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Dec 31 2013

3 Essential Ingredients of a Meaningful Conversation

Published by under communication,Speaking

What I remember most about being home from college for the holidays is deep, meaningful conversations with people.  My mom was the master of this art.  One year I had a traumatic experience with a man- the kind that shapes you forever- and when I arrived home, I was sad and frightened.  Even though I didn’t say anything at first, Mom, of course, picked up on that; I can still see us in the laundry room folding clothes, crying together and talking for hours.  I credit my mom with the renewed sense of hope and courage with which I went back to college that January.

However, it seems that many people are concerned that we are no longer conversing with each other – anywhere.  In the article Now that everyone is connected, is this the death of conversation? Simon Jenkins discusses this in great detail.  He quotes Sherry Turkle, MIT professor and author of Alone Together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other, We have confused connection with conversation – the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship.”

I am not convinced that conversation is dead, at least in my world.  But I see the need for a refresher on how to have a conversation that is meaningful; I want to encourage us all to have those conversations now before we forget how.  Therefore, reflecting on meaningful conversations I’ve had over the years, I have attempted to put together a recipe – one that can be used in any situation whether at home or at the office.  I’ve come up with three ingredients for that recipe, but I’d love to hear from you if you know of others.  My three ingredients are inquiry, implicit communication, and humor.

Senior adults with their adult children.


I tend to see the glass half full. When in conversation, I expect the other person is well intentioned even if the conversation is difficult.  Sometimes, I am disappointed, but, for example, I prefer to agree to disagree rather than assume people are jerks if they have a different opinion.  This perspective also allows me to be curious and ask questions.  I’ve learned a lot about life and people by being curious and I’ve found that people appreciate being asked about their ideas and experiences.

“You can cross huge divides when you engage in dialogue or conversation from a position of inquiry, and if you do that from an appreciative stance, it means your inquiry is looking for what to appreciate or value in that other person’s story.” (Appreciative inquiry and Robyn Stratton-Berkessel: A conversation – Los Angeles Business Strategies |

Appreciative inquiry is a term used to describe a specific process of communication that has had tremendous success, particularly in areas of strife between different cultures.  To Robyn Stratton-Berkessel, it is a way of life.  Even without knowing the exact process, the idea of appreciative inquiry is powerful and will result in more meaningful conversation.  To apply it, we need to remain respectful and hopeful, with the courage or conviction to keep the conversation going. We must remain open to each other with a desire to learn and grow.  And we must then ask meaningful questions rather than superficial ones that merely fill the silent spaces.

Implicit communication

In spite of the power of inquiry to create a meaningful discussion, often it is what is unsaid that matters most.  We all know the feeling of the “elephant in the room.”  If we deny what is unsaid but known, we deny the opportunity for a deeper relationship.  We evade the truth and cannot share from the heart, talking around what is important rather than dealing with it.

Being direct in conversation is one way to deal with the unsaid.  You can bring it up – get it out in the open.  However, it is also possible to accept that what you know and feel in your heart is true, have empathy for that situation, and not address it head on.  Simply sitting quietly in the same room with the bereaved may mean more than a discussion about loss.  Trust your gut.

“From equivocation to consideration, from persuasion to in-group consolidation, from threat to thrall, implicit communication plays an important role not only in diplomacy, but in everyday communication. We have a choice either to master the unsaid or to be mastered by it. Biljana Scott, in article in The Guardian about poetry, politics and what is unsaid being powerful.)


My dad used to love to play Devil’s Advocate at the dinner table just to get a rise out of us kids. That certainly helped me to shape my own views about life, but it wasn’t always fun.  Sometimes we got our feelings hurt.  The answer was to find something to laugh about.  My dad always knew when to do that.  Today, when I have a difficult discussion with a family member, I look for the opportunity to inject humor to create a space for us to find a way to leave the conflict and ease into a better place, even if only temporarily.

In an excellent overview of the power of humor, writer Nichole Force says, “Among other things, laughter has been shown to reduce stress, boost the immune system and enhance brain chemistry through the release of serotonin and endorphins.”  When in an intense discussion, humor can take the intensity down a notch because of its effect on the brain.  Force also describes how  humor has gotten people through such horrible times as the Holocaust.

According to comedian, Jessica Halem, perhaps the best reason to use humor in conversations is this,  “Laughter physically loosens you up to receive information or to connect with other people,”  Read Halem’s guide on how to make someone laugh and be prepared for your next discussion.


There is a lot to be gained by being in conversation with people, and even more if we stay fully engaged enough to have meaningful conversations.  To do this, we must remember to be inquisitive, pay attention to implicit communication, and find something to laugh about.  What else have you found to be important? Let’s keep talking to each other in 2014 and beyond.

