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The optimal zone in a conversation

You can’t change people (and believe me, I’ve tried very hard).

Change is always self-directed.

I know you know this, but if you listen to your conversations you’ll realise that in one way or another you’re trying to change people when:

- you’re trying to persuade a prospect to do something (buying) while overcoming their objections (sales)

- you’re trying to persuade people in your team that they need to do something that you think is needed and is the right thing to do (management)

- you’re trying to persuade your kids to do something they’ve clearly said they don’t want to do (parenting)

- you’re trying to persuade your team or board that your proposal is the right way to move forward (any sort of management or leadership).

You want them to see something and change their point of view or opinion.

Isn’t it the whole point of a conversation to change peoples’ minds?


The point of any conversation is to connect with the person in front of you.

And great conversations operate in an optimal zone: the present.

If your conversation is about the past – what’s been done wrong, what’s not working, what could have been done better, or what’s missing – people will feel guilty and bad about themselves.

They can’t change the past or reverse mistakes they’ve made . It’s the same if all the good happened in the past and never in the present (‘You were great at doing this, and you did this so well, and you were amazing at that’).

If your conversations are about the future and discussing what needs to be done – what’s ahead, what’s urgent, what the priorities are, the new agenda and strategy – people will feel anxious.

Anxious about the amount of change they need to face and about how to handle it. They’ll feel under pressure.

The best conversations create a buffer: the present, a place for connection, a place to anchor the conversation.

How do you feel? What are you seeing? What matters right now in your job? What are you prioritising? What are you needing right now to do the job?

Change has to be anchored in the present.

If you want to make a conversation about change relevant and meaningful, make it about here and now, and once you’ve done this you can safely address the past and the future.


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