Skip to Navigation

I was asked this at a meeting I was facilitating recently. One of the participants, who had lived abroad for many years, said that on returning to the UK they found it difficult to engage people in conversation that went beyond the polite formalities of social chit-chat.

When I asked for clarification she said that for her it was hard to have ‘real’ conversations where both people were focused on exploring ideas. Several people in the room put forward theories as to why this might be. I started thinking about conversations that work, compared with those that don’t.

Most of our conversations do work, and a few don’t. The ones that work are enjoyable or even uplifting. One writer (Catherine Blyth) says that when it works a good conversation can come close to heaven. When it does, we feel that there has been a meaningful exchange, and a conclusion or understanding. Some go wrong though. They may go round in circles, or one person dominates, or they end in an argument.

Like so many things we do well, we don’t stop to analyse what makes out good conversations effective. We’d all like to have more of the first kind, and understanding what makes them work – and so have less of the second – is one way of improving things.

  • Some years ago BT ran a survey on this. The researchers found that people say they have had a good conversation when:
  • It feels like a genuine two-way experience, with both people equally involved and interested
  • Both feel that they are being heard and understood, with mutual willingness to be open
  • The atmosphere feels comfortable, so even difficult topics get discussed and the important things are said
  • The conversation makes a difference. Something useful or satisfying happens as a result.

When things go right they seem effortless. This is because, when we have mastered something it becomes automatic and we forget how much effort went into learning it. But we did learn it, and like any skill it needs to be practiced and maintained. So next time you have a conversation that seems to be going adrift, these pointers may help you make it more meaningful.


Bailey, A., (1997),  Talk Works, how to get more out of life through better conversations,  BT, 1997,


What do you think? Share your thoughts...

Latest from the blog

Are You a Tree or a Chair?

You probably don’t consider yourself to be either. I got thinking about this and once I’d engaged my metaphorical-thinking-train-of-thought things got a little out of hand.

See what you think.

Continue reading

How to bounce back

personal resilience survey

Despite the gloom and the pressures individuals can do something for themselves. Survival at work – or anywhere else for that matter – relies on personal attributes like the ability to self-manage and to find a sense of purpose out of apparent chaos and disorder.

Continue reading

Stop trying and start doing

Do you ever catch yourself prefacing your good intentions with “I’ll try…”?

We all have lists of things we haven’t got round to doing anything about yet. It doesn’t matter how important these are or how serious you are, if you are not making anything happen they mean nothing.

If you are really serious about making things happen for yourself this post tells you one really vital thing you must do.

Continue reading
FREE DOWNLOAD - Get it now.

How to be more Resilient

Get my super-helpful guide '9 Steps to Resilience' absolutely FREE, when you subscribe to my newsletter.

Understand the steps to resilience and you can develop the ability to cope with problems and setbacks with less stress and more confidence.
%d bloggers like this: