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When global change is on all of our doorsteps, people need to know their voice is being heard. People can only be heard when someone offers time to truly listen.

The urgency of having the right type of conversation, especially today in a remote setting, has significantly increased overnight. This blog provides a perspective on a particular type of conversation and my own “personal experiences”  that show we need them more than ever. As inspired by the article “Compassionate communication and slow conversations”, let’s call these conversations “slow conversations”.

Whether you are leading, or are part of a team right now, we need to be hearing each other more than ever. Leadership and team membership, as we all know, is in an ongoing, necessary state of change. Some leaders and teams are further than others, the need for hearing each other still applies no matter how far you are in your transition. The relationship between leaders and teams has shifted from transfer of wisdom to nurturing of people. In order to effectively continue this shift, when the operating parameters are changing on a daily basis, we need to be continually conscious of each others’ needs and how we are communicating with one another.

Personal experience: “Despite the current situation the first week of remote working ended with a strong, positive impulse which will carry into the weeks to follow. The weeks that follow are filled with uncertainty, and yet the opportunity this creates for meaningful change feels stronger as a result of this week’s experiences. This week’s experiences have reminded us of the need to truly listen, as well as the need of being truly heard. The moments when this happened most effectively are in what could be called slow conversations.”

Slow conversations are motivated, intrinsically, by a desire to act differently in a world that is continuing to turn faster from one moment to the next. The rate of change has now shifted exponentially. Slow conversations provide a way to counter this acceleration.


So, what is a slow conversation? 

A slow conversation follows these principles:

  • Making an invitation which allows conversation partners to truly engage openly
  • Accepting an invitation which allows conversation partners to truly engage openly
  • Taking the stance when listening of wanting to really understand
  • Understanding that when talking means truly being heard
  • Knowing that the conversation will remain confidential
  • Having no time pressure


What makes a slow conversation different from a coaching conversation?

When you look at the principles above you might think these are simply guidelines for a good coaching conversation. The difference with the slow conversation is that both participants are there for each other, and the coaching or mentoring role can be exchanged throughout the conversation.

Coaching: the coach remains in an inquisitive, questioning stance with a complete focus on the coachee’s world. The coach offers no solutions, only questions to support the coachee in their thinking.

Mentoring: the mentor starts in a coaching stance and may then share their own experiences as impulses for the mentee.

Important: the mentor returns to a coaching stance after sharing their own experience. By asking whether their input has been useful ensures the coachee takes on the responsibility again for their own next steps.

This will need time at first to work well, however with practice will benefit the relationship in the long term as well as develop conversation skills for the future.

Personal experience: “Experience this week has shown that it is possible. Conversations with team members as well as with customers has shown that we are all people with a common goal of surviving a common crisis. The strength of our relationships is now being tested, and there is something positive happening in being there for each other both as listener and as speaker in the conversations that are taking place.”


How do slow conversations provide benefit?

Benefits have been seen immediately by engaging in slow conversations this week. There was of course a fair share of productive, creative sessions working together remotely on a common challenge. In these cases there was a specific product focus which helped the team engage together. Slow conversations are different. There is no product creation focus, the focus is on the well-being and needs of the conversation partners.

Personal experience: “There were several conversations that I participated in last week, and many more that I am not aware of, that followed the slow conversations principles. This resulted in tighter relationships between the conversation partners and a revitalized positivity and strength to tackle next steps. If these conversations had not taken place, there would have been a significant drop in the positive energy we took away from the end of the week. There would have been a sole focus on efficiency and getting work done. There would have been a risk of taking action without thinking.”

Sometimes an action path is the right one to take – as long as we have identified the right action to complete. A slow conversation provides us the opportunity to reflect on whether we are doing the right thing.

As a leader you will need to seek guidance from, as well as offering it to your team when addressing challenges. As a team member you will need to show courage to provide options to challenges as well as accepting those of others. A slow conversation is an opportunity to practice this. It enables the art of listening and questioning to better understand your conversation partner. It is also an opportunity to regain clarity and direction for yourself by talking through your own situation while truly being heard.

