Effective Communication: Make Your Conversations Count

January 18, 2017

Effective conversations at work

If you want to be more effective, pay attention to your conversations at work. The ones you have with others can be catalysts for getting things done. The ones you have with yourself, inside your own head, can shape how you go about our day. Together, they help create the clarity you need to get the results you want.

A simple story can help illustrate this idea:

A former client, whom we’ll call Jill, was struggling. Andrea, her business partner, never got her work done on time, leaving Jill to hurriedly finish important proposals. She hated working this way but didn’t see much of an alternative.

As time went on, Jill’s troubles with Andrea became an ongoing conversation with herself. Andrea had one of those personalities that simply didn’t like to get the work done. She’d dealt with this so many times before, Jill told herself, that she should’ve known going into the partnership that it would be a problem. The problems were inevitable, the responsibility was 100% Andrea’s, and there wasn’t anything she could do about it.

With her back against the wall, Jill finally needed to address the issue. But it wasn’t until she acknowledged that she had some accountability that she was able to deal with what was really going on. Once she did—in a conversation where she articulated her needs and expectations as well as inquiring into Andrea’s—an entirely new door opened. The two women were able to discuss workable options in a way that was respectful, curious, collaborative, and open to possibilities.

Framing a productive conversation

Most of us can empathize with Jill. We’ve all experienced times when we felt someone wasn’t pulling their weight. We shoulder the load—a habit that actually makes things worse. Our worldviews create one-sided conversations in our heads that represent only part of the story and shield us from true reality.

We typically think of conversations in their most simplistic form: a transactional exchange of information. But they can be so much more. They can be crucial, fierce, critical, or even collaborative. How we frame them sets the stage for what unfolds. When we’re conscious of what type of conversations we’re actually having, they become much more powerful.

Imagine if Jill’s conversation with Andrea had been anchored in conflict and focused on what she needed her to do differently. From her internal story, that would have been a reasonable expectation. But when Jill decided that her intention was to get clarity on mutual expectations regarding deadline-driven work, she was able to open herself up to creative solutions. Sure, there was conflict, but by redirecting it toward a problem, not a person, it was healthy and inspired hope and ingenuity.

Too many of our conversations don’t go anywhere. Our limited beliefs and ideas get in the way, and the conversations we have with ourselves keep us stuck and frustrated. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Conversations will be much more productive the more you practice clarifying and naming the intentions of everyone involved. Doing so can shift your understanding of any situation, give you the power to be flexible in how you communicate with those around you, and make you more effective.

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About The Author

Brit Poulson, PhD, is a Seattle-based psychologist and leadership development expert who works with Fortune 500 companies to address the biggest challenges managers face. He is the author of The Clarity Compass (Vision Creation, February 2017), which helps professionals overcome roadblocks and settle disputes employing the tools of emotional intelligence and business strategy. He can be reached at or Find him on Facebook at and Twitter @Clarity_Compass.


  1. avatar

    […] explain his performance expectations, including the reasons. I also encouraged him to frame his communications in a go-forward, future-looking, positive […]

  2. avatar

    This was a very insightful and interesting article. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and I gained valuable information — which has caused me to commit to practicing what I just learned. Thanks!

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