Mastering the Art of Conversation


By Sharon Schweitzer

Here are some tips in order for you to have a productive and positive conversation, regardless of what topic you are discussing. To begin, self reflect on what is my goal or purpose for the conversation? What do I hope to accomplish? What is an ideal outcome?Consider hidden agendas. Do I have honorable goals? Educating a spouse, family member or friends; or maybe improving communication with your teenager. Be cognizant of excessively critical or condescending language. Base the conversation on a supportive purpose.

Next, consider some of the following-Am I making assumptions about others intentions? If I am experiencing intimidation belittlement, disrespect, or marginalization – is that what my spouse intention? Impact does not necessarily equal intent. Third, Are my “hot buttons” being tested? Am I overly emotional or responding disproportionately for the situation? Is my personal history triggered? Am I honestly assessing my emotions?

As the next step, think of  what is my perception of how the conversation will unfold? Avoid a self-fulfilling prophecy. Think positively and seek maximum effectiveness. 

It is also important to observe the other person. How is the other person analyzing the situation? Is it a challenge for them? What are their needs and fears? What solution might they suggest? Reframe them as partner.

But also, don’t ignore yourself.  What are my fears and needs? Any common ground? Lastly, how have I contributed to the conflict? How has the other person?

If you are truly present in a conversation, you are not doing anything else. You are focused on the other person and you are listening with your whole body.

In her book “Radical Candor,” Kim Scott talks about how as emotion gets more intense in a conversation, the listener’s level of compassion should go up in relation.

That’s not always our first response, especially if we’re having a hard time relating to the person’s reaction. And frankly, it can be uncomfortable when people cry, which tends to happen when emotion is running high.

Many times, you will be able to solve the mystery and fix somebody’s problem. But often, there is no fixable problem and people just want you to listen. That can be challenging for leaders who are wired to home in on gaps and find solutions.

In these situations, a helpful practice is “sunset listening.” When you look at a sunset, you don’t judge its shortcomings or find ways it could be better – it’s beautiful the way it is. A conversation can be the same. If you know there’s nothing you can do to change the situation, sit back and listen without judging. Your body language will shift correspondingly, and the person will leave feeling as if they were truly heard.

After reading these tips on listening, are there any areas where you could improve your practice? Make a list. In your next conversation, try sunset listening and reflect on the results. Did it feel different? Were you able to let go of judgments? How do you think it made the other person feel?


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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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