How the way we end conversations leads to confusion or action

There's a right and wrong way to conclude a conversation with your coworkers

April 2, 2019

Have you ever worked with someone who uses confusion and complexity and avoids action? Instead of figuring out the next thing to do, they talk about how big a problem is. Instead of taking action, they freeze.

I had a work colleague that used this tactic. In critical conversations, she would talk at length about many different angles of an issue. We would discuss the tensions that caused a particular problem but rarely reached a solution. She would conclude these unproductive conversations with a signature phrase “yeah, isn’t this complicated?”

“Yeah, isn’t this complicated” is a way of saying, this situation is overwhelming, I don’t know what to do. It’s a way of saying, “the work we are doing takes effort, but I don’t want to do anything.“. Instead of figuring out an action plan and doing stuff, yeah, it’s complicated was a way of avoiding movement.

Avoiding movement

Avoid movement is safe. No action buys us time. We don’t have to face tensions with people and do the difficult emotional work of deciding.

Moving toward action: how to end conversations with helpful phrases

Instead of leaving a conversation confused, we should seek clarity. I like Brenee Brown’s phrase: “clear is kind, unclear is unkind.” We must define and create projects, not complain about problems. We can organize our projects by deciding who owns it, deciding who is going to take the next step, and by when. It takes a little more effort, but the end result is a much.

Here are some helpful questions that may help you end conversations toward clarity:

  1. Who owns this?
  2. How will we know if this is a success?
  3. What does success look like to you?
  4. How can I help?
  5. What do you want me to do?