This question goes to the heart of what it is to have a conversation. Conversations can sometimes feel more like a series of loosely connected monologues than a true dialogue of peers. How then are you contributing?

In order words, what is your purpose in having a particular conversation? I have been in a series of conversations lately where one of the participants simply wanted to badger the others to agree with them. There was no listening on any side. In other situations, conversations have ultimately been about status and power – about people using them as informal (and often ineffective) therapy sessions.

Becoming more aware and intentional about what we are bringing to the conversation is particularly critical leaders looking to improve team meetings and one-on-ones. Ask yourself:

Why am I having this conversation?
What assumptions am I making?
What is this really about?

The next source of information is turning to the other person or group for clarification in the form of “What do we hope to accomplish here?” I know that in many settings and cultures this may feel uncomfortable so you may want to come at it indirectly:

  • What is the deeper issue here?
  • What is your concern?
  • What do we want to find out?
  • What is the real question?

Whilst this will allow you to dive a little deeper, it may still not come close to a sense of the true purpose. This is because so much human behaviour is both unconscious and embodied and not immediately available to the conscious mind. And yet, much of it is in plain sight in the form of body language, spoken or unspoken assumptions and individual values.

In working with a client recently around improving one-on-ones with a particular manager and more broadly with the whole management team, it became clear that whenever issues arose with the individual it was because there was an unacknowledged conflict of values between the two. They simply didn’t see the world in the same way. This led back to the need for clarity around shared values and ground rules governing particular types of conversations. It also opened the door to the possibility that the manager in question wasn’t the right fit for the management team.

The invitation therefore is to become more comfortable taking a step back from the conversation and observing what is truly playing out before your eyes. In every encounter, ask yourself:

  • How am I contributing here?
  • What might I do differently?
  • How might that change the dynamic?
  • And ultimately what purpose is the conversation serving?

Questions in the Image:

  • How am I contributing to the conversation?
  • Indeed, why am I having this conversation?
  • What is my intention?
  • What do I truly want from it?

Want to Read More Around This Topic?

Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time by Susan Scott (link to This book focuses on the importance of having open, authentic, and effective conversations in both professional and personal settings. The author presents techniques and principles for engaging in meaningful conversations that can lead to improved relationships, increased understanding and better results.

Nurturing Curiosity – Daily Practice: This is part of the Nurturing Curiosity series of tools, insights and questions designed to help nurture curiosity as part of our daily practice. In point of fact, every interaction we have is an opportunity to question what we are observing and how we and others are seeing the world. Also remember that questions come in many forms throughout our day. Just now I am holding a question for which I have no words. I simply know that I am being asked a question and that if I want to hear it on some level, I need to slow down enough to allow it to catch up with me. It reminds me of the benefit of an ongoing practice of reflection (even 5 to 10 minutes a day).

What Thoughts Would You Like to Share? My name is Tom O’Leary, and I envision a world in which curiosity shapes leadership. In this world, leaders aren’t boxed in by traditional thinking or established playbooks. They are open to fresh ideas and diverse perspectives, fostering a culture of exploration and learning. My mission is to shift leadership focus from authority, over-measurement and control to curiosity, learning and innovation, empowering leaders to prioritise the essential. My journey, lived in a number of countries and through various languages, has always been driven by a profound sense of curiosity. In fact, life has taught me that possibility lies not so much in seeking answers but in learning to ask better questions – the ones that help prioritise what is truly essential. I welcome your thoughts, feedback, or personal experiences related to these questions or any insights they may have sparked.