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What Meaningful Conversations Look Like

meaningful conversations survey results

Thank you to everyone who took the time to submit your thoughts related to what it looks like to have meaningful conversations, as well as all the things that can make it difficult or complicated. We were overwhelmed by not only the volume of responses but the depth of thinking. There were some definite themes that emerged and some uniqueness that reflects our uniqueness as humans. So here is a high-level summary of some of the things we heard from you. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for a deeper analysis from my colleague, Dr. Teresa Peterson, and myself.

How You Define a Meaningful Conversation

To me, a meaningful conversation is when someone is actively listening, fully present, and we are having a conversation that is positive and uplifting. It is one where I feel respected and am able to share comfortably and safely my feelings, opinions, etc.

A conversation that goes beyond the surface of daily events, to our hearts in what we are feeling and experiencing. However, I do not want to dismiss a conversation that is “catching up” with the news of our lives. It is still making connection, and if we deeply listen to each other, it can be quite meaningful. I guess meaningful for me would mean connection, continuing to deepen a friendship or relationship.

Sharing your true feelings about something and having the other person really hear you, empathize with you, and respond with questions to dive deeper, for the sake of learning or understanding. It’s especially meaningful when the sharing, listening, empathizing, and questioning goes both ways.

Internal Factors that Make Having Meaningful Conversations Difficult

Lack of trust of an individual, knowing individuals so not listen to understand, knowing even if you can support with facts, the other person will place blame and not take ownership or responsibility.

if internal factors you mean inside of me it has to do with who I am having a meaningful conversation with and if there has been past conflict or issues I may be more inclined to be guarded especially if I don’t trust the other person

Fear of how others respond (anger, judgment, disregard, argumentative, defensiveness, etc.); lack of trust; lack of clarity in your own mind leading to fumbling with the right words

External Factors that Make Having Meaningful Conversations Difficult


Competing with others to be able to say something in the conversation because others want to be heard. Everyone is so busy and we don’t take the time to have meaningful conversations.

My sense is the internal factors are a major contributor that make it difficult. Will have external factors, but it is the internal – to make a decision to give attentive time- is the challenge.

Time. Definitely in the workplace the general attitude is that if you’re talking, you’re not working so therefore wasting time. I don’t think employers understand the value in building strong work relationships – by spending time having meaningful conversations, you’re building a stronger team that can do its best work because the members understand each other and have each other’s backs.

Internal and External Factors that Make Having Meaningful Conversations easier

Being able to just be yourself and say what is on your mind without having to worry what others are going to think. Knowing someone pretty well helps make the conversation flow easier. Having a comfortable setting helps as well.

trust, confidence, depending upon topic I’ve really thought out what I want to say and the questions I may want to ask to gain clarity/understanding, it is quiet or I am in a place where I can talk freely, uninhibited and depending upon topic confidentially (safe place). Also, that I have had enough sleep, not stressed or hungry.

clarity of thought; self-reflection to ensure openness of dialogue & receptivity of the other’s opinions; conscious pausing to counteract any tendency to react (vs respond); an environment conducive to meaningful conversation (quiet space, no disruptions); willingness to prioritize the conversation; genuine care for others.

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Sarah Noll Wilson is on a mission to help leaders build and rebuild teams. She aims to empower leaders to understand and honor the beautiful complexity of the humans they serve. Through her work as an Executive Coach, an in-demand Keynote Speaker, Researcher, Contributor to Harvard Business Review, and Bestselling Author of “Don’t Feed the Elephants”, Sarah helps leaders close the gap between what they intend to do and the actual impact they make. She hosts the podcast “Conversations on Conversations”, is certified in Co-Active Coaching and Conversational Intelligence, and is a frequent guest lecturer at universities. In addition to her work with organizations, Sarah is a passionate advocate for mental health.

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