"Conversation has a kind of charm about it, an insinuating and insidious something that elicits secrets just like love or liquor."
- Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Roman statesman and Stoic Philosopher 4B-65AD
I must admit when I first read the above quote from Seneca I was intrigued as to how such beautiful use of language could have been created some 2000+ years ago when the known world was so preoccupied with war and the average human life span was 22-33 years. We have barbary and beauty mixed together.
Since that time, we have come a long way in terms of human longevity, but I will let the readers decide how well we balance the other scales of human success.
I love a good conversation as it infers to ‘converse’ which is to engage in a two-way exploratory process rather than a ‘sit there and listen to what I have to say.’ It’s open, inclusive and relaxed. It’s not a meeting in my view.
Top Five Conversation Purposes
As a performance and leadership coach, I am constantly engaged in conversations for a multitude of reasons depending on a client, or even friends’ circumstances. Here are the top five conversation purposes in which I am normally involved.
1. As a listening partner
Simply listen to allow the other person to articulate their thoughts to either validate what they are thinking or planning to do. They may or may not want your opinion and if unsure clarify that but offer it sparingly.
2. Solve a specific problem
This conversation has a specific purpose and that is to solve a problem. How well that is achieved will be largely due to how well the problem is clarified and framed, including its level of complexity.
3. Shoot the breeze
This is where the conversation may not have a specified outcome in mind. One party makes a start on nothing particular, and the conversation may ebb and flow across various subject matter. This can often have a secondary purpose of building and cementing relationships.
4. Generate new thoughts and ideas
A type of purposeful brainstorming session but less in the format of a structured meeting. I would also add function as an objective sounding board for advice.
5. Road test someone’s perspective
This is where I am called upon to assess the person’s logic and thinking around a specific action, goal, or course of action. This is predominantly testing the validity of the assumptions made and hence conclusions reached. Essentially this is a coaching approach where the true course reveals itself through the power of purposeful questions rather than simply me advising what I would do in their shoes.
Keeping Things Simple in a Conversation
Finally, I think it is important that before you engage in a conversation both parties are clear on the purpose. Keeping things simple, could either be for two main reasons.
- There is no stated outcome other than the talk and conversation, like number three above.
- You are looking for an outcome or resolution of some sort. If that is the case ensure your conversation parties agree including how you will know when that resolution or ‘aha’ moment is reached.
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