What is an Authentic Conversation? (Follow-up post to “Authentic Conversations and the Art of Feedbacking”)

What is an authentic conversation?

Dear Aurel, Bao, Claudio and others, thanks for responding to my “Authentic Conversations and the Art of Feedbacking” video post and posing the essential, genesis question “What is an authentic conversation?”

If I give you the answer it’s no longer authentic – real and true to you – so you’re going to have to figure it out on your own. Jk, rhetoric aside, I’d be happy to share my thoughts.

There was also a related question, “Are directional talks wrong entirely?” Let me combine the answers.

The measurement is trust. An authentic conversation is a mutual attempt to be honest with each other and share true thoughts and feelings in the conversation.

That’s why authentic conversations are scary and takes courage, because either side has to extend trust and the other side has to reciprocate (typically one side has to instigate the trust; it takes a mature relationship for both sides to simultaneously extend and reciprocate the trust from the beginning of the conversation). And we hesitate because we all have painful past experiences of such intentions not going two-ways.

An authentic conversation is a mutual attempt to be honest with each other and share true thoughts and feelings in the conversation.

So we tend to default to an alternative safer form of conversation; what I call functional or transactional conversations, which typically shows up as a directional talk.

The truth is, most of our conversations throughout the day are functional and transactional conversations. “Can you pass me the water please?” “Daria, do you have time today to talk about [whatever business]?” There’s nothing wrong with these conversations. And it’s totally okay to be straight to the point, directional on these talks – so long as the outcomes of these conversations are within reasonable boundaries of predictability to both parties.

The challenge is when the topic of the conversation starts becoming complicated and complex. Uncertainty creeps in, guards are raised, and by the time you notice (or not notice) the conversation becomes a full blown psychological warfare. Tell-sell-yell.

For complex conversations where although I may have a target desired outcome yet I don’t know how the conversation may unfold, I personally find that the only way to talk is with authenticity. I will share what I know and don’t know, and the rest, the best thing I can do is to listen intently and surrender to the flow of the conversation. And I say it’s the best and only way that I know because it’s the most rewarding; not only do I consistently get positive outcomes from the conversations, I also feel trusted and appreciated. Serotonin, oxytocin, endorphins, you name it, it feels great!

I understand that not everyone will share this optimist view on conversations. I believe you if you say sometimes in business we can’t have an authentic conversation because that’s part of the negotiation, and we have to talk in a matter of fact, direct way when stakes are high and things can’t be left to chance.

Yet again, who says a functional, transactional conversation can’t be an authentic conversation as well? On this, a good reference will be the “matcher” position in Adam Grant’s givers-takers-matchers model. So give it a thought.

I hope this was a helpful reply. Let me know if there’s anything else that I can help.


Coach Takeshi