Today's Reading


Effective conversation has four elements: clarity, candor, commitment, and completion. A conversation may seem fine, but then you later discover the intended actions or the expected alignment did not occur. When a conversation does not have the desired result, one of these pieces is likely missing.

I love this simple and elegant model because it gives you four things to pay attention to in all conversations.

It might not be obvious when clarity is missing in a conversation, but lack of clarity is responsible for many misunderstandings and mistakes.

Clarity requires back-and-forth conversation, so establishing safety and encouraging people to ask questions is important. So is scheduling enough time for each topic so that people will ask their questions. Also, be careful about using PowerPoint, because this tends to create a passive audience and stifle questions.

Clarity provides the basis for understanding, alignment, and engagement. Don't assume that you have it. Check often by asking, "Is everyone clear? Anyone need more explanation?"

I've found that if I say what I'm really thinking and feeling, people are more likely to say what they really think and feel. The conversation becomes a real conversation.
—Carol Gilligan, American psychologist
Candor means being authentic—saying what you mean and meaning what you say. Candor is a key element of groups that work well together. It's part of relationships that are special. Life is difficult enough without wondering about what your colleagues or friends really think.

A colleague shared a story of a senior manager who always brings his people together for a "no secrets" meeting when he conducts facility visits. He wants to know how people are doing, how projects are progressing, and what people need in terms of support and resources. Each of these questions are put into play:

* What would you like to ask me?

* What do you think I need to know?

* Where are you struggling?

* What are you proud of?

Great questions, but even greater because this manager's invitation to a "no secrets" conversation signals that his people have permission to ask and share anything they want. Of course, it helps that this manager is sincere, authentic, and caring, which creates the trust and safety this kind of conversation requires.

If you commit to taking action by a specific date, it is much more likely to happen than if the action is simply added to your list of things to do.

People are more productive when facing deadlines. Still, leaders don't ask for this kind of specific commitment because they think it might be interpreted as micromanaging or a lack of trust.

One of the keys to project management is being specific about what will be done, when it will be done, and who will do it. I use the expression X by Y or call. You're asking someone to do task X by date Y and, if something gets in the way of fulfilling that commitment, to agree in advance to pick up the phone and call you.

This means not changing topics until all parties are ready to end the discussion. This also ensures that no critical point or question is left unexpressed. "Does anyone have anything else to say or ask?" "I'm ready to change topics; is everyone okay with that?" Checking to see if everyone is ready to leave a topic will reveal issues that might interfere with clarity and alignment.


Conversations shape who we are. Most people can identify decisions they made about themselves early in life based on what they were told or what was said in their presence. You can most likely recall a time when someone—a boss, a parent, a friend—had a conversation with you that you still remember, one that helped determine who you are today.

Conversations also shape our families and the cultures within which we work. What conversations take place around you? How do these conversations define the organization? Are they moving the organization forward or getting in the way?

Day in and day out, most people simply don't think about their conversations. Consider that every conversation can be enhanced— sometimes with more careful listening, sometimes by removing distractions, sometimes by inviting new voices into the conversation. You have something to say about each conversation in which you participate and therefore with every person you touch each day.

Conversation matters.


Listen longer. Speak in a way that is clear and concise.

Notice when commitments are made without dates. Add dates.

After speaking in a meeting, reflect on what you said and how you said it.

"Each person's life is lived as a series of conversations."
—Deborah Tannen, American linguistics professor

This excerpt is from the hardcover edition.

Monday we begin the book One Step Ahead by David Sally.

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