5 Ways to Create Purposeful Conversations

Maybe you just walked out of a meeting and didn’t feel like you had a conversation. Maybe it felt like all of the oxygen in the room was being taken up by one person, or maybe it felt like a list of dictates from the person with the most positional power, or maybe it felt like the same circular conversation you’ve been showing up to every week. These kinds of conversations can feel ineffective and inefficient, and just plain frustrating. What’s a person to do?

Choosing to create or intentionally show up to a Purposeful Conversation feels different because you are taking an active role in collective sense-making and engaging in useful debate toward a common goal. It takes practice to be fully present in a conversation and to role model behaviors that allow for collective decision making or problem solving to develop.

Below are five ways to create the conditions for a Purposeful Conversation.

1. Set The Conditions

Who’s running this show? Take time to define who is keeping the meeting on track and who is responsible for taking action after the meeting. Defined roles help everyone to know their time is important and that there will be follow-up afterwards. Share the intention for your time together and the desired outcome for the conversation.

2. Ask Curious Questions

Hear or here? It is much easier to participate in a conversation where everyone is using the same words to mean the same things. Asking genuine, curiosity-driven questions such as “will you help me understand” and “tell me more” will drive better results rather than defensive questions that shut down the conversation. Focus on listening to understand, not listening to reply (i.e. listen, pause, reflect, then respond.)

3. Engage in Joint Sense-Making

Lecture, lecture, lecture…yawn… Focusing on opening the space for dialogueand creating an opportunity for clarifying questions to be asked gives everyonethe chance to make sense of what’s being discussed. This may feel like it will take more time, but the result is that everyone can connect the dots and see the bigger picture. And sometimes it may not be the right time or place, but when necessary, make sure it happens.

4. End Endless Debates

The Neverending Story was a great movie, but even that came to an end. There is nothing more frustrating than endless debates that never conclude. First, take the time to be clear about who in the conversation has a voice and who has a vote. Second, own the fact that you may be the one keeping the debate going. Third, if it’s your decision, be effective at ending the debate. Ask for your colleagues’ input and then let the group know that you will be making a decision at the end of the meeting.

5. Solve the Avoided

Denial is not just a river in Egypt. It takes courage to confront hard problems or call out misaligned behaviors with professionalism. Collective problem solving requires addressing often undiscussed issues. You have the opportunity to role model new ways of bringing uncomfortable topics into conversation.

Start with self and remember that you can create the conversations that will be most in service to you, your team, and your organization.

At the end of the day, you only have control over your own behavior and an opportunity to influence the conditions that create a Purposeful Conversation. If you are the host of a meeting, experiment with one of these five ways. As a participant, be mindful of how you are showing up. In meetings where other people impede effectiveness, follow up with them privately. Start with Self and remember that you can create the conversations that will be most in service to you, your team, and your organization.

About the Author:
Kate Huckabay, MA
Consultant, Karrikins Group

As a practitioner of Start with Self, Kate has been having Purposeful Conversations
with senior leaders for more than a decade. Many of these conversations have
focused on leveraging employee strengths, creating value for customers, developing
relationships, innovating internal processes, personal leadership, and social justice.
Her social justice work includes using theater as a forum for solving the avoided. As
a consultant with Karrikins Group, Kate delivers client projects including facilitation,
design, and workshop execution. Kate loves working on and with teams, is ever curious
about the human experience, and is dedicated to collective and individual growth.

Julie Williamson, PhD
Chief Growth Enabler, Karrikins Group

Julie works with clients and colleagues to create conversations that produce value.
Her work with executives and their teams is focused on closing the gap between
agreement and alignment while driving positive business results. Julie loves seeing
groups come together to deliver in powerful ways that exceed the capabilities of
any one member.

Contact Us:
For more information, reach out to us at We’d love to talk with you about how we could
inspire your leaders to lead and join Purposeful Conversations and deliver amazing results for your organization.