Sometimes a conversation has a point, makes it, and ends.

Sometimes a conversation starts out with a point, veers off to the left or right, and ends up somewhere totally unexpected.

Sometimes a conversation is brief; sometimes it lasts for years.

Sometimes in a conversation, we teach the other person something.

Sometimes in a conversation, we learn something.

Sometimes we both (all) learn!

And, sad to say, sometimes a conversation blows up in our face, and we’re not sure why. What could we have done to reach a different ending?

Let’s start with the definition of a conversation.

According to most dictionaries, it’s a “sharing of thoughts and ideas.”

Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But how many times have we been in a conversation that didn’t feel right? That didn’t go as expected? That left us feeling drained, unsatisfied, angry, sad?

Here are a few ideas I’ve learned over the years that can help us create a true conversation, one that satisfies both (all) participants. It’s based on the single word that can help, even if we forget some of the details: LISTEN.

L — Let the other person finish. The fact that he took a breath is NOT a reason to jump in with your own thoughts. Give him a few moments to gather his thoughts. Be still. Wait to be sure he’s finished.

I — Identify with the feeling(s), not the story. Stories will always vary, and there’s a temptation sometimes to one-up someone else’s story (oh, wait till you hear what happened to ME!!!) or discount it completely because it would never happen / has never happened to us. But we can relate to the feelings she’s expressing, even if the reason for them is different. Who hasn’t felt angry / sad / excited / hurt about something? Build rapport by acknowledging you understand the feelings she mentioned.

S — Stay out of the story. Do NOT hijack it and make it about you and your experience. When acknowledging her feelings, be sure to stick with her story. It’s hers. Do not make it yours with your own version.

T — Talk about facts, not personalities. Saying “she’s a nut job” or “he’s useless” just fans flames. What did you hear him say happened? What actions can you explore together?

E — Encourage solutions. If there’s any way to look to the future with hope, encourage thinking about what could change. How might that happen? What would be the first steps?

N — Note non-verbal cues. This is probably as important as anything else we can do. Sometimes a speaker’s words, tone of voice, and physical responses are not aligned, and when we receive that “mixed message,” most of us — knowingly or not — believe what we see, not always what we hear. Someone who is hunched over, saying “I’m fine” is clearly not fine.

You may have seen these ideas before; they’re hardly new. But which ones are you practicing in your daily life? In your conversations? In your relationships?