The 4 Stages of a Good Conversation
I often think of conversations as the life-force that enlivens — or throttles — relationships.
Conversations are never really complete.
They are ongoing. Winding. Emergent. Unpredictable.
And, when they are life-affirming and generative, conversations tend to go through some very predictable stages.
When both people are aware, alive, awake, and skilled, these stages move in a spiral pattern: every time you revisit a stage, there’s a new insight, a deeper understanding, more trust, and more intimacy. Both people become more of who they really are. Both people find themselves enlivened and expanded by the conversation.
However, when either of the people remains unwilling or unable to self-reflect, empathize, drop their defenses, or get vulnerable, these stages can either stall out or get stuck. Then they begin to feel like never-ending cycles that simply repeat as painful, exhausting loops. The more heavily defended one or both people are, the more stuck and entrenched the pain becomes.
Stage 1: Speaking Up
Having the courage to actually say something is the first step.
Take a deep breath and notice the places where you self-silence. Ask yourself: What conversations am I avoiding these days? What truths are remaining unsaid? What awareness do I need to share with someone else?
Take some time to script out an opening to the conversation you want to have, and be explicit about these three key elements:
- What moment/trigger has brought this pattern, concern, gratitude, or appreciation into your awareness
- What matters to you about it
- What is your intention in bringing this up; what beautiful vision is your heart trying to serve
Stage 2: Opening Up
Good conversations flow in feedback loops by keeping airtime balanced. Share the airtime and go back and forth. Avoid long monologues of interpretation and analysis (you’ll get stuck and paralyzed there).
This stage focuses on these four behaviors:
- Offering your inner truths
- Asking many questions
- Reflecting back their content
- Checking for understanding
As you bring up your own truths and listen to the truths of another person, the content can begin to mushroom and expand. You may find yourself in various rabbit holes and on tangents. All sorts of memories, dreams, hurts, vulnerabilities, opinions, and judgments that were previously suppressed might make their way into the conversation.
The space between you opens up, and it gets very messy.
Settle into this opening up stage and allow the content to emerge.
You can organize it later.
Listen for what matters to each of you.
Lean into the pain points, which will lead you to the next stage.
Stage 3: Cleaning Up
As things begin to open up and both people begin to reveal themselves more deeply, stored painful memories, past hurts, and past slights often begin to surface. This is natural. It’s a sign that you’re building trust.
You may find out that you stepped on a seedling in the other person’s heart without even realizing it. You may find out that something was cracked or broken and you weren’t aware of it. You may want to reveal to another person something that you hadn’t brought up or talked about before.
Take the time to clean up anything stored from the past and heal the pain that each of you’ve been carrying.
Communicate your care.
Share what matters.
No blame. No shame.
Just offer deep listening, empathy, self-responsibility, and repair work.
Stage 4: Building Up
The conversation isn’t over until both people are glad it happened. Make a commitment to growth and aliveness.
What are you willing to work on?
What have you learned that you didn’t know before you started talking?
What insights have you gained?
How has your awareness increased?
How will your behaviors shift as you move forward?
Reveal yourself, and gently invite the other person to reveal their emerging truths too.
Keep talking — back and forth — until you feel more admiration, trust, intimacy, and respect.
What do you need to ask, offer, or say to nurture cycles of growth, learning, and re-negotiation that keep vibrant relationships alive?
Looking for a supportive, empathic, and growth-oriented community for learning and practice? Consider joining my free Q&A calls, Conversations from the Heart. We meet every Wednesday at 10am CT via Zoom. Click here to learn more.
Dr. Yvette Erasmus is a psychologist, teacher, and consultant who specializes in transformative education for human healing and growth. Synthesizing mind-body medicine, somatic experiencing, diversity and inclusiveness, nonviolent communication, and integral-relational-cultural psychology, Dr. Erasmus integrates core insights from multiple wisdom traditions and offers various programs for community learning as well as one-on-one consulting. To learn more, visit yvetteerasmus.com.