How to Have a Successful Conversation


By Sharon Schweitzer


4 Keys to a Successful Outcome

The lion’s share of the work in any conflict conversation is work self-reflection Even when the

conversation begins smoothly, Regardless of how well the conversation begins, remain calm and

cool. This is where your power lies.


#1: Inquire

Cultivate an attitude of discovery and curiosity. Work from a position of ignorance and attempt to

learn as much as possible. “Educate me please” is a powerful phrase.

Observe body language and listen for tone. What do they truly seek? What is unsaid?

Allow them to talk until they are finished. Avoid interrupting – but do acknowledge their statements.

Avoid taking their comments personally. It’s not really about you.


#2: Acknowledgment

Demonstrate that you have listened and understood. Put yourself in their position so that you can

make the argument for them. Then proceed to restate their comments. Show them that you see their


Acknowledge facts including personal defensiveness if needed. Acknowledgment may be difficult if

assume it translates to agreement. Separate the two by saying something along the lines of, “this is

clearly crucial for you,” when does not mean I agree with your solution.


#3: Advocacy

When it is your turn, ask yourself what can I see from my perspective that they overlooked? Seek to

clarify your position without minimizing their view. One approach is: “Based on your comments, I can

see how you decided that my response was abrupt. I was feeding the baby and my phone battery

was dying. I was attempting to share information before we were disconnected. I didn’t mean to be

rude, though perhaps I sounded rude. Maybe this provides more perspective.”


#4: Problem-Solving

Begin to build solutions. Brainstorm and continue to ask questions. What do they think might work?

Regardless of the response, find common ground and build on it. If the conversation becomes

adversarial, go back to inquiry. Asking for the other’s point of view usually creates safety and

encourages them to engage. If you’ve been successful in centering, adjusting your attitude, and

engaging with inquiry and useful purpose, building sustainable solutions will be easy.


Tips and Suggestions

A successful outcome will depend on two things: how you are and what you say. How you

are (centered, supportive, curious, problem-solving) will greatly influence what you say.

Acknowledge emotional energy–yours and your partner’s–and direct it toward a useful


Know and return to your purpose at difficult moments.

Don’t take verbal attacks personally. Help your partner come back to center.

Don’t assume your partner can see things from your point of view.

Practice the conversation with a friend before holding the real one.

Mentally practice the conversation. See various possibilities and visualize yourself

handling them with ease. Envision the outcome you are hoping for.


How Do I Begin?

In my workshops, a common question is How do I begin the conversation? Here are a few

conversation openers I’ve picked up over the years–and used many times!

I have something I’d like to discuss with you that I think will help us work together more


I’d like to talk about _______ with you, but first I’d like to get your point of view.

I need your help with what just happened. Do you have a few minutes to talk?

I need your help with something. Can we talk about it (soon)? If the person says, “Sure,

let me get back to you,” be sure to follow up.

I think we have different perceptions about _________________.  I’d like to hear your

thinking on this.

I’d like to talk about _____________.  I think we may have different ideas about how to


I’d like to see if we might reach a better understanding about ___________. I really want

to hear your feelings about this and share my perspective as well.

I’ve noticed a recurring conversation (conflict, disagreement, problem) we seem to have.

I’d like to talk about why that happens.

I’d like to talk with you about some things I’ve noticed over the last little while. I have

some observations I’d like to share with you and some of the conclusions I’m starting to

draw, and then I’d be really interested in hearing your perspective.

Write a possible opening for your conversation before you have it to make sure you’ve

thought through everything you want to say.


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Sharon Schweitzer JD, is a diversity and inclusion consultant, cross-cultural trainer, etiquette expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE Centre, she is an attorney and mediator. Sharon served as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business,  Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, won a coveted Kirkus Star, and was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books. She’s a winner of numerous awards, including the British Airways International Trade Award at the Greater Austin Business Awards.

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