Having great conversations

The role of a leader can be complex and requires the ability to context switch effectively. At times they need to set a bold direction to inspire individuals, teams and businesses. At other times they work with people to help them fulfil their potential through personal development or performance interventions. Sometimes they need to be a confidant who people turn to, to share personal situations about their physical, mental, social or financial health.

The common theme in each of these situations is the ability to have great conversations.

A great conversation requires the leader to be fully present, leaving behind all the other things that they’ve got coming up for the rest of the day so that they properly focus on the person in front of them. By being present they can effectively listen to what’s being said, what’s not being said and the emotion that’s being shared too. In this blog we will explore the ingredients of a great conversation as well as what can get in the way. 

Components of a great conversation

A great conversation is 2-way so sharing the leaders own thoughts as well as testing assumptions through open & closed questions ensures that there’s a good structure to the conversation and both parties leave it feeling like they’ve contributed and benefitted from the interaction.

Take a look at the list and ask yourself which ones you are great at already – and which ones you could do more of:

  • Genuine curiosity
  • Being present
  • Honesty
  • A structure to the conversation
  • Setting a focus 
  • Listening
  • Being prepared to adjust the focus during the conversation
  • Checking during the conversation how we are both doing
  • Manage ours and others emotions
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Psychological Safety 
  • Partnership and balance of voice
  • Comfortable working in a space of not knowing i.e. letting go of being the expert
  • Open questions

What gets in the way?

Life is often busy, with back-to-back meetings and multiple demands, as well as a multitude of information coming at us. This can lead to our presence diminishing.

Ask yourself what’s gets in the way of being fully present – this may include:

  • Assuming we know the answer/ being the expert/ tell mode
  • Lack of clarity on the shared aim of the conversation
  • Lacking a structure 
  • Making judgments
  • Talking too much 
  • Being distracted

Structuring the conversation using questions

Using questions to structure the conversation can provide a flow and direction.  Here are some examples which could be used:

  • What is our focus?
  • What outcome are we looking to achieve?
  • What do we know already?
  • What don’t we know?
  • What insights are we gaining? 
  • What do we need to explore further?
  • What’s the next step?
  • How are we doing?


What do you get if you do this properly – psychological safety. Amy Edmondson describes this as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking”. In practice this means that people will feel comfortable talking to the leader about their successes, their concerns, mistakes they’ve made or support they need to be even more successful in the future. 

What does this ultimately deliver? Trust. As Patrick Lencioni says in The 5 Dysfunctions of Teams “Trust lies at the heart of a functioning, cohesive team. Without it, teamwork is but impossible”

So, if you’re a leader who wants their team to talk to them about their highs and lows, their hopes and dreams and ultimately to lead the people, the team and the business to their full potential then think about your next conversation and make it a great one.

I wonder what you have taken from this blog? If you would like to know more about how having great conversations can support you and your team then please get in touch to arrange a no obligation discovery consultation.


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