If it was a meeting that mattered – an experience you want to have again – then it included a meaningful conversation. As the meeting wound up you were incredibly energized and ready to do something important, and/or you were disappointed it was over.
A meaningful conversation changes you in important ways. You see the world differently, or you have new insights into a problem you’ve been struggling with, or you know someone in a far more personal way.
As I think back on memorable meetings I’ve been part of, it seems clear that the participants were speaking openly and honestly, and with respect for each other’s experiences and intentions. We were all “in the moment” exploring a topic we cared deeply about.
Those are clues about what drives a conversation from good to great. But they are only clues, and they are only my personal insights. To broaden my understanding of what makes a good conversation I’ve asked many people I respect and admire to share with me how they think about good conversations.
Chris Hood, a long-time friend and colleague, thought a moment and described it this way:
I attended a workshop several years ago that was focused on improving conversations between managers and employees. The primary emphasis was on authenticity – where both parties were saying what they really mean, as opposed to just saying what they were supposed to say.
There are all sorts of personal skills involved too – empathy, interest in the other person, nonverbal behaviors, being engaged, being clear.
And then there is nature of the conversation itself. What is its purpose? What do you want to happen afterwards?”
When you have a good conversation you know it. There is something almost magical about one idea building on another, or one link following another. The succession of ideas just flows.
Patt Schwab, a good friend who is a professional speaker, educator, and an active contributor to my “Talking About Tomorrow” conversation program, emphasized that in a really memorable conversation each participant has a basic respect for the other person or people. She then went on to talk about the importance of being “in the moment.”
Perhaps the most important factor that drives a conversation from good to great is that each participant genuinely wants to learn from the other person.
So often when we meet strangers, as at a cocktail party or a conference, we are pre-occupied with our own issues (as are the people we’re talking to). We don’t really connect in the moment, or with any energy or willingness to either open up or enter the other person’s world.
I recently saw a post on Facebook featuring a statement attributed to Maria Shriver: “Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”
Respect for others includes acknowledging their humanity, their individuality, and the value of their personal experiences – which so often leads to unique insights and perspectives. And it means being curious about their lives and their insights.
Patt Schwab also spoke of the importance of the “small talk” that so often occurs before meetings officially begin. She observed that it often takes five or ten minutes beyond the start time for all the meeting participants to arrive. That leaves the early arrivals with little to do until the latecomers finally get there.
With a regular “standing” meeting there is often very little energy, and there is usually no explicit agenda or particular issue that captivates people or focuses their attention. So they are often thinking about all the unfinished work piled up on their desk; or a child who is sick at home from school, or struggling to pass geometry, or wrapped up in a friendship that is deteriorating, or cutting classes.
In Patt’s view, the value of that informal chatting and storytelling as people are arriving at a meeting is that it helps them connect to each other as human beings – and it brings them to the moment, perhaps distracting them from those personal concerns and helping them focus on the task at hand, or at least on the other people in the room.
For Brady Mick, an architect and workplace strategist with BDHP Architecture, a good conversation starts with listening – both people (or everyone, if more than two are involved) are interested in learning from, and hearing from, the other participants. And there is a sense of balance, of wanting to share with each other.
Brady stressed that every good conversation includes stories. Stories are the way we create meaningful memories. When we share stories we are sharing meaning, and passing lessons along from one person to another.
Of course, not every meeting or conversation has to be life-changing to be satisfying or meaningful. Maybe you just exchanged pleasantries, or you and a friend traded memories of a recent football game, or you talked about the professional conference you just returned fro
In any case, however, if you enjoyed the conversation, it probably had some or all of these characteristics:
- Its purpose was clear to everyone involved;
- Everyone was reasonably interested in the topic being discussed;
- There was genuine interest in learning something new;
- Everyone was “in the moment” – actively focused on the conversation;
- Each of the participants felt respected by the other(s);
- Everyone was open to hearing other points of view;
- Everyone felt secure – they were able to be open and candid; and
- It was in an appropriate physical place
I’m on a crusade to make every meeting – and every conversation – matter. As my wife Cindy is fond of saying, “Life is too short for brown bananas.” And it’s too short for meetings that don’t matter.
For a longer exploration of what makes a meeting matter and a conversation meaningful, order a copy today of my most recent book, Making Meetings Matter: How Smart Leaders Orchestrate Powerful Conversations in the Digital Age (link is to the book’s page on Amazon.com. However, you should contact me directly for volume discounts).
And call me today (+1 510.558.1434) for a free exploratory conversation about how you can become a hero by applying my P4+ model to your own meetings. Let’s make every meeting matter!