Nine helpful attitudes
Seven practical steps
Eleven things to avoid

Some guidelines for good conversation
Prepared by Catalyst for Renewal


1. I want to be changed through this encounter: It is no accident that “conversation” and “conversion” share the same roots … there can be no conversation without the openness to conversion … if I genuinely seek good conversation, I must also seek conversion in and through that encounter … this above all else will distinguish conversation from mere talk, debate or argument, any of which may, paradoxically become conversation for me if I do in fact seek conversion in that encounter.

2. I want to appreciate the other person: I am more likely to hear the other if I genuinely seek to appreciate him/her … I am less likely to be overtaken by prejudices and personal biases if my orientation is deliberately appreciative … … I want the best for the other person …. This may require me to deliberately call on the Lord and pray for that other person, especially if my feelings are negative towards him/her … this implies self-transcendence, a moving beyond selfishness and self-absorption.

3. I want to understand the other person: I listen for what the person is actually saying and bracket my personal thoughts, conclusions on the matter, my prejudices, what I may have heard beforehand or been led to expect … I endeavour to discover common ground … I look beyond personal traits and reputations.

4. I want to contribute something positive: Even if it is just my being there, my intention can be positive and creative … sometimes silent, positive presence contributes much more than words can convey … I desire my words and all my contributions to promote what is good and true … I listen carefully to the flow of conversation and do my pest to participate constructively, bearing in mind that the best conversations have a life of their own.

5. I want to see truth and goodness triumph over ideology, especially my own: Good conversations submit to the topic or question …. they have a graced quality if we are attentive and faithful to the moment … we experience them as taking us where we have never been before … they are always an experience of what is true and good.

6. I want to be a gracious participator: Life is more about participation than conquest, more about facilitation than mastery … the mature person is characterized by a certain grace and freedom … it is as important to ask, “What does life want of me?” as it is to ask, “What do I want of life?”

7. I want to be thoroughly honest with myself: There is not a lot of point in living a lie, no matter how respected and “successful” … the deepest honesty is to become who I am, and this is a life’s work … so I will actively and constantly pursue this inner journey towards truth … this is the stuff of spirituality and brings us face to face with the Living God.

8. I want to know the power of the silence in my own soul: Good words come from silence and lead back to silence … the person who knows the silence within can bring grace and freedom to the conversation … the words that carry silence, heal and enliven.

9. I appreciate that life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to solved: There are many problems to solve in life but life itself and the big issues of life have no solution … The most important things in life emerge slowly … we must learn to wait, and yield.


1. Learn to listen with the ears of the heart (St Benedict): Be consciously present … be attentive to the moment … listen with every part of your being … learn to ask open questions … an open question is asked with the head and answered with the stomach, ask the question than go inside and wait, let the response come … “what?” questions tend to be more fruitful than “why?” questions … the most practical and fundamental open question you can ask in any situation is “What’s happening here?”

2. Listen carefully to what is happening in you: Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings … listen within … unresolved conflicts and unacknowledged agendas can adversely affect a conversation … inner listening is particularly helpful when you catch yourself being strongly moved, either positively or negatively … open questions might include: “What am I feeling at the moment?” “What are my dominant thoughts?” “What is happening here?” “What is the bigger picture?” “What else is relevant?” “What am I missing?” “Am I reminded of anything?”

3. Listen carefully to the other person as well as what the other person is saying: Take the other person seriously … pay attention … do your best to appreciate his/her point of view … look straight at him/her without judgment … ask open questions like: “What might be happening for this person at the moment?” “Is anything in this situation difficult for the other person?” “What is the main point he/she is endeavouring to make?” “Where are our points of agreement?”

4. Speak respectfully and courteously: Be gentle and clear when disagreement must be voiced … look the other in the eye … sometimes questions can be less aggressive and less threatening than statements when expressing an alternative point of view … keep the tone and manner of speaking moderate … if you cannot be respectful and courteous it might be better to withdraw.

5. Be humble: No one knows everything … everybody makes mistakes … speak in a way that allows you and others room to move … humble people do not take themselves or their point of view too seriously … humility has a sense of humour.

6. Be alert to expressions of pain: Do not be put off by aggressive or strident talk or behaviour as this almost certainly is a symptom of great pain … do your best to hear that person’s pain and show them that you care …. this may be the most difficult situation to handle in a public conversation … it may require a communal response.

7. Know when and how to terminate a conversation: Every conversation has its beginning, its end and its pace … we must be alert to that and submit … this includes graciously but definitely terminating a conversation that is not going to get off the ground or is getting out of control … even good conversations must be terminated at a certain point ….. leave the way open for further conversation later.


1. Flamboyant metaphors

2. Point scoring

3. Talking too much

4. Arrogance

5. Personal attacks

6. Finding identity in being “the victim”

7. Aggression

8. Sweeping generalizations

9. Self-absorption

10. Ideologies

11. Shouting