How to Rise Above Butterfly Conversations


I hate wasting time in conversations that bounce around and never arrive. Talk – for the sake of talk – is for Saturday morning coffee with friends. But, successful leaders itch for next steps and paths to better.

Impatience is practically
a virtue for leaders who get things done.

Lousy conversations bounce like butterflies on sunny days, lots of movement but no progress. Butterfly conversations:

  1. Waste time.
  2. Make dark situations darker.
  3. Validate helplessness. “I guess it’s too complicated to do anything.”
  4. Console even though nothing changed. “We tried.”


Power conversations begin with pressing questions. How do I correct an employee? How do I overcome the feeling that I’m not enough? What path should I take?


Power conversations get lost in empathy and detail. Explanations and clarifications confuse rather than clarify.

People who ask questions,
want and need to talk about themselves.

Show empathy by listening to details but, whatever you do, don’t address them. The details are for them not you.

Power moment:

Conversations become powerful after details spill out and you ask, “What’s the question?” again.

Don’t deal with the details.
Listen for the real question.

Real questions appear after details are shared. “How do I correct an employee?” becomes, “How do I deal with my fear of tough conversations?”

Power conversations:

  1. Address real, not surface, questions.
  2. Focus on the person in front of you not others.
  3. Don’t solve everything.
  4. Develop simple imperfect paths forward.
  5. Include, “When can we follow up on this next week?”

Power follow-up:

After details are given and questions clarified, ask:

  1. What’s important about this?
  2. What does a win look like?
  3. What do you look like if you find your answer?
  4. How will you be different?
  5. What three steps can you take toward winning?

Bonus material: “Seven Simple Steps from Can’t to Can.”

How do you keep conversations moving toward useful solutions?

keynotes and workshops