How Successful are your Key Conversations?

We’ve all had them; important or key conversations that make us nervous before hand and conversations that suddenly take a turn and become confrontational or critical. If you want to give yourself every chance of success for a key conversation, then as always, preparation is vital.

A successful conversation is one with Dialogue; the free flow of meaning/relevant information between appropriate parties to review and understand the facts and feelings of the matter to potentially agree upon a course of action.

Having a clear agenda, creating mutual purpose so that others perceive we are working toward a common goal or interest, being able to communicate your desired content in a safe non-confrontational manner and active listening are the basic ingredients of being able to converse effectively. Here are some tips to take your communication skill set and awareness to the next level:


  • Review your agenda.
  • Where, When, How and with Whom is the conversation going to take place and is this appropriate?
  • Who is going to open and lead the conversation?
  • What are the parties looking to achieve? What are the positions/stance/interests/goals/values of the parties?
  • What are the likely emotive elements or sticking points? Consider the other parties point of view.
  • Make notes and have them ready for the planned conversation.

Key Conversation Structure

When opening/leading the conversation:

  1. State your agenda.
  2. Share your facts.
  3. Tell your story and give your opinions.
  4. Bring the other party into the conversation. Open the conversation by asking their thoughts or whether they agree.
  5. Encourage further dialogue
    • Ask questions
    • Actively listen, observe and acknowledge the other party’s feelings, emotions and behaviour. Point out what you believe you are seeing and hearing from them. (E.g. anger, frustration etc.)
    • Paraphrase – communicate back what you believe their story to be.
    • Consider statements to suggest what the other party may like/need to move forward.

When the conversation is being opened/led by the other party:

  • Allow the other party to state their agenda, share their facts and tell their story.
  • Actively listen and make notes if required
  • When the lead party has finished and brings you into conversation, employ the lead conversation structure as above.

Key Conversation analysis

When actively listening, also be mindful of the other party’s communication style and body language.

Learn to:

  • Look for changes in conditions – tone, attention, body language etc.
  • Take note of what appears to be important to the other party.
  • Look to see if the other party is communicating neutrally or if they are becoming introverted or aggressive and if so, what topic did this behaviour relate to?

In improving your communication skill set, it’s important to continually be aware of your own style and body language and notice if and when this changes under stress.

If the conversation stalls or becomes heated, consider whether it is appropriate to apologise for an action or content. Used effectively, this will help get the conversation back on track. Conversely, where an apology isn’t the appropriate action, restate your purpose or intent to provoke further feedback. If there appears to be no way of progressing the conversation, consider taking a break or arranging to continue at a later date to gather your thoughts and allow time for both parties to digest the information.

Closing the Key Conversation

In concluding the conversation, the main points should be restated and any actions should be agreed upon and assigned. Both parties should feel they have been given the opportunity to follow the structure and understand the other side’s position and reasoning regardless of whether they agree.

Prepare and put your new approach into practice. See what works for you.

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