Four Conversations Book

The Four Conversations:

Daily Communication that Gets Results

Table of Contents

Chapter 1—Four Conversations in a Successful Workplace

  • Some Conversations Slow Things Down, Others Speed Things Up

Chapter 2—Initiative Conversations: Create a Future

  • Choose Your Initiative Statement: What-When-Why
  • Prepare for Your Initiative Conversation: Who-Where-How
  • Launch Your Initiative Conversation
  • What Happens If You Are Missing Initiative Conversations
  • Putting It into Practice

Chapter 3—Understanding Conversations: Include and Engage

  • Help People Find a Positive Meaning in Your Message
  • Expand and Deepen Participation
  • The Limits of Understanding
  • What Happens If You Are Missing Understanding Conversations
  • Putting It into Practice

Chapter 4—Performance Conversations: Request + Promise = Agreement

  • Commit to Performance: What-When-Why
  • Ask Others to Commit
  • Promises Create Agreements: Who-Where-How
  • Manage the Agreement
  • What Happens If You Are Missing Performance Conversations
  • Putting It into Practice

Chapter 5—Closure Conversations: Create Accomplishment & Completion

  • An Incomplete Past Can Prevent a New Future
  • The Four A’s of Closure Conversations
  • Build Accountability and Resolve “People Problems”
  • What Happens If You Are Missing Closure Conversations
  • Putting It into Practice

Chapter 6—Using the Four Conversations 

  • Your Conversational Tendencies
  • How the Four Conversations Work Together
  • Putting It into Practice

Chapter 7—Support the Conversational Workplace

  • Practices to Support the Conversational Workplace: Four Tips


As a management professor and a management consultant, we have had the opportunity to work, train, and problem-solve with executives and managers in nearly every type of organization, from small businesses and Fortune 100 companies to nonprofits, associations, and government agencies at the city, state, and federal levels. The most frequently cited challenge, beyond all others, is “communication.” Over the last twenty-five years of teaching and consulting, we have discovered two things about the communication problem in organizations.

First, many people do not know that “communication” is actually made up of different types of conversations.

Second, many of us do not understand that our own communication, not someone else’s, is the key to recognizing and resolving any communication problem. It is useful to consider how to use the appropriate conversations and to use them properly.

Research at the Harvard Business School indicates that 70% of all organizational changes fail to produce their intended results. Communication is usually the designated culprit in these failures. Why, then, if everyone knows communication is so important, have we not solved the problem? Seeing “communication” as a conceptual problem, caused by other people or external factors, has limited our vision. Each of us has our own pattern of daily conversations – and we can learn to change that pattern. It is possible to alter our conversational habits and start communicating more effectively.

There are four types of normal, everyday conversation, each with a few necessary ingredients. They are used by CEOs, executives, directors, managers, supervisors, and employees (and husbands and wives, parents and children) in the process of doing their respective jobs. Anyone who wants to accomplish something, whether creating a new corporate strategy, assigning people to projects, or arranging lunch with friends, uses one or more of these four conversations.

Many of the persistent issues that people tolerate in organizations can be resolved by using these four conversations more effectively. True, some people do not want to change the way they communicate, or do not want to make changes in their work practices. However, most people are willing to make minor adjustments in their speaking and listening in order to gain major improvements in results and relationships.

When our students and clients began to practice improving their skills with all four conversations in their work situations, they were amazed to discover how very small changes in the way they talked could produce unexpectedly positive outcomes. Practicing managers were impressed with how easy it is to get results, and quickly applied the lessons to get similar benefits outside of work, with spouses, families, and friends.

The material developed in this book reflects what we have learned from research and consulting with executives and managers, training them in MBA and executive education classes, and solving problems in their organizations. We have included many of their stories and experiences, as well as first-hand observations, to give examples of how people changed their conversations and what happened as a result. The people and the examples are real, though we have altered the names of individuals and organizations.

About the Authors

Jeffrey and Laurie Ford are, both literally and figuratively, a marriage of theory and practice. Jeffrey an Emeritus Professor of management with the Max M. Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. He holds a B.S. in marketing from the University of Maryland, and an MBA, and a Ph.D. in organizational behavior from The Ohio State University. Prior to joining Fisher, Jeffrey served on the faculties of the Institute of Management and Labor Research at Rutgers—The State University of New Jersey, and the Kelly School of Business at Indiana University.

laurie-lr-3721Laurie has retired from a career as a management consultant and is now focusing on research and writing. She holds a B.S. in psychology, a Master’s degree in industrial engineering, and a Ph.D. in operations research engineering, from the State University of New York at Buffalo. Laurie was a consultant with Arthur Young in Washington D.C., then, in her own practice, served as a consultant to scores of businesses, government agencies, and not-for-profit organizations, including Intel, Mead Paper, U.S. Department of Energy, NASA, the Ohio State Medical Association, and the Ohio Hospital Association. Laurie has also taught graduate-level university courses in engineering, management, and organization design.

jeffreyJeffrey likes to say he teaches what Laurie practices, and Laurie says she practices what Jeffrey teaches. Their collaboration has resulted in a unique approach to making management easier and organizational change less painful. Jeffrey’s MBA classes, where Laurie has been a frequent and popular visitor, were recognized for their unique perspective and immediately usable content, making Jeffrey an award-winning teacher.

Laurie, who has backpacked around the world and motorcycled across the United States, is known for making the difficult happen with surprising ease. A professional speaker and program leader, she has an engineering background that provides her with the powerful tools of network theory. She has used these tools to develop a unique network-based method (dubbed “hotwiring” by some clients) to locate and resolve the invisible disconnects between individuals and groups that limit organizational performance.

Together, Jeffrey and Laurie have coauthored many articles for academic and professional management journals including Harvard Business Review and Organizational Dynamics. Coauthors of “Deadline Busting: How to be a Star Performer in Your Organization,” they also publish regular blogs, free to subscribers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.