Why 75% of Workplace Conversations Are Unproductive

While delivering a recent leadership communication training with a client’s management team, one of my students expressed frustration over an inability to get on the same page with a business partner.

After a brief exchange I realized that my student was speaking to the right person but the focus of the conversation was in the wrong place (Lower Right in diagram – Right Person/Wrong Conversation).

This is just one of three “wrong” conversations taking place in workplaces every day.

A little later in the same training another student expressed frustration with a conversation she was having trying to solve a problem with another team member. In this conversation she realized neither of them had the authority or control in the situation to take the necessary action to solve the problem.

This woman was having the right conversation but with the wrong person(Upper Left in diagram – Wrong Person/Right Conversation).  The conversation needed to be with the person who did have such authority.

After this exchange I realized there were four possible conversations that can take occur in any workplace, and three of them are less than optimal.


The third challenging conversation is one that should absolutely be avoided, or used very judiciously, at best. This is what I call the wrong conversation with the wrong person (Lower Left in diagram – Wrong Person/Wrong Conversation).

This amounts to complaining and whining. It should only be allowed in small doses for venting and stress release and then a move to one of the more empowering conversations should be facilitated.

The optimal conversation we should be promoting in our workplaces is the fourth of the possible conversations, which is the right conversation with the right person (Upper Right in diagram – Right Person/Right Conversation).

This is conversation where progress can be made since the proper people are discussing the issues that need to be discussed, and resolutions can be developed.

If you are frustrated with the progress of certain relationships, projects, problems or decisions, review this double-axis chart to identify which quadrant your conversations are in.

Then, decide which conversation quadrant you need to be in to move your situation forward, and work on moving them there.

I’ve done more coaching on this model in the last six months than anything else because it is very difficult to realize which of the three unproductive quadrants you are in. An outside perspective is very helpful to work through this workplace communication model.

Hopefully, this model of The 4 Workplace Conversations can help you be a more effective communicator. I encourage your feedback on this model. Let me know if this resonates for you and how you can apply it in your world.

Thanks for reading and commenting below.

All the best,


P.S. To discover more about this, 1-on-1, claim one of our Championship Caliber Company Strategy Sessions now.

8 thoughts on “Why 75% of Workplace Conversations Are Unproductive

  1. Margaret Reid says:

    This training is very good and much needed especially in non profit businesses. Can you please give a spin on how to deal with this same situation when employees are all volunteer.

  2. Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert says:

    Thanks for your comments and question. First I think you have to separate the concept of “employee” vs. “volunteer.” They are either employees or volunteers, volunteer employees is an oxymoron. Separating the concepts will allow you to view them separately. There needs to be different set of expectations for volunteers and employees.

    Secondly, these 4 conversations are no different for unpaid volunteers in a non-profit or a paid employee in a non-profit or for profit.

    What you are asking is what are the “right conversations” for non-profit volunteers and that is something you have to determine. What is it the purpose of your conversation? Think about the ultimate end result you are after. Realize also there are means goals and ends goals (“the means to an end,” the means are mini goals along the way towards the ultimate ends goal).
    Where do you need to focus based on where you are at presently.

    In my upcoming teleclass training and group coaching program I’ll be addressing this type of language so participants can learn to “communicate to influence up, down and all around (in profit or non-profit scenarios, the framework is the same).

    Hope this helps.

  3. Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert says:

    What’s the question?
    The “wrong conversation” can lead to the wrong path, certainly. That’s why getting it right is so important.

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  5. Rev L says:

    Hi Skip, this teaching is so simple, makes so much sense, that it is brilliant. Seeing the premise presented in your chart makes it easy to digest and prayerfully, to apply; and, the application is universal! Thank you and God bless you for sharing this informaton in this format. Rev L

  6. Skip Weisman says:

    Rev L
    Thank you for your kind comments and I’m so pleased you’ve found value in this concept. It may have been divinely inspired as it came to me in the middle of facilitating a team meeting with senior executives of a small (75 employee) company about 3 years ago. It has now become a seminar and workshop program in its own right.
    Thanks again and please come back and continue adding value to the conversation here.

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