The Ongoing Conversation

By Chris Chittenden

How many times do you think to yourself, "These conversations never seem to get any easier!". If you have, then you are not alone. One of the most common challenges facing people in life is to find a way to have more effective conversations; to make the next conversation easier than the last.

As coaches, we see many clients who continue to have unsatisfactory conversations and do not know how to engage in them differently. Although a greater understanding and skill in the three specific types of conversations - descriptive, speculative and action - will go a long way to alleviating this issue, it is also important to be aware how each conversation we have with someone will affect the next conversation we have with them. If we are aware of this, we can start to design the "ongoing conversation" we have with someone rather than only focusing on the specific conversation we have with them at the time. The ongoing conversation can be seen as an overarching context, which establishes common stories with other people with whom we have relationships.

One of the classic examples of this can be seen when conducting performance feedback conversations. A key aspect of the context of this type of conversation lies in a shared understanding of the standard on which that performance will be judged. Yet time and again, we hear of people who have not taken the time or been able to adequately create that shared standard. Invariably the conversations denigrate into a conversation where the two people's opinions of the performance in question are based on very different benchmarks, ultimately leading to an unsatisfactory outcome. If there is a discrepancy in standards and we are aware of the ongoing conversation, we can design part of that current conversation to relate to the standards on which the next conversation about feedback will be based. This may well make the next conversation an easier one to have.

The basis of the ongoing conversation lies in attending to the relationship with the person with whom we are having the conversation. To develop our skill in having these conversations, we must not only focus on the task at hand, but also on what is happening for the other people in the conversation and the context they have. In doing so, we can seek to shift that context and set up easier conversations in the future.

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© 2004 Chris Chittenden