Change the Conversation

Change the Conversation, Change the Culture
Change Conversation, Change Culture

Among a myriad of methods to change organizations is one that promotes changing the dominant conversation. There are a variety of ways to implement this method. Concurrent among the conversation methods are themes of: overcoming conflict, conversation roles, communication skills, inquiry, open exchange through dialogue, reframe of circumstances, building greater hope, meaning-making and learning new ways of relating to others. This post addresses the benefits of adjusting the conversation to activate change, three of these methods, and the role of change agents. Shaping conversation shapes culture.

Benefits of Conversation 

When people in organizations consider how their tone, words, and themes contribute to their conversation, they gain several benefits. First, they listen better. They develop greater awareness, make conscious choices about their participation, and they shift the organization. Leaders pick up bright ideas and move them forward rapidly. Managers, reports and staff build greater rapport with their leadership. Strategy is highlighted for directed action towards goals.

Conversation Changers

Below are three methods for changing organization conversations to improve culture. Changing conversation changes culture; changing culture changes outcomes.

Strategic Conversations

The conversation of an organization has several layers. These layers can be imaged as a triangle. The small top of the triangle represents the leaders. Below the rest of the triangle can be stratified with managers and staff. Leaders have a responsibility to create strategic conversations as well as build momentum for change via a shared conversation with the other layers of the organization. Dave Ratner, an entrepreneur, advocates that leaders improve their organization conversations by building dialogue rather than the common one-way “speechifying” of leaders. Dialogue and direction are critical for reaching goals.


Ratner’s choice for building dialogue is storytelling. The leader as informal storyteller builds respect, builds intimacy and unifies factions. Leaders capture attention when they adjust their story according to the mood. Empathy demonstrated by the storyteller speaks more than words can express, especially when addressing a sullen or apathetic team. Leaders share intentional objectives in their stories and their conversations.

Overcoming Conflict

Groups learn when they have to relate to one another to overcome the sting of conflict. Difficult conversations require skill to resolve issues. Because conflict is natural yet, difficult to overcome, improvement of these types of conversations is extremely valuable. Facilitation of a group can lend structure to a dialogue. Staff learn new conversation skills that defuse the topic and build functional connection. When staff practice conversation skills, they bring them to their work and find that they have positive impact, key to conflict management.

Change Agents

Change agents further expedite change when they serve as connectors who plan, suggest, and facilitate conversations across systems. Change agents become official liaisons between the official strategy and the real implementation, adjusting the conversation to align and adjust social themes and actions toward the goals.

— How humans relate to one another has as strong an impact on culture. Changing the themes of the social environment has as much impact as any strategy. Start that conversation.


Farrell, M. (2015). Difficult conversations. Journal Of Library Administration55(4), 302-311. doi:10.1080/01930826.2015.1038931

Ratner, D. (2015). Less speechifying and more conversation. Businesswest31(22), 13-14.

Sanders, E. J., & Burke, W. (2015). Connectors. OD Practitioner47(2), 35-40.


Berson, A. S., & Stieglitz, R. G. (2012). Leadership conversations: Challenging high potential managers to become great leaders. Somerset, NJ, USA: John Wiley & Sons.

Seely, B. J., Denning, S., & Groh, K. (2004). Storytelling in organizations: Why storytelling is transforming 21st century organizations and management. Saint Louis, MO, USA: Routledge.

Shaw, P. (2002). Changing the conversation in organizations: A complexity approach to change. Florence, KY, USA: Routledge.

van, D. M. H. T., & Gramsbergen-Hoogland, Y. H. (2005). Communication in organizations: Basic skills and conversation models. Hove, GBR: Psychology Press.

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