Maree Burgess shows individuals

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Why our conversations should be just like yoga!

I’ve spoken before about behavioural flexibility (blog) and now I want to focus on conversational agility.

For those of you who have practised yoga at some point in your lives, you probably know that flexibility is key to managing and achieving some of the yoga poses. Some of us may be naturally flexible however for many of us, flexibility comes from repetition and practice. We all have an ability to increase our level of flexibility.

In conversations, our ability to think on our feet and be conversationally flexible, also takes repetition and practice. Your conversational flexibility can help to move the people you are conversing with from a distrusting, resisting or sceptical mindset to something that is curious and co-creative.

The quality of our relationships depends on the quality of our conversations. Being conversationally flexible is key to great relationships.

Judith Glaser in her book Conversational Intelligence talks about ‘Conversational Agility’ as one of the Conversational Essentials which is about our ability to reframe, redirect and refocus to help others and ourselves change our thinking and move it in different directions. Another term for this is ‘pattern interrupting’ so that the person we are conversing with can take a different perspective to what they think or believe.

Conversational agility is literally altering the description or context of a situation, usually to make it more acceptable. The situation takes on a new meaning or occurs in a different context. It can be used to place a concept, an act of behaviour, or an object in a more favourable light, or to draw attention to particular aspects.

When we are in conflict, creating a pattern interrupt through reframing, refocusing or redirecting is a powerful way to enable people to open to new energy and different insights that can occur. It’s about chunking the conversation up (to a more strategic, bigger picture level), down (into more detail) or sideways (to a different yet connected area).

It provides the person we are talking with an opportunity to mentally take a break and think in a new way. Conversational agility can change the context and give new meaning to a situation.

Conversely, being conversationally rigid can stop us from owning our stuff – we find an excuse not to accept what is being shared with us as we are fixed in our thinking.

Next time you are in a conversation:

  • Create a safe space for discussion by changing the context and give new meaning to a situation. For example: if someone says ‘I don’t feel good about myself as I’m making so many mistakes’. Reframe with ‘When you make mistakes you’re taking risks and that is how we learn. Edison made 900 light bulbs before finding one that worked’.
  • Elevate a person out of the place where they are stuck and move them towards the bigger picture. For example: if someone is spending too much time reworking a piece of work, rather than saying ‘I’m really annoyed about how much time you are spending on this’, refocus by saying ‘ you really care about this piece of work and it must be really important for you. I’d love for you to apply this attention to detail to a number of new projects rather than just this one as you have a lot of expertise now’.
  • Turn a difficult situation into an opportunity for finding trust and common ground by redirecting. For example: When they say ‘we couldn’t have done anything differently’ (stuck in the past) creating a redirect by saying ‘I worked with someone with the same issue and here is what they did to change it...' to create a new way of looking at things.
  • Ask more open questions to extend their (and your) thinking further.

I’d love to hear how you go in practicing your conversational agility, and just like yoga become more and more conversationally flexible! You will become great at it through repetition and practice.


Creating Calm Culture through Conversation, I help leaders; teams; and individuals communicate more effectively and thrive through change. As a people, project and change expert, I am obsessed with helping others collaborate, work and play well together.

Feel free to contact me to find out how you can calm culture through your conversations. 


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