I love excellent conversations: those delightful exchanges from which I learn, grow or evolve.

It doesn’t mean every conversation has to be dazzlingly insightful, about unicorns or existentialism. But it does mean both parties taking the effort to fully participate.

Fully participating in a conversation is harder than it might sound – it takes overcoming impatience, self-interest and distraction. Yet, it is so intensely rewarding for everyone involved. It gives rise to those conversations that stay with us, that change us profoundly.

How do we ‘fully participate’ in a conversation? Good question. Here are six key ways to make sure your conversations are meaningful and productive.

  1. Be present.

Driving, sending an email, flicking through Instie – there are myriad means of distraction. So, put down the phone. Close your laptop. Focus on the person you are in conversation with.

If you are distracted, or don’t have time to speak or listen, tell the other person. Don’t try to multitask your way through important conversations. Reschedule for a time when you can be present.

  1. Ask simple, open questions.

Let the speaker describe the situation. Simple, open questions give that person the beautiful, valuable opportunity to explore and express their thoughts and feelings in their own words – which often gives rise to insight and those delicious aha! moments.

  1. Be patient.

When you notice yourself wanting to intervene with your own opinion, bite your tongue. Is it really necessary to share this? Will it help the other person, right now? Or can you better hold off and let them speak fully, or even leave your opinion totally unexpressed?

For a lot of us, this is hard. We want others to know our brilliantly formulated, genius opinions! Sometimes we are so proud of our views we even stop listening completely, waiting for a chance to drop them like they’re smoking hot. “Did you see how smart I am?” But almost always, sitting on your opinions – giving space for the other person to articulate their thoughts – benefits speaker and listener alike.

Of course, if they ask for your opinion – brilliant – go for it. But if they don’t, allow the focus to remain on them.

  1. Don’t assume your experience is the same as theirs.

Jumping in with our own experience of a similar scenario is also super tempting. “I’ve been through that too! Prepare to be dazzled with the extraordinary way I handled a really similar situation!”

Again, bite your tongue. All experiences are individual. And if someone is opening up to you about a situation they are in, respect that and allow them to share in their own words. Rather than sharing your experience, ask another (open!) question to help them gain greater clarity.

  1. Notice when you get distracted.

It takes effort and energy to pay attention to someone else – to listen, and to speak from the heart. But it’s the only way to have a meaningful conversation.

When you observe your thoughts drifting to your dinner plans, or the fight the couple on the other side of the café are having, bring your attention back to the person you are in a conversation with. And keep it there.

  1. Set the intention.

This often comes at the outset of a conversation, but you can do this at any moment. Set the intention to be – and stay – completely present in the conversation, to speak and to listen with full awareness. To ask open questions and listen patiently to the response. To put down what you’re doing and respect the other person by paying them your full attention.

These skills take practice. But they give rise to great conversations, from which we can learn and grow. Which makes them life-changingly valuable.

Curious what coaching could mean for you? Book a free, no-obligation session with me now!