Once upon a time, there were very few ways to effectively communicate. And most of them involved actual, real-time conversation. Now that we have a plethora of ways to send and receive messages, you may think real, live, in-the-moment discussions have gone the way of the dinosaurs. But don’t be a dodo bird.

Critical conversations are still very necessary, both in business and in life.

Yes, there are plenty of occasions where alternative methods of communication will do. But there are also a ton of instances where interactive conversation is a superior way to work things out and get things done.

But we can just write, right?


Written communication can be great for quick messages, how-to explanations, and documenting specific details, but it leaves a few key things missing. Vocal tone, expression and delivery are conspicuously absent, as are any signs of facial cues or body language. Emojis may try to fill in the blanks, but when it comes to critical conversations, they are no substitute for genuine emotions.

And speaking of emotions, written communication removes a couple of key ones: fear and accountability.

Communicating electronically or in writing makes many people much more willing to say things they would never say in person. And, because this medium allows the writer to continue uninterrupted and on their own schedule, it’s really more of a one-way conversation as opposed to an open, collaborative dialogue. So while messages may be streaming back and forth, they aren’t necessarily resulting in a constructive conversation.

Conversations still matter

Yes, talk can be cheap, but it can also be communication gold. True conversation is a two-way interchange, where information is both given and received. It’s not just about talking. It’s about connecting.

If you’ve got an important problem to solve, issue to discuss, or situation to deal with, it could be well worth your while to talk it out.

Here’s how to make the most of your next critical conversation:

Prepare ahead of time - Collect your thoughts, determine key points of discussion, check your facts, and have some positive outcomes in mind.

Encourage new ideas and different points of view – Acknowledge and be open to what others are thinking and feeling. Recognize that people come from different situations. Viewpoints may depend on a multitude of factors including, age, race, gender, past experience, etc.

Ask questions – Good conversations require good information. Make sure you clearly understand what others are saying. The following questions can help:

  • Tell me more
  • Can you give me an example?
  • What do you mean by that?
  • How would that work?
  • Why is this important?

Listen – Constructive conversation requires a little bit of talking and a whole lot of listening. Listening does not mean waiting for your turn to talk. It means being patient, having empathy, and making a concerted effort to understand what others are saying—and feeling. Pay attention what is being said verbally as well as what is being through body language and tone.

Stay on track – Listening is important, but if someone gets too far off topic, they can take your entire conversation with them. Sticking to specific details instead of painting broad generalities will help keep things focused. Example: “You’re not performing well.” vs. “You’ve missed your last two project deadlines.”

Maintain a balance – The goal here is information sharing. Not information dumping. If any one person is monopolizing the conversation, it’s going to affect the integrity - and the outcomes - of the conversation.

Make your next conversation count

The next time you’re tempted to blast out an email or send a quick text, think about the effectiveness of the method based on the outcomes you’d like to see.

Investing in some constructive conversation might actually be the quickest, most effective way to accomplish your goals. 


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