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Your Conversational Pathway to Success

January 6, 2010 10:36 AM

By Jeffrey Ford and Laurie Ford

Realizing your goals takes more than passion, vision, and commitment: you need practical and productive communication to get what you want. When you are clear about your objectives, and your skills and presentation are polished properly, what’s left to do is to talk in a way that engages other people in creating your pathway to your goals. There are four types of conversation that are good to have with everyone in your life.


• Initiative Conversations: Talk about the future, and what you see is possible. What do you want for yourself and others, when do you want it, and what difference would it make if this future were fulfilled? Example: Saying to your family and friends, “I am going to start working from home next month. It will be good for me, of course, but it will also benefit all of us in many ways, and allow us to do new things together.”


• Understanding Conversations: Talk with people to learn who else could be involved in making your new future a reality, or find out where you might find the resources you need. Get their input on how you can accomplish the next steps. Example: Talking with your family, friends, and business relationships about improving your plan to start working from home and building your network of support, ideas, and opportunities.


• Performance Conversations: One very productive kind of talking is to ask someone to do something specific by a certain time, or to produce a result on a specified date. A related kind of productive talking is when you make promises to produce specific results by a stated deadline. When we ask, or promise, we are in “performance mode”. Example: Ask a good friend, “Will you help me set up a home office over the next two weekends? I have a plan for what to move and rearrange, and your help would make a big difference.” Or, make a promise to a business associate, “I will have my new business cards designed and on order with the printer by the end of this month.”


• Closure Conversations: A conversation that is always useful is one that creates closure or completion in a positive way. When you thank someone, or summarize the facts about where things stand right now on a project or plan, you are ending something in a good way. You also do this when you offer an apology for a recent mistake or misunderstanding, or clean up some “little messes” accumulated along the way. Example: You say to your daughter, “I’m sorry I snapped at you when you came home today. I’m still learning how to run my business from home, and I know you want to have fun in your free time after school. I know you want my new work arrangements to be successful, and I am sure we can come up with some better solutions than having me be cranky with you.”


Each type of conversation has a different purpose and accomplishes a different result. You will become more effective as you practice and gain confidence in using them all. With experience, you will learn more about the importance of including timeframes or deadlines in all your conversations, and discover how valuable it is to share your vision and engage others in talking with you about realizing your plans and dreams. Your path to success is paved with conversations, and each one moves you closer to your goals.

Jeffrey is a professor of management and Laurie a management consultant. They are authors of The Four Conversations: Daily Communication that Gets Results (Berrett-Koehler, 2009) and can be reached at www.usingthefourconversations.com.

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