Making Conversation Work


At Halo we specialise in why people do what they do, which means that for the last twenty five years I have studied the effect on people of hundreds of different scenarios, communication methods and services of every description.  Conversations drive how people feel and therefore what they do and I have seen how four different emotions in conversation affects behaviours.  These four emotions operate in a hierarchy starting with, empathy.  In each example the speaker is the person with the “issue” and the listener the person receiving the “issue”.


This is the most passive form of conversation.  It is where the listener merely emotes at a similar intensity to the speaker and gently underpins the speaker’s point of view or feelings.  This works well when no outcome, beyond allowing the person to feel heard is required.


Sympathy goes beyond empathy.  Here the listener is engaged with the conversation at an emotional level and uses sympathy as a way of generating a different response.  By using sympathy, the listener is aiming to build confidence in the speaker to ask them to feel differently about the issue in the hope that they may go and work themselves through to a different, ideally better outcome.  Sympathy is a useful tool to quietly motivate someone to move from an unhelpful position to a positive one.


Using challenge generally requires a deeper relationship between the speaker and the listener to work effectively, but is an important move to make for better, more positive outcomes.  Challenge in a conversation requires the listener to be confident in their communication skills and understanding the emotional response they are creating in the speaker.


Most conversations do not get this far.  In my study, when I experimented in generating solutions most speakers were unhappy for the conversation to progress to this stage, however those that did, proved to be the most mutually rewarding of any.  To be able to progress to this stage requires a joint agreement. Sometimes it was best to explicitly ask the speaker if they were happy to be offered a solution.  Few say “no” but some really mean “no” and this is why the emotional intelligence of the listener has to be high to both get to this stage and use it effectively.

In business scenarios, getting to a solution is the strongest indicator of an engaged relationship that there is, and vital for building trust.  What I discovered in my work was that to do so may require many conversations in the empathy and sympathy stage before attempting this depth.  However, this is not always the case and where you are able to get to challenge and solution quickly and without pain for either party, the best outcomes are available for everyone.  These are the conversations where both people leave smiling and feel a positive difference has been made.

At Halo, we specialise in helping successful organisations and people get to the outcomes they want and need.  If you would like help measuring your performance then do contact us.