Someone once told me that 90% of all action is based on conversations. Experience has shown me how true that is. Just think about how many successful projects have been initiated by a passionate hallway conversation between two colleagues. But I have also found that not all conversations are productive – and unproductive conversations can lead to poorly executed action. So how do we go about having productive conversations that will drive positive action?
There is a structured, phased progression in conversations that allows participants to a) understand (set scope), b) explore possibilities (build buy-in), and c) act (walk away armed to achieve results). The time dedicated to each phase is driven by the audience and their ability to comprehend, as well as the urgency of the needed action.
But there is another important piece to successful conversation: Context. Conversational context is where and how you conduct your discussions. Do not underestimate the impact this can have on the direction and authenticity of the conversation.
Location, location, location
Good conversational context starts with an awareness of your physical surroundings, as well as the tone and “non-verbals” used by participants. It is amazing how much the conversation and energy changes when you change the location of the conversation.
Think about where you had your last conversation with an employee. Was it at your desk, in an office, or a conference room? How about the conversation with your boss? Was it in her office? What about the new intern – at your desk or in a conference room?
I tend to have conversations away from my desk. I like to go to our onsite coffee shop or cafeteria. Regardless of where you go, a neutral and more casual environment strips away all the trappings of positional authority and almost always delivers a more authentic and genuine conversation. No desk, no office, no conference room. I have found the ease of conversation and the nature of its content improves dramatically.
Meetings on the move
I am famous around the office for having conversations while I am walking. Sometimes I will ask my team to join me for a coffee or a snack, and on the way, I will engage them in an important conversation. Talking while moving gives conversations a new energy. I find that people are more engaged with both you and the discussion, and they’re more comfortable sharing honest perspectives. Side note: it really improves my personal standing within my fitness community – which is just an added bonus (I’m also famous for being mildly competitive).
So while 90% of all action is based on conversations – I truly find that 90% of my most successful conversations occur when I focus on the context. My regular readers know that I believe in meetings with purpose and too often, we have meetings just to have meetings. But conversations with context will out-accomplish standard meetings just about every day of the week.
Give it a shot and think twice before scheduling that next meeting. Try changing your location or having a conversation on the move and see if it has a positive impact on the end result. I would love to hear about your experiences below.