How to have more successful conversations

Whether negotiating a salary increase or chatting with a co-worker, people have more productive conversations when they identify their motives and goals. Wharton’s Maurice Schweitzer offers a tool for doing just that.

Negotiating a salary increase or a job promotion ranks high on the list of hard conversations to have at work, and it doesn’t get any easier without a plan.

“People think, ‘I’m just going to knock on their door, sit down with them and noodle around and see where this goes.’ That’s not a plan. You want to have a specific goal in mind,” says Maurice Schweitzer, Wharton professor of operations, information and decisions. “People often fail to achieve their conversational goals because they fail to identify their objectives.”

An axis with the up line reading Informational, the down line reading Low, the right line reading High Relational and the left line reading Low Relational.
This framework classifies conversational goals along two key dimensions: informational and relational. This panel shows where a conversationalist might plot some of their goals on the circumplex. The placement of motives on the circumplex is subjective, and the goals depicted here represent a subset of the vast array of motives that conversationalists might have. (Image: Knowledge@Wharton)

In his latest paper, Schweitzer and his co-authors introduce a framework to help people have more successful conversations by identifying and understanding the motives of each participant. The model is called the “conversational circumplex,” and it maps conversations along two key axes: informational and relational.

A conversational partner with high informational goals seeks to share or gather information to support a decision or action, such as sharing the latest sales numbers to devise a strategy to gain market share. A conversational partner with high relational goals seeks to develop or deepen a relationship. For example, this person may want to create a favorable impression, conceal a secret, or have fun spending time together.

“If we are more precise in our objectives for the conversation, it will help us prepare and plan, guide us more clearly, and ultimately yield greater success,” Schweitzer says.

The paper, “The Conversational Circumplex: Identifying, Prioritizing, and Pursuing Informational and Relational Motives in Conversation,” appears in the April issue of Current Opinion in Psychology.

The researchers ran a large study to develop the conversational circumplex, collecting data to confirm that the points on the axes are properly placed and grounded in reality. When pursuing multiple conversational goals, such as seeking advice and brainstorming ideas, the closer the goals are on the circumplex, the more likely that both can be achieved. For example, claiming credit for an idea is completely different from apologizing, while being honest is adjacent to brainstorming ideas.

“When we have multiple goals, it’s easier when those goals are similar,” Schweitzer says. “It’s difficult to be honest and to conceal information because those are opposing objectives. But it is easier to seek advice and to be honest. Those are more similar, more consonant goals.”

This article is by Angie Basiouny. Read more at Knowledge at Wharton.