an event occurs. You can shorten this process by deliberately carving out reflection time shortly after you have a conversation or experience.

Resist the urge to grab your phone after an event to see what texts or emails you missed. You will forget details. When you recall the event later, your memory is distorted by your current environment, the experiences you have had since the time of the event, and the mood you are in. You pull out details from your memory and piece them together like a jigsaw puzzle, weaving in other memories and emotional reactions.1

To learn from any experience, find a few minutes to answer these questions as soon as you can after it is over:

  1. Did you achieve what you wanted out of the experience?
  2. What turned out to be most important about engaging in this experience?
  3. What went well?
  4. What needs to happen now?
  5. What did you learn that will help you in the future?

Regardless of the degree of controversy you anticipate, mentally preparing your intentions for a conversation and then taking time after to reflect on what transpired will improve the flow of all your interactions. You will not only achieve satisfying outcomes, but you will also strengthen your relationships.


1 Marla Paul (2012). "Your Memory is like the Telephone Game: Each time you recall an event, your brain distorts it." Published on Northwestern Now found at…

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