800-CEO-READ Interviews Jeffrey re The Four Conversations

Todd Sattersten, President of 800-CEO-READ, conducted an interview with Jeffrey regarding The Four Conversations.  You can listen to the interview here.

Using Conversations to Motivate Others

We recently had a manager, let’s call her Lisa, ask “How do I motivate the people on my team to care about the project we have?”  Interesting question, but it is misdirected.  Rather than focusing on their motivation, we told Lisa to focus on her conversations.

Motives and Motivation

Managers and social scientists have long been interested in why people do what they do.  Why, for example, are some people willing to work late on a project when others aren’t?  Why do some people seem to work hard and others don’t?

The popular explanation for these differences is that people have different motives and motivations.  Motives are believed to be internal conditions that cause a person to act in a particular way.  People are already “motivated” or “not motivated” to behave in particular ways, and we often find ourselves trying to figure out how to change a person who is “not motivated” into someone who is “motivated”.

Lisa believed the people on her team didn’t care enough about the project.  She wanted to change their motivation so they would care more about the project and thus work harder and in more effective ways for its success.

The trouble is, we can’t see motives.  If they exist at all, they are internal and hidden from our view.  Lisa couldn’t see inside the people on her team to know for sure whether they “cared” or not.  She could only see the work they did and the ways they interacted with her and with each other. The truth is that Lisa doesn’t know anything about their insides, only about their external actions and the visible results they are – or are not – producing.

Lisa would be better off giving up the attempt to change their motivations and just asking herself, “What can I do to alter their actions and the results they produce?”

Lisa and Her Boss

The best chance you have of getting people more engaged in your project is to change the type of conversations you are having with them.

We asked Lisa, “Have you ever worked on a project you didn’t want to do?”

“Of course”, she replied.

“Would it be fair to say, you weren’t motivated to do it, but you did it anyway?”

“Yes, absolutely!  In fact, I once worked on a project I hated, but I still did it.”

“Did you care about that project?”

“No, not at all.  I just wanted it over.”

“If you didn’t care, why did you do it?”

Lisa thought for a minute and replied, “Two reasons.  First, it was important to my boss, whom I respected considerably.  And second, because I had told him I would do it.”

We asked, “How did you know the project was important to him?”

“He told me all about the project and how it related to the new product development strategy the company was undertaking. He said it was critical to our future success.  And then he looked me in the eye and asked me if I would help make the project a success.  How could I say no?”

Notice that Lisa’s boss didn’t try to do anything about her motivation.  He didn’t try to get her to care – in fact, Lisa didn’t even like the project, though her boss never knew that.

Her boss took the time to tell her how important the project was to him and to the company.  He had an initiative conversation in which he created a future that was important. Then he asked her to participate in making that future real.

All You’ve Got Are Conversations

Lisa realized that she had never really explained the importance of the project. She had never really talked to her team about why this particular project mattered, how it could be accomplished, or who else would be involved.  She had reviewed the basic project plan as it had been given to her.

“I see that I just presented the plan to them,” Lisa said, “and I didn’t really go over the way it connected to the new corporate push to use social media for reaching customers in new ways. They were in the big meeting in the auditorium about the change in corporate strategies, and I assumed they would make the connection. So when I announced the project, I told them the schedule and assignments and just assumed they would do their jobs.”

“This project might look like a boring research project, but it is part of a bigger three-year plan to create new customer communications and new product lines. I never really had a conversation with them to be sure they were on board with that. When they didn’t seem to step up, I figured the problem was with them – they didn’t care.  I now see it may be more about how I talked to them – or didn’t.”

Conversations are your only tool for getting other people to do things.  Those conversations might impact people’s motivation – we don’t know about that.  We do know that it is easy to change your conversations. Let us know what you think by posting a comment.

[This article reprinted with permission from The Great Managing Newsletter]

Great Review of The Four Conversations

The following review of The Four Conversations was written by 800-CEO-READ and posted on their bl0g.  It is reprinted here with their permission.  If you haven’t discovered 800-CEO-READ, we encourage you to check them out.  They are a wealth of valuable information about business books.


Jack Covert Selects – The Four Conversations

Communication is the foundation of relationships, whether personal or professional, and rarely are we trained in how to improve those skills. Instead, experience tends to be our guide. We use commands and requests, whatever has worked for us in the past. The Four Conversations shows that we may not be taking full advantage of the tools available to us.

Jeffrey and Laurie Ford believe conversation can be classified into four types. Initiative conversations set the vision and direction, like John F. Kennedy’s 1961 speech that committed to putting men on the moon. If initiative conversations are about what, when, and why, understanding discussions answer the who and the how. These conversations ground individuals at the start of a project by laying out the roles they will play, and reinforce the value of the initiative. Understanding conversations do not create action, however. That’s the purpose of performance conversations: asking that something be done and obtaining a promise for completion. Closure conversations mark an ending and create the opportunity for new beginnings.

The authors make a clear argument for just why it is so important to become more aware of our own tendencies toward how we use these types of conversations. Using the four conversations with a more balanced and/or intentional approach in the workplace leads to better productivity and results. Reducing tardiness on projects comes from using all four types effectively. Closure conversations heal wounds. Interrogating performance excuses can reveal whether individuals did everything they could. Altering the rate of progress toward a goal is as simple as increasing the frequency and the magnitude of what you ask for.

The Four Conversations is a generalist book that anyone can use to his or her advantage. The authors’ holistic view of communication pulls together concepts commonly needed in the areas of leadership, management, and change initiatives. I like books that are applicable and can produce powerful results, and The Four Conversations meets both criteria. It provides an opportunity to improve yourself and your business by improving your communication skills.


Welcome to Using the Four Conversations!  We have created this blog as a way to be in communication with people who are using, or who are interested in learning The Four Conversations.  We will post ideas, tips, and examples so that you can develop your ability to use The Four Conversations with greater ease and effectiveness.  We welcome your questions, your comments, and your observations.

Jeffrey and Laurie