Conversation or Dialogue

What’s the difference between conversation or dialogue you might be wondering?

Well, there is a BIG difference and whether or not you get the results you are seeking may depend on your understanding of the two terms, and in what context you use each of them.

Conversation can be described as a talk between two or more people where news and ideas are exchanged.

Contrasted with dialogue, a discussion between two or more people, which is focused on exploration of a particular subject or resolution to a problem.

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples.

Personal: We go out to dinner with friends. The evening is pleasant, we’re catching each other up on what’s happening in our lives, with our families, the latest TV shows we’ve watched, Netflix binges, and possible destinations for our next vacations. There are no expectations. When we leave for the evening, we’re both up to date and we go on about our lives. That is conversation.

Professional: Now, picture yourself in the workplace. You have more on your plate than you can possibly get done. You’ve reviewed your “to-do” list, you’ve prioritized, you’ve blocked out space on your calendar for strategic thinking and planning. And yet, the “to-do” list gets longer and you’ve finally reached the conclusion that you need some help.   What does that help look like? You start with a trusted mentor or colleague.

You describe the problem and your desired outcomes. You brainstorm possible solutions. You discuss what has worked for them or others and what might work for you. Perhaps you talk about who on your team or in your network has the knowledge, skills, abilities and style to help get you get done what needs to be done?  You land on one or more people who can help. This is dialogue.

Once you have identified the person, you may think you are ready to send an email… wrong!  This is a person-to-person discussion. In person is always good, but it may not be feasible due to COVID or limitations of physical locations.

And, before you schedule that meeting, you have PRE-WORK to do.


Ask yourself these questions:

What are the 2-3 objectives of the meeting?
What information do you want the person walking away knowing?
What do you want them to do?
What is the desired outcome(s) that you are looking for?
What context and background do you need to provide?
What is the “why” behind the “what” you will be asking them to do?

NOW, you can schedule that in-person meeting, Zoom or phone call. 

The following steps will guide you and the employee toward a successful outcome.

Step 1: State purpose, main point and objectives of the meeting.

Step 2:  Describe the project/task/request in terms of major outcomes.

Step 3:  Share why you have you selected this person.

  • Is this an area where the individual has experience? Are there similar situations where the employee has been successful?
  • Is this a next step in their growth? If so, what are the knowledge, skills and experience that will be key to this delegated item being a success?
  • Is this a developmental assignment? What resources are available?
  • Who is the go-to person for him/her?

Step 4:  What are the anticipated outcomes? (What and When. Resist giving the “how” unless absolutely necessary.)

Step 5:  Empower. Give examples of what and when they should check back with you before moving forward.

Step 6:  Check for understanding by asking open-ended questions (and really listen for their understanding, concerns, potential obstacles and get their buy-in).

Step 7:  Wrap it Up.

  • Summarize key points and action items.
  • Set the follow-up date during meeting.
  • Express your support.
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