Personal experience: “In doing so, we discover and create new connections to one another. Slow conversations demonstrate that each of us is working through the current uncertainty in our own way, that it’s OK to seek help, and that we can benefit from each other’s approach, no matter what our relationship is.”

Most importantly though, the slow conversations allow us time to readjust our working pace, not to succumb to the external factors outside our influence, and to provide us with time to self-reflect. This self-reflection better prepares us to deal with the complexity surrounding us, and provides an orientation for our next steps until we can reflect together again in the next slow conversation.


What do we need in a remote setting to ensure a successful slow conversation?

Personal experience: “The situations in which slow conversations worked well this last week followed the last principle of slow conversations, namely no time pressure.”

Arrange a time window that feels “more than sufficient” for the conversation. In practice when you have the first slow conversation allow yourself a 90-minute time window. You will need time to first empathize with your conversation partner before interacting more deeply, depending on how well you already know each other.

As with all other conversations that address both emotional as well as factual exchange, make sure the environment is set up for an uninterrupted conversation. In times of remote working this primarily means a stable private video conferencing tool. The need for other tools will depend on the content of the conversation.

Personal experience: “As slow conversations focus more on the personal exchange than progressing a project or product then communication tools can be kept to a minimum. It is possible to talk at a deeper level and not be face to face in the same room as your conversation partner.”

Allow time for your partner to answer tough questions that you raise. Allow yourself time to answer the tough questions you are asked. Take the pressure out of the situation and give each other room for thought.

Think about the time of day you want to hold a slow conversation. Consider whether a good energy level is present for both conversation partners.

Personal experience: “Despite a long working week, the inspiration for this writing was primarily thanks to two separate slow conversations at the end of the day on Friday of the first remote working week. These conversations started with an intention for a regular coaching and mentoring in one direction. However, they soon became a slow conversation in which coaching and mentoring became bilateral to the benefit of both conversation partners.”

Finally, when you are closing the conversation, check with each other whether the next conversation needs scheduling or whether you will manage adhoc as needed. It is important to consider this while still in the mindset of the slow conversation and before returning to the higher paced efficiency driven environment that otherwise exists.


What other inspirations led to writing about slow conversations?

The impulse for writing about slow conversations came from four different sources. The first source was the experience we made ourselves in our first week of remote working.

The second was thanks to Gunther Verheyen’s blog post “The importance of human contact against the backdrop of a viral war”. Gunther personifies what it means to humanise the workplace, and shares caution in his blog as the business world “goes remote”.

The third came from a reminder in a reflective moment of the book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. We can learn from this reminder to keep a healthy balance in our conversations – conversations that drive both (faster) decision making and those that provide opportunities for (slower) reflection.

The fourth inspiration, which I actually came across after writing this piece, is the article “Compassionate communication and slow conversations”. After discovering this writing I was reinforced in my belief for the need of the right type of conversation at the right time and in the right place.


Together, slowing down the conversation.

Personal experience: “Upon reflection, other slow conversations had also taken place in the week. It was a week in which each of our team established and developed their own remote working approaches. Approaches, which by the end of the week, had gelled into something very much more aligned with one another. This had a lot to do with the quality of the conversations that took place throughout the week. Some were fast, creative product based interactions, many were reflective slow conversations.”

Now, more than ever, it is time to offer and accept invitations to a slow conversation. The realignment we are all currently going through will likely continue for some time. Slow conversations can provide us with some of the help needed to lead and/or be part of a team through the coming weeks and months.

A slow conversation is about being effective before being efficient and will allow us to build stronger relationships. These relationships as we move through the current crisis will better position us to meet the next complex challenges our world will certainly have to offer us.

Keep listening and questioning in order to better understand; keep talking openly in order to be truly heard.

And all that, slowly, please.

When are you going to have your next slow conversation?


Image Source: Can Berkol –