Start A More Meaningful Conversation #meanit

As the “Mean It” Madness continues, I’m delighted to share insights from sincere people around the world who have reached out to share their stories.

Today’s post is inspired by Cat Willliams a relationship counsellor and author of Stay Calm and Content. She shares how meaningful conversations start by telling yourself the truth.

If you have a story of where saying what you mean made all the difference, click here to share.

Start a More Meaningful Conversation

“He that undervalues himself will undervalue others, and he that undervalues others will oppress them.”
~Samuel Johnson

Many conversations break down because the issue being discussed is not the real issue at hand. Even when people are communicating “well” with “I statements” and the like, if the real issue isn’t surfaced, it can’t be addressed. Much energy is spent in such false dialogue. Truths remain unspoken and the undercurrent of resentment continues.

Cat shared that some of the hardest conversations are those in which we must apologize. It’s tough to admit to ourselves that we’ve done something wrong. It’s even more scary to face potential rejection if the apology is not accepted.

It’s far easier to convince ourselves someone else is to blame, and we start with a solid argument to ourselves. We soothe our egos, and our important apologies remain un-offered. As I heard Cat’s story, my heart tugged with a few folks in need of a call.

Leaders who are insecure are more likely to cover up their fears by limiting feedback and placing blame. What appears tough on the outside, may actually a false barricade to protect a fragile ego.

Cat shares a useful metaphor, if we think of ourselves as a car, our engine is our self-esteem. Many people don’t do the necessary maintenance and upkeep that needs to be done on that engine, and instead choose to focus on the engine’s exhaust, or the symptoms that surface in the form of emotions.

To ensure we’re dealing with the true issues, Cat encourages us to take time, and not rush to communicate. Here are several questions that can help you slow down and start a more meaningful conversation.

  1. What am I really upset about here. Is the issue I’m reacting to the real problem, or is something deeper?
  2. How is my confidence involved in this? Is there something I’m unsure or afraid of that’s making me feel insecure. In other words, am I dealing with the “engine” or the exhaust?
  3. How have my interpretations played into the meaning here?,/li>
  4. Are there other possible interpretations or explanations for what’s happening?
  5. What do I really want from this conversation? What is the best possible outcome?
  6. What is the most effective way to communicate my feelings?
  7. How can I listen so I can really hear what the other person is looking to convey? How can I encourage them to say what they really mean?

To hear my interview with Cat Williams:

She also shares additional insights in this video or visit her blog.

Posted in Authenticity & Transparency, Communication and tagged , , , .

David Dye

David Dye helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. He’s the President of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. He’s the award-winning authors of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and hosts the popular Leadership without Losing Your Soul podcast. David is a former executive and elected official. David and his wife and business partner, Karin Hurt, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells - building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. A couple of points in no particular order.

    People are controlled by their dumbphones, I mean smartphones. Rarely do you see two people having a meaningful convo.

    Most people listen at a surface level. As a coach, I’m listening at level three.

    Most people listen for what they want to hear. Selective listening.

    Most people have an agenda when having a convo. They’re not listening at all. They’re waiting for “the” moment to say what they want to say.

    Rarely do people apologize. Ever. I’m the minority. As soon as I make a mistake, I own up.

    Last, the biggest fear leaders have is being humiliated. The reason is they’re not comfortable in their own skin. They’re controlling. They’re inauthentic.

    p.s. Since Ash Wednesday, my no sweets pledge is intact. I did make an exception for Chocolate Almond Milk. 😉

    p.s.2 When I hear the word cat (I had four as a kid. Don’t care for them much any more. Dogs are my fave) it reminds me of this verse:

    And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
    Little boy blue and the man on the moon
    When you comin’ home, Dad
    I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then
    You know we’ll have a good time then

  2. Steve,
    Thanks for your terrific insights as always, and for your serenade to Cat. As for the no sweets thing, you do like depravation more than anyone I know 😉

    I too find that people far too often listen for what they most want to hear, OR are most afraid to hear… and miss what’s truly being said. Of course it’s tricky, if the person speaking is afraid to really say it and speaks with strategic ambiguity.

  3. “How is my confidence involved in this?” — KaPow!!

    Insecurity drives me to do things that weaken relationships. Confidence – not arrogance – give me permission to let others in.

  4. Karin- nice post and lovely comments. I hear the mowas of the cats.
    I find written comments more committing than verbal ones. People tend to change the tone of the voice or run away from their “position” by saying I didn’t mean it and I meant that.
    When people make a written mistake and they don’t have the courage to admit or say sorry it shows arrogance. But, what do we expect from arrogant people?
    A person is what he/she stands for. I believe the ability to say sorry is a sign of maturity and those who don’t do that are immature. I pity them.

    • Ali, You raise an interesting point about the difference between written and oral communication. Written can lead to more interpretations since we lose all the body language and such… but as you say, so much harder to retract. I know some execs who never respond to an email for that reason. I’m always intrigued by that approach.

  5. Simple and thought-provoking. Thanks for sharing this. I would add question #7 What did I learn from this conversation that can improve my listening and sharing with others? That closes a loop with yourself and helps focus on being introspective enough at the end of the conversation to make one of the takeaways a lesson learned to make future interactions more genuine.

  6. Great comments in this conversation thread…I would add that my training has taught me to look for “energy” words when in a conversation.

    Energy words are freighted with more meaning, and they can be identified when one word is emphasized in conversation, or if a person uses a word full of emotion. A simple, but effective, technique is to simply repeat the energy word and wait for their response.

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