Why we don’t structure conversations… and why we should


“Since we only have 10 minutes together, I’d like to make sure that we make good use of the time. How about if we structure it with a few questions I have about you and your business, and then I’m happy to answer any questions you have about me and the group I’m building, and then we can decide if it makes sense to meet. Does that sound ok?”

This is usually how I start my 10 minute intro call with new CEO’s who express interest in my group. Usually.

And when I don’t, I regret it.

When I wing it, I don’t accomplish what I need to in that call, and I sense frustration or disappointment on both ends of the line.

Why is that?

Why is it that structure – even a very simple and loose 3 part structure, like this one, is so very helpful?


  1. It shows clarity of intention – this is what I intend to get done.
  2. It gives comfort – ahh.. ok, we know what’s coming next.
  3. It has an end-goal – great, we’ll decide something at the end of this.

All in just 10 quick minutes.

And you know what happens when I don’t do this? An exchange of pleasantries, an uncomfortable grasping for what to say next, and an unclear agenda. Not fun for me. Not fun for the other person.

Structure works.

It works for us when we’re babies. When set sleeping and eating times regulate our world.

It works for us when we’re kids. When school and sports and family time help us develop and grow in different ways.

It works for us when we’re teenagers. Even though we hate it.

It works for us when we begin our adult lives. When we figure out morning, day, evening and weekend routines.

And it works in conversation.

Structure in conversation

From simple yet effective 10 minute business calls, to effective meetings, to conversation structures that have been scientifically proven to produce love, we see time and time again that structure works wonders.

And yet we resist it.

Resisting structure in conversation

Why? Why don’t we want to follow a recipe that yields success? Why do we want to wing it, when we know that there’s a better way?

Perhaps we think structure is:

  1. Unnatural. Won’t the conversation feel awkward?
  2. Limiting. What if I want to talk about other things?
  3. Unnecessary. Aren’t we smart enough to figure this out without structure?

Perhaps that rebellious adolescent part of us never really goes away, and is ready to renounce the need for structure whenever the possibility appears.

And yet…

The wisdom of knowing what works

There’s a part of us that knows…

The part that’s sat through too many unstructured meetings.

The part that’s gone on too many dates with unsatisfying conversation.

The part that’s endured meals, vacations and “quality times” that were supposed to be great but instead turned out to be blah.

The part that longs for structured conversation

That’s the part of you that knows. It knows that guidelines, questions, beginnings, middles and ends all help. They help facilitate something productive, something good, something fulfilling.

The best things in life have structure. From soul-stirring music, to the rising and setting of the sun, to successful business, to thought-provoking and heart-shifting conversations.

That’s one of the reasons I love what I do. I get to use proven structures – proven recipes – to cook up delicious results.

Want a taste?

Next time you’re spending “quality time” with someone, instead of just trying to think of clever questions, try the following proven ones and see what happens…

  1. What would you like to be remembered for?
  2. What has been your greatest accomplishment?
  3. What has brought you the most fulfillment in your life?
  4. What do you wish your younger self had known about (success, relationships, being a parent, etc.) that you know today?
  5. What do you like best about your work?
  6. Who have been influential role models or mentors to you?
  7. If you hadn’t gone into (business, teaching, medicine, etc.), what do you think you would have done instead?
  8. If you had a couple of extra hours in the week, how would you use them?
  9. How have you changed throughout your life? How have you stayed the same?
  10. Which dreams or goals do you still want to accomplish?

Structure works. It really does. Instead of limiting our conversations, it actually expands them. I see this in my work with executives, with groups and even with my friends and family (when they let me).

But don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself. Ask someone in your life to coffee or lunch this week, whip out the 10 questions above, and see where structure takes you.

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