Don’t look now, but conversations are becoming increasingly rare.

The fact that there are plenty of attempts at messaging doesn’t mean any real conversations are taking place…

Just because there is measurable attention being paid to a given topic or hundreds of hours of talk devoted to a critical issue is no guarantee of progress.

Need a stark case-in-point?

It was the 1940’s. The Congress of the United States was the scene. And there was plenty talk focused on the issue of equal pay.

By the middle of the decade legislation was introduced to make it illegal for women to be paid less than men for comparable work.

Eight decades of talk have failed to realize the goal.

And while perhaps not as jarring a lack of progress as in the case of equal pay for equal work, the list of issues that have been and still are the subject of ongoing, often loud conversations for years with little movement is lengthy. Consider this handful, offered in no particular order:

  • How long have those in and around the legal industry been discussing the death of the billable hour? (It was a hot topic when I first worked with a law firm in the late 90’s — and it had been going on for a while by then.)
  • Or Diversity & Inclusion?
  • Or mass transit in your community?
  • Or healthcare?
  • Or peace?

The list is long. It can easily balloon to ten or twenty times what we might note here without breaking a sweat.

Consider the conversations that repeatedly pop up in your life — at home, work or in any setting where a group is engaged in an effort to coexist…never mind collaborate. Or compromise.

Here is Part of the Problem

There is more than one reason that the art of conversation is disappearing from our landscape. However, here is one.

Without respect to the particular topic, wherever today’s attempts at meaningful dialogue are framed by the same parameters, perspectives, language and talking points as all previous conversations on the topic, progress will likely be marginal, at best.

This is not to suggest there hasn’t been movement on many of the issues we’ve been talking about for a long time. There has.

And we’re sure not suggesting that we should shut down the talk.

But words can become tired. Well worn talking points

Well worn talking points and phrases that slip from the tongue with little thought have a tendency to become hollow.

And accomplish little.

So if you feel as though you’re wrestling with the same issues and having the same conversations — in your personal life or in a professional setting — here are five ideas that will shake things up for the better.

5 Keys To Better Conversations

“Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” — Samuel Johnson

There are circumstances that, by their nature, sharpen our focus. But an existential moment should not be the prerequisite of consequential change around important issues.

To that end, here are a few thoughts on instigating better conversations.

1. Listening (vs. Talking) Is The Priority

We spend a lot of time around here talking about listening (yes…ironic) — perhaps an acknowledgment that we are so bad at it. But the focus is warranted if for no other reason than nothing is communicated until someone decides to listen.

Intentional listening is not about hearing talk; it is about dispensing with agendas, suspending preconceived notions, and striving more to understand than to be understood.

If the only thing we do today is commit to the act of intentional listening, we will instantly change the quality of our conversations.

2. Focus First on Shared Values & Aspirations

If you doubt this, consider how communication that is aligned with the future of our children or personal health tend to capture our attention.

Intentional listening is the key to the identification of core commonalities. Shared experiences are a good place to begin; but conversations that become substantive enough to effect measurable progress around big issues find footing in core values and aspirations.

3. Dispense With Expectations.

In conversations that matter, expectations are a predictor of failure. Expectations easily morph into conditions; and when it comes to better conversations, a condition is synonymous with an agenda. We do well to put both of these on a back burner.

4. Agree on Milestones

Identifying specific milestones serves three purposes.

  1. It outlines the conversation, providing continuity and guardrails;
  2. Agreed upon milestones provide alignment around commonality;
  3. The realization of an agreed upon milestone serves as a win-win moment. The more you realize common goals, the more you experience the value in conversations that make a difference.

5. At a minimum, Build a Bridge to the Next Conversation

Better conversations do not seek to end a discussion, but to make on-going dialogue the norm.

Next to Listening, nothing will change the nature of your conversations more than a commitment to being certain you tee-up the next conversation.

Learning is never ending; and ongoing dialogue is the only path to lasting change.

No matter the topic — innovation, mental health, diversity & inclusion, organizational growth, leadership, stronger relationships, a better world for future generations — if we continue to have the same old conversations, the past is, indeed, prologue.

The key to a new experience tomorrow is a better conversation today.