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Related post:

The Right Questions Institute Blog




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Nov 19 2013

5 Steps to Greater Influence in Meetings (PSSST)

Published by under vocal image,vocal power

Laptop MegaphoneOne of my clients, who is determinedly on track for a promotion in a fast-paced corporate environment asked me, “How can I insert myself more into conversations and meetings?” Was he asking about how to overcome shyness or how to get invited to the right meetings?  No.  He was asking how to increase his visibility and show up more as a leader in the meetings he is already attending.  He wants to catch people’s attention, influence more decisions. I told him what he needs is to find his leadership voice.

The 5 Steps

You can take 5 steps toward being noticed and becoming more influential, finding your leadership voice, at your next meeting or conversation, today.  To help you remember the steps, they create the acronym PSSST.  This stands for:

  1. Prepare
  2. Show up
  3. Sit up
  4. Speak up
  5. Tie it up

Prepare. Everyone seems to be very busy today, and we often settle for winging it instead of preparing.  The problem is that just getting by does not a leader make.   To show up as a leader you must be prepared to share more than your opinion, give more than just a little insight, and participate in meaningful discussions rather than just listen or observe.  The next time you have to attend a meeting, ask in advance about the purpose of the meeting, read (or at least glance) through the agenda and material to be covered to make sure there are no surprises.  Research the topic if necessary.  As you prepare, take some notes you can refer to in the meeting. Then take a few minutes to create an intention for your participation.  What do you want to accomplish?  What is the aim that will guide your action?

Show up.  Be early or on time.  Put away your phone and your e-mail.  Get your coffee in advance of the meeting start time. Look everyone in the eye and introduce yourself to those you don’t know. Be fully present in each meeting you attend.  Bring a notebook and a pen and place them on the desk in front of you at the beginning of the meeting.  Use them to keep track of what’s being said so that you always know where the conversation is going. After all, you must be present to win.

Sit up. Research has shown that our body language effects how others see us and reflects our feelings about ourselves.  The surprise is that body language also effects how we feel about ourselves.  If you haven’t seen Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on this subject, be sure to check it out.  (Try a power pose in Step 1 of this post!) Then, next time you go to a meeting or have an important conversation, sit forward in your chair with one foot flat on the floor and the other slightly behind the first as if you are getting ready to stand.  This creates energy, space to breathe, and a feeling of confidence.  Lean forward to listen to others to show that you are listening, and, surprise! That posture will make it easier to listen and stay tuned in.

Speak up.  To find your voice you have to use it.  This is true for your physical voice as well as your other voice – the voice of you as your opinions and ideas in the world. Assume you have something to say and say it.  Voice your opinion and make suggestions. Make sure that delivery is in alignment with intention. Create an opening and a close for every presentation. Allow yourself to be reminded of stories (short ones) and share them.

Connect with your message and your thoughts. Research tells us that passion and energy are encouraged if you want to be memorable. Ask questions; Berson and Steglitz, the authors of the book Leadership Conversations say, “While managers are more likely to be answering questions, a great leader routinely asks them.”If you are shy or have trouble speaking up, go back to step #1 and prepare something to say.  Create questions you want answered. Practice aloud before the meeting.  If your voice isn’t strong, strengthen it. 

handshakeTie it up.   There is nothing worse than a meeting that just fades away at the end, leaving people unclear about next steps or what was actually accomplished.  A leader calls for action, creates closure. Take charge and summarize the discussion, especially if no one else does.  Demonstrate that you have heard others by repeating back what has been concluded. If there is contention, jump in and work to help solve conflicts. Then make sure everyone’s voice is heard in the summary.  Make sure there are next steps and that they are documented.  Follow up with an email to all participants.


Some people seem to be born with the ability to jump into meetings and voice their opinions.  Those people can easily dominate a meeting or conversation.  They know that the  answer to being more influential lies in creating a leadership voice that is more than just your physical voice but includes it, too. Every leader has cultivated some aspect of their leadership voice, be it their expertise, their charisma, their speaking skills or their confidence. They’ve probably taken classes, read books, observed other leaders.  Then, they’ve gained experience and knowledge by taking chances, speaking up, and trusting that what they have to say is worth people’s time and attention.

Related reading:

How to create a voice with executive presence. 

The battle for audience attention:  Why stay awake in conversation?   On Max Atkinson’s blog.

Stop Being an Order Taker, on the blog, Stephen Shapiro’s 24/7 Innovation

Create a NICE Opening and a RICH Close

The Secret to Preparing Successfully for a Meeting, Dr. Nick Morgan on Forbes


If you enjoyed this post or found it helpful, please share by clicking on the share buttons below.  Thank you!!



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