Guidelines for a thoughtful, respectful conversation

Conversations will be enhanced by creating proper guidelines such as the following.


  • Establish a quiet, relaxed and unhurried atmosphere. No one needs to speak loudly or aggressively fight for the opportunity to speak. Everyone will have an equal and adequate share of the conversation.
  • Throughout the conversation, focus more on listening than on sharing your thoughts. Adopt Stephen Covey’s mantra: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
    The only time we learn during a conversation is when we’re listening; we’re not learning when we’re talking. Focus on listening and learning.


  • Anticipate and enjoy moments of silence. After someone shares his thoughts, allow for a time of silence to let the thoughts soak in. In a 60-minute conversation there may be as much as 20 minutes of silence.
  • When someone is talking, truly listen to him; don’t take that time to mentally prepare your next contribution to the conversation.
  • After someone shares his thoughts, and following a time of silence, be sensitive as to whether or not the next comment should remain on the same subject or whether it is appropriate to change the subject. If you speak next, are you going to comment on what was just said or direct the conversation in a different direction? Also consider: are you the best person to speak next?
  • Before changing topics, everyone should be allowed to comment on the current topic, if they want to.
  • Usually, a conversation should be equally divided among all persons. If there are four people conversing for 60 minutes, ideally each person will have about 15 minutes to contribute to the conversation. This ensures that quiet, introverted people will be able to have their fair share of the conversation.
  • When a topic has been adequately addressed and it’s time to change the topic, someone might need to take the initiative to do so. Years ago I learned a simple trick that can indicate a change of topics. Someone can simply say “ding” (as if ringing a bell) which indicates that the topic of conversation will now head in a different direction.
  • During the conversation, avoid distractions such as phone calls, looking at digital devices, and people moving around.
  • Learn how to track a conversation in your mind, as if you were documenting and diagramming it. Be willing to change the course of the dialogue when necessary. Consider:
    • Topics – Is the topic trivial or significant; is now the proper time to discuss this topic? When has the conversation exhausted a particular topic?
    • Who is talking – Is everyone getting the chance to talk or is one person or a few people dominating the conversation? If necessary, direct the conversation away from some people and to others.

2 Replies to “Guidelines for a thoughtful, respectful conversation”

  1. Don, interesting you would post this today. Our organization, Grafted Life Ministries, just began today launched an interactive, 6-hour church workshop on the subject “Undivided: Being Christian in a Polarized Society” to help people know how to better understand, love, and seek unity with each other, including those with whom we disagree.

    Anyone who might be interested should check out the web link posted with this comment. It is in pretty strong alignment with your guidelines.

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