From Boardroom to Classroom to Family Room: Having Conversations that Matter

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘conversation’? Perhaps you think of a casual conversation with friends about topics that randomly flow from one to another.


More formal conversations take place at work or board meetings, in classroom discussions and family meetings. These conversations have a particular purpose – they are intentional.

In practice, however, meetings and discussions with a particular purpose don’t always turn out as planned.

Learning Conversation Guideline 1: Listen Deeply for Understanding

In our first article we introduced the "5 Guidelines for Learning Conversations" as basic ground rules for intentional conversations -- conversations that have a purpose at work, in school, at home and in the community.


When everyone involved in the conversation understands, agrees to and practices these guidelines, conversations become a safe space to create change, whether that change is commitment and follow-through on agreed-upon actions, or simply a change in the sense of learning, gaining a deeper understanding of each other or an important issue.


The first Learning Conversation Guideline is "Listen Deeply for Understanding". 

Learning Conversation Guideline 2: Speak from the Heart

In conversations we have in the workplace, community, school and home – from formal meetings to one-on-one discussions – we often protect ourselves.  We don’t say directly what we mean or don’t share our true thoughts – out of fear, mistrust, and sometimes, simply habit.


Unless we speak from the heart, we open ourselves up to misinterpretation, frustration, and distancing from the people we are meeting with. We often need to have the same conversation over and over again.

Learning Conversation Guideline 3: Suspend Certainty

Any conversation with a purpose, from formal meetings to classroom or family discussions, will benefit from some basic ground rules. The first two, listen “Deeply for Understanding” and “Speak from the Heart”, rely on the third, “Suspend Certainty”.  And, suspending certainty only works with a commitment to following the first two guidelines.


Suspending certainty means suspending our assumptions. It does not mean that we give up our opinions or beliefs; it means that we merely put them on hold for the sake of the conversation.

Learning Conversation Guideline 4: Hold Space for Difference

Conflict seems frightening to many of us.  We tend to dredge up memories of pain and humiliation – of being on the losing end.


Yet, if responded to effectively, conflict is a wonderful thing.  It represents our uniqueness as individuals and leads to a deeper and expanded understanding.


To “Hold Space for Difference” in conversations is:

Learning Conversation Guideline 5: Slow the Conversation

Think back to a time when you were deeply heard.  Reflect on the pace of that conversation.


Did you take time to choose words that would have the most meaning? Did you allow time for the person listening to take in your words?


You probably did not force the conversation and were comfortable with silences. It’s likely you allowed the conversation to follow its own course, feeling free to say what was on your heart, and wanted nothing less from the person listening.

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Landrum, South Carolina | United States


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