Converse Like a Professional, But. . . .

. . . expect to revisit, restructure and revalue the conversation.

FYI: This is a response to a great number of interactions over more than thirty years of consulting. It grows out of two recurring questions I’ve been asked regularly: “Can I say that?” and “Can I do that?” They’ve been asked by entry-level employees and managers as well as senior executives. So here goes.

Converse, don’t merely talk. Conversation is about interaction and even dialog. It emphasizes shared, growing ideas. Talk tends to quickly become monologue or a presentation–as in, “my talk was about. . . ” Talk is also very encompassing, whereas conversation refers to a specific kind of talk with definite parameters.

The term “professional” emphasizes a person who engages in a practice and has certain and unique kinds of competencies and skills. It can be used popularly to refer to any businessperson at any level: entry-level to executive. Although some academics don’t think of business as a profession and some business people don’t think of themselves as professional, clearly the term has cachet. The term is used both negatively and positively, as in “that’s not very professional,” and “you can count on her being very professional in her dealings.” It’s important to think about yourself in this manner. It implies a more careful consideration of your behaviors.

Ummm, yeah. Vocabulary is always important. The shift of a single word can automatically change one’s perspective.

It’s important to understand that revisiting a conversation is nearly always OK. I had one local client for years with whom I regularly revisited issues. Typically, he was in a hurry and we failed to finish a given conversation. In the next few days I’d drop back into his office and tell him I wanted to revisit our previous conversation. “Oh, oh,” he’d often respond. “How much is this going to cost me?” And usually he was right on. When you’re an employee, rather than a consultant, revisiting is often more valuable than the initial conversation–and not merely for money. Not only does it announce to the other person that you’ve given serious thought to a conversation, but that it’s an important matter.


Effective conversations inevitably stir up new ideas. So there are numerous reasons for revisiting. First, it’s important for many employees to understand that revisiting is nearly always a viable option. (I’ve said this twice!) An initial conversation is just that: an initial conversation–implying more to come. Thinking through that conversation overnight moves the gray matter toward new ways of thinking about an issue. So revisiting is often highly creative. Of course, another reason for revisiting is recognition of overt or covert conflict, including simple misunderstanding or damaging rebuffs.

Structure in conversations refers to reworking the patterns or conditions explicit or implicit in a conversation. All conversations inherently have both content and relationship matters. Often that’s a lot to manage in a single conversation, causing at least one participant in the conversation to want to “redo” the conversation. A whole host of things typically create the need for restructuring. They may be political matters, framing, hierarchy, undiscussables, failure to focus on objectives, gossip, conversational takeovers where one couldn’t complete his or her ideas, assumptions, quality of data and inferences, openness and transparency–an infinite number of issues.

At their heart, values are judgments about what is good, bad, right, appropriate, important, true, accurate, etc. Our behaviors, attitudes and predispositions to respond favorably or unfavorably to issues in the environment are influenced directly by these values. Much like attitudes and beliefs, values create patterns of behavior. In business our values arise from a host of different issues: organizational rules, managerial expectations, personal needs, processes, disciplines, strategies. Whenever we change the priority or attitude toward a process or behavior, we are revaluing. Revaluing refers to adjusting, redoing or even reframing those assessments.

Rewards come to those who build their reality on these three “givens.”

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