Three Tiers of a Healthy Conversation


Bill left his supervisors office somewhat depressed. After all Bill thought he was a pretty good communicator and a friendly supervisor. Yet, the scores from his direct reports’ evaluations shared that his interactions were always brief, uncaring and most often negative. His reports wanted feedback. They desired to know that Bill cared more than just keeping his job. In their opinion, Bill had never carried on a conversation with any of them.

Are you aware there are three tiers to a healthy conversation? How effective are you at guiding your conversations through all three tiers?

The first or lower tier of all conversations is sort of the foundation, what the conversation is built on. This first tier is based on facts, feelings, and fears. Isn’t this where your conversations begin? “How are you today?” Response: “I’m fine.” (feelings). Or another Response: “Not good, my dog ran away last night.” (fact and fear) or “How’s the weather where you are today?” Response: “It’s raining.” (fact) The entry tier of conversation usually begins with fact, fear, or feelings, or any combination of the three.

The second tier of a conversation can be thought of as the exploratory or speculative tier. On this tier the conversation turns to exploring the facts, feelings or fears in the lower tier. In the church world this tier might be peppered with questions as; “In your opinion, what have been the causes of the slow decline over the past fifteen years?” or “What types of outreach have you implemented recently?”

In response to a couple scenarios above, “How are you capitalizing on the rainy weather?” or “Has your dog run away before? Where did you find him that time?” In tier two you want to help the other individual explore and unpack the possibilities related to his/her facts, fears, or feelings. Asking the right types of questions will bring your conversation out of tier one and into tier two. Tier two can also endear others to you because through these “right” questions the other person will sense that he/she is considered worthy of your time. Therefore, they will sense that you care.

Moving to the third tier of a healthy conversation might be more difficult, but it does not have to be. Tier three might be considered the tenets tier. Tenets reveal a person’s beliefs, principles, and ideals. You can move any conversation to tier three by again, asking the correct type of questions. Rather than exploring the facts, fears, and feelings as in tier two, in tier three you lead the other person in discovering a path of rescue or accomplishment.

Questions in tier three can be as, “How important is it that you find your dog today?” or in the church, “What are you willing to sacrifice to see your church turn around?” or “What must you do to prepare yourself to lead your church up that long arduous hill ahead?” Tier three questions should never be accusatory or worded in a negative manner (neither should tier two questions). Instead word your questions to lead the person to optimism and a positive outcome or accomplishment.

Do your conversations move through the FET – Foundation, Exploration, and Tenet tiers? What can you work on this week to be a better conversationalist?

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