I have been blessed by wonderful people that have encouraged, taught, and believed in me even when I did not believe in myself. While I like to live under the illusion that I can navigate the stormy waters of life alone, the truth is that without honest conversation and even the occasional confrontation by those that care about me, I am not sure where I would be.  I have learned that success in life is not a solo endeavor.

While I am not an expert in this area (or sadly in any area), I have spent a great deal of time thinking about the conversations that have helped me the most and the elements that they have in common. These five elements are the difference between “small talk” and conversations that matter.

1. Support 

Many times as we travel through life we feel very alone.  This is especially true when we are engaged in something meaningful that requires our time, energy and resources. Often, the simple words, “I am with you,” or “I am in your corner,” or “you are not alone” can be the difference between pressing on or calling it quits. I have been the most encouraged personally when someone gave me a cell phone number or email address with the instruction to get into contact with them “anytime.” Even if I never do call on them,  I no longer feel alone.

2. Confrontation

Lets just be honest with this one: none of us LIKE confrontation. Sometimes though, confrontation is exactly what is needed. It is neither loving or kind to allow someone to continue doing what will inevitably hurt them or those that they lead. While this must be handled correctly and with a sincere desire to help, if received, it may prove to be the difference between success and failure.

*Note to those that want help from individuals actually qualified to offer it: Even if I do not agree with what is being said, I NEVER push back on those who I know have my best interest in mind when they confront me over something that I have said or done.  Even when they do not understand the entire context and I could rightfully push back, I don’t. This is not because I am smart or intuitive or have so little pride that confrontation does not hurt.

I have been privileged to sit on the outside of a number of conversations where extremely qualified, strong, sincere leaders tried to help less qualified leaders  who would not receive the correction that was being offered.  Instead, they would defend themselves and try to get the one offering the correction to understand why things are not as bad as they appear.  Every time I have seen this happen, the qualified leader stops talking and any hope of a helpful conversation ends.  This is not because their advice was not headed or because their ego was somehow hurt.  It is for one or both of the following reasons:

1. A strong qualified leader has better things to do than argue with someone that will not listen.

2. Very few people like to offer correction or criticism because they are afraid of how it will be received and won’t offer it if they know it will not be received well.

If you are not willing to graciously and thoughtfully receive confrontation or correction you will soon find yourself on a very lonely island.

3. Ideas

New ideas are priceless to the one that is trying to figure out how to move forward.  Although not all ideas will work in every context, often an idea that will not work leads to one that will.  A new idea may be exactly what is needed to get unstuck.

4. Experience

Some of the most helpful conversations that I have had have been with those that were not afraid to share their experiences with both success AND failure.  The experiences of others often serve to guide us as we move forward.  If experience is the best teacher, the most efficient teacher is the experience of others.

5. Hope

Conversations that matter are conversations that offer hope. Hope is what keeps us going.  Hope is what allows us to press on when the odds are overwhelming and hope is what carries us through to the end. A conversation that makes a difference is a conversation that provides the tools and the confidence necessary to accomplish what previously seemed impossible.  When hope is given, we are better for having been a part of the conversation.

If you are traveling through life without those who can have honest, meaningful conversations with you, than you are traveling a lonely and difficult path.  Find a few people who can be honest enough with you to draw out the potential that so often hides deep inside without these essential conversations.

Perhaps you have the opportunity to influence others in your home, work, church or community. While not every conversation has to include these elements, take advantage of the opportunities that you have to encourage those in your life to become more than they thought possible.  There is no shortage in this world of noise and even advice.  The problem though, is that most of it just does not matter.  Decide that you will not be the source of more noise but of support, the occasional confrontation, ideas, your experience and most importantly hope.

Decide to have conversations that matter.