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Updated: Oct 10, 2022

Have more meaningful and inspirational conversations by being open to possibilities and avoiding these 3 conversation mistakes.

We all have different ways of seeing the world and dealing with things. If we approach people in this way, rather than judging them according to how we would see and do things, we learn new things about people in our lives. Being open to the approach others’ take is essential for unlocking improvement potential. The people we feel we know the best are the people we have the most conversations with. So if there are colleagues that you’re not quite gelling with or there is unspoken animosity; start a conversation.

Getting to know your colleagues is not about being able to recite the statistics of their life. It is about understanding who they are as people. You can have a wonderful working relationship with someone and understand their personality, without knowing a single fact about their personal life.

It’s vital to truly know your colleagues to create a work environment that functions well, deals with problems proactively and explores possibilities through meaningful conversations. Organisational objectives rely on people to continually work toward objectives, but if negativity and animosity are present in the people, it will throw them off the objectives.


Starting a conversation doesn’t mean asking what type of music they like or how old their kids are. It’s not about getting to know their stats. If you ask a shallow question, you’ll get a shallow answer. There are a lot of different types of conversations that take place daily for a variety of reasons, but meaningful conversations are the most interesting and rewarding.

Starting a meaningful conversation requires that you set your intention on truly being interested in what your colleague has to say and respecting their approach to life, just as you would hope they would not poo-poo your choices or opinions. Ask for their opinion on a work task, quandary you’re having or decision that has recently been made that you disagree with. The conversation has already started at a deeper level because you have cut through the small talk and provided a vulnerability in yourself (such as an opinion or an admission that you need help). This makes the other person feel comfortable in proceeding.


Conversations are a two way street. Even if one person does all the talking, there is a responsibility of the listener to understand the point of the conversation. There’s a time for listening, a time for reacting and a time for offering suggestions. Getting it wrong will lead to the speaker disengaging from the conversation. Seeing the signs of which one to do at which point takes practice. Luckily there are signs to look for to identify the different conversation phases.

  • The expressing phase: where the person speaking has something to say. You as the listener just need to be there in the story with the speaker. Follow where it goes. What’s compelled them to tell this story or shape this opinion? Listen for what they are truly saying. Listen objectively, but try to understand their situation as if you are in the situation with them.

  • The question phase: when the story is petering out, is starting to be repeated or is perhaps starting to turn nasty, then it’s time to start asking questions. Through listening to the story, you will probably have noticed certain behaviours or points of difference that you are interested in exploring. Ask a bit more about this. These behaviour spikes and points of difference are what will form discussion and discovery.

  • Discussion and discover phase: from your objective point of view and questions, you are trying to let the speaker see a greater perspective than their own and they may come to make some realisations about the real situation, not just the situation in their mind.

  • Moving forward phase: Now they’re ready to fix things, whereas before they weren’t in a state of mind to see what needed fixing. Even so, don’t offer suggestions just yet. Ask them, “what do you think you need to do now?” Give them time to think. They will come up with something and then you can offer suggestions in line with what they’re thinking.

The connections you make with people when you truly try to hear them and learn about what they’re going through will become incredibly rewarding to both you and them.


  1. Offering suggestions when the speaker is not yet ready for suggestions. The speaker needs to talk through their experience before they can fathom a solution. Telling them the solution, even if you can see that the solution is obvious, is the equivalent of telling them to shut up and stop being so stupid.

  2. Getting your reaction wrong. While the speaker is talking you will naturally try to make the appropriate noises to show your understanding – if it’s funny you laugh, if it’s frustrating you might utter “urgh”. The speaker relies on these sounds as confirmation that you understand, but if you if you laugh hysterically at something that was mildly amusing or not laugh at all, the speaker will feel that you’ve not accurately gauged the mood of the story and think you’re just not getting it. Or if there is an irritating situation and you carry on in outrage or just say “oh well” the speaker will again feel that you’re not understanding them. Try to stay with the story and with the speaker to get the context of your reaction right.

  3. Telling your own story without tying it back to theirs. It’s ok to share a story of your own where the situation is similar to the speaker’s. It shows that you understand their feelings because you have experienced something similar, but you must remember to tie your story back to theirs and continue with their journey. Otherwise you will have taken over the whole conversation with your story and proven to them that you really don’t care about them. Conversations are our gateway to getting to know people. If you take over, they will come to the conclusion that you are selfish or egocentric.


Conversations are how we get to know and connect with other people. The ideas and opinions that come out of conversations are reflections of their values, standards and principles. Conversations help us to identify why people are who they are, why they object to things or react strongly in certain circumstances. Having meaningful conversations with colleagues helps us to notice when something isn’t right and knowing this helps us to address problems and negativity quickly.

The most exciting thing we can hope for in conversations are different concepts that we would never have thought of ourselves. Innovation comes from synergy and synergy is achieved through conversations.

Learn more about getting the most valuable information from employees by downloading the Process Improvement Handbook.

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