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The skill of having an effective conversation is one which is less prevalent than you’d think. Every day we all come away from conversations and interactions wishing that they’d gone differently – that you’d said something else or reacted in a better way.

In organisations everywhere there are conversations happening which aren’t handled correctly. As a manager,  as much as 60% of your day is spent in meetings – so that essentially 5 hours of your 8 hour day having conversations: appraisals, review etc.

If those conversations aren’t handled correctly you can see how wasteful it could become. Imagine going to the cinema to watch a 2 hour film and after 50 minutes the screen just turns blank and the sounds cuts off but you still sit there the full 2 hours. A waste of time? Yes.

Boring cinema

Making your conversations more effective should therefore be a priority of yours. And not only can conversations and interactions have the potential to waste time, but they can also have a pretty major effect on things to come. Take Starbucks for example (if you’re reading this on a Monday morning you’ve probably heard that phrase already). Howard Schultz, its former CEO, had to have one such conversation early on.


Image: Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz
Our stock was in free fall. One day, I found myself on a phone call with one large institutional shareholder. He addressed the longstanding health coverage for our employees, which at the time cost $250 million. He said this would be the perfect time for Starbucks and me to cut health care. Many companies were doing this at the time, so I would be immune from any public outcry.

I tried to describe to him that the essence of the brand is humanity, and our culture is steeped in two primary benefits that have defined who we are: comprehensive health-insurance coverage for our people and equity in the form of stock options, which we give to anyone who works more than 20 hours a week. I told him, ‘This is a nonstarter at every level because you don’t understand the essence of our company.

After all these years, if you believe the financial crisis should change our principles and core purpose, perhaps you should sell your stock. I’m not building a stock. I’m trying to build a great, enduring company.’ We are a performance-driven organization, but we have to lead the company through the lens of humanity.


Conversations like this, where two drastically different opinions converge happen all the time in industry – they happen all the time in life. Entering the conversation with a clear idea of your baseline, intractable principles – those which you will not, under any circumstances budge on – is a good place to start. It’s difficult to guide the conversation to an acceptable conclusion for yourself if you don’t truly believe in, or have clarity on, your guiding principles. It’s also crucial to have clarity on what you’re likely to concede on. In fact, you need many more of those than you do your bottom line “I won’t budge” factors – that’s how you’re going to come across well to your colleagues, and win a successful conclusion to the conversation.

Then there’s the simple act of listening. Sometimes we can be so enthusiastic about our point of view that we stumble blindly through conversations without really appreciating what the other person is saying. This doesn’t exactly endear yourself to the other person, and often makes them dig their heels in. Sometimes just taking a few moments to do a stock take and show empathy towards the other opinion can be more beneficial than you’d expect.

They are just a couple of ways to help you start having more successful, skillful and effective conversations. The act of meaningful, thoughtful communication is a gift us humans often take for granted. Start cutting out those badly executed interactions and win back that wasted time.



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