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  • Catherine Hodgson


Updated: Aug 6, 2021

9 out of 10 conversations miss the mark! We talk over one another, interrupt each other, finish the other person's sentence and generally don't truly listen.

That means only one in ten of our conversations is relevant, has meaningful learning, clarifies or shifts a person’s thinking or maybe has great take-home value. If we understood how to have conversations that hit the mark every time, wouldn’t we prefer that? Wouldn’t that make more people want to have more conversations with us? Wouldn't that make us better mentors?

My bet is that most people would say YES!


When I first started analysing the success of the YPO (Young President's Organization) Global Mentoring Program that I was leading, I was totally focused on the number of people that had signed up for mentoring or were paired. My AHA moment came 3 years later when I realised we should rather be focussed on - how many lives were being changed through having powerful conversations?


To me, it usually happens when there is a strong connection first – that feeling when you are on the same wavelength with someone else. I'm sure most of you have had this experience...when you feel totally connected with someone even though you may have just met them. Have you ever wondered how that connection suddenly happened? What did the other person do to make you feel connected? What did you do?

From this space of connection and trust, great insights can be generated, profound and innovative thinking can flow, AHA moments may be experienced and shifts in our thinking can happen which may lead to new behaviours. The end result is that there is learning and great take-home value.


1. Build rapport and Trust. Science shows us that our brains assess for trust or distrust within the first 0.07 seconds of an interaction. That’s how long it takes for our brains to say “Will I be able to trust you or not?” It’s what we know as our first instinct when we meet someone. You ask yourself “Am I going to connect with this person or not?

So how do you build rapport? Show interest and be curious. Give your full attention.

Trust is usually built over time and is the foundation to building a relationship. If there is trust between two people then great things can happen. To prime for trust you need to be transparent, open and honest; to really understand where they are coming from and what their reality is; to free yourself from judgement. Have you ever been in a conversation with a person and at the back of your mind you are thinking that you don’t know whether you can trust this person or not? If that exists, then the chances of having a powerful conversation with that person is greatly reduced.

Priming for greater trust is core to the practice of Conversational Intelligence® (C-IQ), and it can be accomplished through awareness of the language we use.

2. Words matter. The words you use turn on or off chemicals in a person’s body, including your own. Choosing your words carefully to activate oxytocin (the ‘feel good’ hormone) in the other person, helps to open up their pre-frontal cortex (or executive brain) for innovative, creative and strategic thinking. However, certain words can also trigger cortisol (the fight or flight chemical which leads to an amygdala hijack) in other people. We want to “turn on” more oxytocin than cortisol to have more powerful conversations.

Just consider these two sentences:

“That’s too ambitious, it’ll never work” and “Let’s see how we can do this. Imagine if we could…”

I’m sure you would agree that if someone shut your idea down with the first sentence, you would not be very keen to carry on the conversation. However, if they responded to your idea with the second sentence, it could turn into a powerful conversation with interesting results and an ‘oxytocin bath’. Words matter…

3. Mastering conversational skills. Being a good listener is key to mastering conversational skills - being able to listen with your whole being, listening with your head, heart and gut. Listening to connect with the other person, suspending judgement, focussing entirely on the other person and being wholly present.

Another skill that is key for powerful conversations is being able to ask questions that are ‘Mind Expanding’ – we do this by being genuinely curious. Ask discovery questions, questions to make the other person really dig deep, questions for which you have no answer. Such questions look like this:

  • What’s the most courageous decision you’ve ever made?

  • What dreams do you have that you have never had the courage to act on?

  • What habits do you have that you would like to lose?

  • What about you is worth noticing?

  • What in your life/career/business really motivates you?

  • How much change are you able to commit to?

  • What’s missing in your life? In your work?

  • What do you need from your work?

  • What would you regret not fully doing in your life?

This facilitates and stimulates thinking for the other person so that they come up with their own solutions.

Balance the talking with the listening!

4. Body language and Voice Tone. It’s not just our words that matter in a powerful conversation, it’s our whole being. What we do with our body – do we lean in or sit back? Do we look open or closed? Are we frowning or looking curious? Is our tone aggressive or gentle and caring? Are our eyes focussing on the person or looking around the room? All of this really matters when we want to have a powerful conversation. Next time, take stock of what your body and voice are doing. You need to be authentic and your body language needs to be congruent with your words.

When we are still building trust with another person, non- verbal behaviour, such as facial expressions for example, as well as tone of voice may tend to play a more significant role in our assessment of whether we like them, than the spoken word.

5. Show Compassion. Ask “How can I support you?” Give genuine encouragement and support. Switch on your EQ (Emotional Intelligence) to promote a powerful conversation.


What can get in the way of being able to have powerful conversations?

  • We let our ego get in the way.

  • Too much advice.

  • Too much talking by one person – the “I” specialist kicks in.

  • Listening to reply rather than listening to understand.

  • Not being authentic.

  • We become addicted to being right - Pushing our opinion onto another person and trying to persuade them to our way of thinking, which we believe is the only way.

Powerful conversations facilitate co-creation between two individuals – creating something new together. This is where we are able to achieve a higher level of thinking. One will find that during a powerful conversation, the ‘give and take’ and ‘push and pull ’ of the conversation is easy and fluid. The conversation flows, new ideas are generated, innovative thinking stimulated and both parties benefit from the interaction. Just having one or two really powerful conversations can be life changing for a person.

In my mentoring relationships, as well as some of my conversations with friends, family or colleagues, I have had conversations that have made me stop in my tracks and take stock of who I am, how I am behaving and where I am in my life. I have then been able to step away, shift my thinking and reconsider who I want to be and where I want to go.

How many powerful conversations have you had and how many more powerful conversations do you want to have?

The next time you are in a conversation, ask yourself, “Is this one of the 9 out of 10 conversations that is missing the mark?” Or am I going to make sure this is one of the ten that can make a difference, so I can walk away and say “Wow that was a powerful conversation!”

(Based on the practice of Conversational Intelligence® (C-IQ) by Judith E. Glaser author of Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results).

Catherine Hodgson is the co-founder and CEO of The Hodgson Group in South Africa and SHIFT Mentoring. Hodgson joined YPO (Young President's Organization) in 2009 and served as Global Mentoring Chair for 5 years, rolling out the YPO Mentoring program to chapters around the world, developing mentoring material and launching Mentoring Masterclasses. She believes passionately in lifelong learning and has been on a personal journey of lifelong learning in the mentoring and coaching fields. She is a YPO Mentoring Facilitator, Certified Coach and Certified in Conversational Intelligence. Married with two daughters, she lives in Cape Town, South Africa and spends five months of the year in Europe.

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