Have you ever left a business meeting with a deep feeling of resentment?

Benjamin P. Taylor
2 min readMay 23, 2024

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If you did, then probably:
- it hit your productivity
- the conversation didn’t achieve what was most needed and would have been most useful
- your resentment was being communicated, one way or the other, but not usefully
- you weren’t the only person with issues about that meetings

Every time I teach on ‘productive conversations’ — as I did recently for the level 7 systems thinking apprenticeship — I remember how bloody important it is. This is the ‘secret’, extremely obvious human issue which most impacts hashtag#Leadership hashtag#Innovation hashtag#ChangeManagement

So much of the quality of our experience — and the quality of our results — depends on practising the skills and rituals that can actually make conversations meaningful.

Here are some of those practices:
- Check-in: It’s not just about being present, it’s about being engaged. How are you really entering the space?

- Advocacy vs Inquiry: Are you stating your point or genuinely seeking to understand? It’s a dance between expressing and exploring.

- The Ladder of Inference: We all climb it, but are we aware of the steps? Understanding our thought process is key to breaking down barriers.

- Framing: How we view a situation dictates our actions. Are you stuck in a frame that’s limiting your perspective?

- Defensive Routines: They’re the silent killers of growth. Are we protecting our ego at the cost of learning?

Too often, we fall into the trap of traditional virtues in conversations — support without challenge, respect without honesty, and team play without questioning. These can lead to sterile interactions that stifle growth and innovation.

Instead, let’s embrace learning virtues:
- Support: Help others see gaps in their logic and alert them to unintended consequences.
- Respect: Assume others are well-motivated and capable of learning.
- Team Play: Express concerns and inquire into others’ logic to foster mutual understanding.

Creating a robust culture where ideas flow freely and challenges are welcomed is no easy feat, but it’s the cornerstone of innovation and progress. It’s about moving from a ‘preserve/protect’ mindset to one that ‘allows/adapts’ and ultimately thrives.

What’s one step you can take today to foster more productive conversations in your workspace? Drop your thoughts below and let’s… have a conversation…

[Material as always from Argyris, Schon, the Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, and other solid 20th Century sources! I share many slides here, as usual, in case someone has fun with them — but they do lack the full context of how I present them]

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