Conversations are the heart of connection and collaboration

When we run our open training course on advanced meeting facilitation there is a point in the training that always sparks debate. This happens when we explore the art of meeting design, when we refer to the sections of a meeting as ‘conversations’. These are the parts of a meeting that might traditionally be referred to as ‘agenda items’ but we call them conversations because we believe this gets to the nub of what they should be.

Agenda items can too frequently be periods of time where people present decks of information at each other. Conversations are about people engaging with each other. The debate we have on the training is always interesting because it uncovers the paradigms we have about meetings. It often starts to shift people’s thinking from the way meetings tend to be into the realms of how they could be.

Agenda items can too frequently be periods of time where people present decks of information at each other. Conversations are about people engaging with each other.

After all, what is the point of meeting? If we just want to share information we can do this electronically these days. If we just want to hear someone ‘talk us through’ some slides we can create a series of videos.

The power of meeting lies in people having rich conversations that develop meaning, generate commitment and drive for results. On occasion a rich conversation can organically spark but we find that in most meetings we need to work to create the right environment, attitudes and behaviours for rich conversations.

Rich conversations have some common features, regardless of the topic.
Mutual mindset Unilateral mindset

A Mutual Mindset

What is your mindset when you meet with people? High quality conversation and decision making is supported by a mutual mindset — as opposed to a unilateral mindset.

Whilst we might chuckle at this description of unilateral mindset, if we are honest with ourselves, we have all been there. When I spot myself feeling ‘right’ about something, my alarm bells start ringing because I am often missing something and trying to persuade others of my view–instead of understanding their reasoning.

Advocacy and inquiry

Balance Advocacy and Enquiry

What is your preference in conversation, do you prefer to tell people what you think (advocacy) or ask questions (inquiry)? Neither is right or wrong. A feature of high quality conversations, however, is that there is a balance of both.

And within this framework it is useful to consider how we state our views. Do you explain your reasoning to allow others to ‘see your working out’? And how we inquire–do we inquire after other people’s reasoning before agreeing or challenging views?


How much time do you spend listening in meetings? I mean really listen, to understand and find meaning in what others are saying? Not just waiting before you make your point! In a rich conversation there is high quality listening from all involved, which enables genuine understanding and the BUILDING OF IDEAS TOGETHER.

Charles Kingsmill has just written a great article about listening, The Crucial Skill That Nobody Teaches. I find that a key to improving listening in a group is to slow down the pace of the conversation. This allows us to digest what we are hearing and makes space for thinking between the comments, rather than during them. Nancy Kline’s book Time to Think explores this area in more depth.


How often do you face into conflict in meetings? One lesson I have learnt most painfully is that it is the conversations we don’t have together that are most likely to undermine the work done in a meeting. Whatever we might fear about heading into an uncomfortable truth, is is usually less painful than the result of ignoring or avoiding a difficult conversation. Susan Scott’s book, Fierce Conversations, speaks to this in much more depth.

At Meeting Magic and Scribing Magic we foster conversations in meetings, encouraging less ‘decking’. We support the balancing of inquiry and being conscious of your mindset–mutual or unilateral–in order to engage your facilitative leadership styles. At the end of the day human beings can only truly connect and collaborate through conversations. Understanding how to have effective conversations will create a solid meeting culture.

If you want to converse with us about an upcoming meeting or, indeed, your overall meeting culture give us a call at +44 (0)1628 471 114 or complete our contact form to begin a conversation about high quality connecting and collaboration. We love a good chat.