On Leadership, Conversations and Getting Results


One of the most important aspects of leading people is the ability to effectively communicate with them. It is the kingpin attribute that will often determine the outcome of almost any initiative.

In fact, if you cannot communicate well, you really have very little chance of leading anyone to do anything!

Getting Results Through Conversations

Conversations: Actions That Make a Possible Future

So if communication is key to functional and rewarding leadership, then the most important type of communication is the interpersonal communication know as “conversations.”

Underlying principles

  • Conversations are actions and they make possible a future that otherwise would not exist. We coordinate action in language by making offers, promises, requests, as well as declining. All of these moves lead to creation of that which did not exist prior to the conversation.
  • Different kinds of conversations require different moves in language and in body.
  • Conversations have moods in them. Conversations evoke certain states or, you might say, require certain states for them to be effective or optimally effective.
Extreme Leadership Aug 17-19, 2012  San Diego, CA

Steve Farber’s Extreme Leadership Summit

Conversations for Relationship

This is the first conversation you ever have with someone.

“Hello, how are you? Who are you?”

In this conversation you ask questions, are curious: what do they do for a living, are they married, what matters to them, etc. In these conversations you are looking for common ground.

  • Are you in the same tribe or not?
  • Do they feel right?
  • Do you relax around them or not?
  • Do you feel good or wish to move away?

In these conversations. we are collecting TONS of data, absorbing tone and information, and usually judging like crazy.

All the while, we are usually pretending that we are not.

We walk away from these conversations saying things like “I like that person,” or “She is weird,” or whatever fundamental assessment we have already made about the person.

We either want more relatedness or less.

Then, once we are in relationship (or not), we continue to have conversations that deepen or move the relatedness forward. So we then use all the other kinds of conversations to keep the relationship intact, repaired, enriched, etc.


The body is alert and curious, and sitting back and taking in, receptive.

The mood is one of open curiosity, interest and genuineness.


Conversations for Possibility/Outcomes/Dreaming/Design

This is the conversation we had when we are determining whether to work or live together.

We are dreaming:

  • What do you want?
  • What matters to you?
  • What do I want?
  • What matters to me?
  • Can being together produce something we could not produce alone?
  • If we join forces can we create a shared future of which we both want to be part?

This is when we create outcomes and see whether partnership is possible. People do this in dating and business all the time.


The body is alert, wide, listening, relaxed and vision is in the distance.

The mood is one of ambition.


Conversations for Action

This is where people use requests, offers, promises, etc. to coordinate action.

A colleague requested that I give her some information about conversations. I accepted and promise to deliver that. All of a sudden I have a promise to fulfill.

If I fulfill, she and I get one future. If I break my promise, we get another.

I could have declined as well or counter offered. All moves that would lead us to some kind of action observable in the world. (See Leader’s Inventory for information about requests, offers and promises.)


The body is centered, fully present, aligned, and ready for movement, extended.

The mood is ambition and purpose.


Conversations for Evaluation/Completion/Accountability/Apology

This is where we take stock and do the work of maintaining health and workability in relating.

We may evaluate progress, declare satisfaction or dissatisfaction, determine where to take responsibility for ourselves, and we repair when trust is damaged in any way.

Being able to have these conversations effectively is critical to maintaining thriving, healthy, flowing, long-standing relationships both in business and personally.


The body is sitting back, relaxed, unwound and present.

The mood is love/gratitude/humility.


Conversations for Intimacy

These conversations are also part of maintaining relational health, and some may assert that the above set of conversations usually produce intimacy if done skillfully.

However, this conversation is specifically designed for intimacy building and usually happens more in the personal domain rather than in the professional domain.

This said, however, there are conversations for professional intimacy and team building that can happen.

This is usually when people share and the others listen and simply stay fully present, or “get you.” It is when we really sit back in our chair and receive another human being. It is where feelings can surface without losing face and people do not react, they just be.


The body is open, soft and receptive.

The mood is love/acceptance/generosity.



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Jennifer Cohen is Co-founder and Director at Seven Stones Leadership Group
She serves her clients as an Executive Transformational Leadership Coach
Email | LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | Web | Blog

Image Sources: mcompany.co


4 responses to “On Leadership, Conversations and Getting Results

  1. Thank you for posting this Jennifer! If we cannot communicate well (verbally) our only chance of influencing anyone is through our actions. And while that works on some level, it does not get us into any of the variety of conversations you so thoughtfully described.

    I would add that in my experience the ‘conversations for intimacy’ are essential in building strong teams. When we get to the point in our relationships where they include a mood of love/gratitude/humility those next conversations happen naturally.

    If we truly care about the people we are leading (or just working with) we don’t have to fear ‘losing face’, and we are much more likely to naturally be present with them. We tend to speak from our hearts, and the right things just come out. I find that it’s almost never what I planned on saying, and it’s almost always the right thing.

    I’ve even had that type of conversation when the outcome was an agreement that the person I was speaking to was not well suited to their job and really needed to find one to which they were better suited. When we’ve reached that point in a relationship our ego’s tend to fall away. I’ve even had team members apologize to me for putting me in the position of having to let them go. Of course not every conversation involving corrective action or a termination ended so well. I have felt a relationship had reached the point of intimacy while my team member was till testing the waters.

    I don’t believe that getting to the point of intimacy can be done skillfully… I believe it only happens when we genuinely care for others, and then it happens naturally, over time, and after we’ve put energy into helping others achieve their goals.

    At least that’s my experience… Your mileage may vary ; )



  2. Pingback: Leadership updates for 07/10/2012·

  3. Jennifer — I had a friend say that “The conversation IS the relationship.” I’m not sure I buy in 100%, but I understand her point (which I think relates to yours): in large part we define the relationship with another person by the type, quality, and frequency of our conversations. In large measure, the conversations shape the relationship. Good post! Thnx.


  4. I have heard that too from David Whyte the poet and my sense of what he was saying is that anything you are not talking about is left out of the relationship. Since language is the primary currency of relating when we are not talking about something we are not relating about it. Definitely something we could engage a healthy debate about given silence and background conversations speak quite loudly at times and given that people speak through the body as much as through language. All that said, the comment does make a point and wake us up to the power of our speaking to shape our world.
    Thanks for writing to those who have commented. Jen


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