How to Lead a Productive Conversation

There may be times in business or other venues when you’re called on to lead a discussion. Good discussions don’t always just happen. Planning and a great deal of thought are crucial to their success. Planning well and keeping control of the situation is much easier than trying to regain control once it has been lost!

There are several common facilitative skills that will help you lead a productive discussion. Some of these skills include:

  • Asking open-ended questions.
  • Acknowledging the information and drivers (issues and emotions).
  • Paraphrasing what has been said to confirm understanding and to make sure all participants are included.
  • Recapping the discussion to ensure that the information was received accurately and to officially close the discussion.

Open-Ended Questions:

Open-ended questions can’t be answered with simple yes/no or single word answers. They usually gather more information because they encourage elaboration. They begin with the words whathow, or why.

The opposite of an open-ended question is a closed-ended question. Questions that can be answered with yes/no or a single word are not as effective in eliciting information. Since the point of a discussion is to uncover information and opinions, open-ended questions are usually far more effective. Some examples of open-ended questions that we can use in specific situations:

To open a discussion:

  • What has been your experience with….?
  • What do you know about….?
  • What are your thoughts on….?

To involve someone in the discussion:

  • (Name), what do you think about….?
  • (Name), why do you think that is….?
  • (Name), given your experience, what have you seen regarding….?

To uncover more information on a topic:

  • What else should we consider about….?
  • How do you think this may impact ….?
  • What examples have you seen showing….?


The discussion leader recognizes that someone has contributed to the discussion. The acknowledgment may be in the form of a thank you or a statement that recognizes someone’s feelings or their stake in the topic.

Acknowledging is often paired with a playback or recap of a statement made by a specific individual. It can also be used to tactfully end someone’s comments if they are dominating the conversation or running over their allotted time.

Examples of acknowledgments:

  • We can see you’ve put a lot of thought into this, (Name).
  • Thanks for that great example.
  • This seems to be a critical issue for you.

Playing Back or Paraphrasing:

Playing back is repeating or rephrasing what you understood someone to mean. It is one of the most useful communication tools. It can be used to:

  • Check for understanding.
  • Summarize lengthy or wordy statements.
  • Tactfully interrupt someone who rambles or runs over the set time limits. If you interrupt someone with what they are saying (“So you think that….”), he or she will stop talking and listen to see if you got it right. Now you have the floor!

Lead-ins for playing back:

  • So, what you’re saying is….
  • If I understand you correctly….
  • Let me see if I have this….
  • Let me summarize….

Recapping the discussion:

Summarizing or recapping the points that have surfaced during a discussion achieves several things. A good summary:

  • Verifies that the information was received accurately
  • Validates the importance of contributing to the discussion
  • Officially closes the discussion

If the information has been charted or someone has been officially taking notes, reading the list or the notes is a common way of recapping. If charting or notes were not part of the discussion, then the leader needs to verbally recap what was covered.

If you use these skills well and at the appropriate times, they will virtually guarantee a productive discussion.

For more information on communicating effectively and productively, please visit Communispond’s website at: and check out our portfolio of courses.


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