“Clarifying Why” is a smart conversation move

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We’ve all been there: feeling lost in a conversation with no clear idea what the conversation is really all about, where it is heading, or what our role really is. For most people this is not a good feeling – it makes us feel uncertain and sometimes even anxious as we try to figure out what’s really going on.

Of course, some conversations are purely social and entertaining. Their purpose is to provide a sense of connection and some entertainment, and that’s all we need to know to participate fully.

In a work environment, though, most conversations have some purpose – they are meant to “get something done”, to move something forward.

The problem is that the purpose of the conversation is not always clear to those participating in the conversation. As a result, these conversations are not as effective as they could be.

Sometime we manage to bumble our way through to a satisfactory outcome, but too often the lack of clarity around the purpose of the conversation has negative consequences. We end up accomplishing less than what was possible; we waste time; and if things go really wrong, we end up with misunderstandings, frustration, and even dents in our mutual trust with our conversation partner.
When we have high Conversation Intelligence™, we are able to do two things:

  • Notice when the purpose of the conversation needs to be clarified
  • Say or ask something that helps both parties get on the same page regarding the purpose of the conversation

It can be as simple as saying: “I feeling a bit lost. What are we trying to accomplish here?” or “I need to understand how this process really works. Would you be willing to answer some questions I have about it?”

Sometimes the “conversational move” to clarify has to be more sophisticated. In essence, though, it is about doing what needs to be done so that both parties are clear on two key questions:

  1. Why are we having this conversation now?
  2. And what are we hoping to accomplish through the conversation?

Clarity on these two questions then helps shape what our roles in the conversation will be. Clarity on these questions will also help us determine whether we’ve accomplished what needed to be done in this conversation.

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