Crack the 3 Levels of Conversation and Boost Your Communication Skills

In Converation with the Safety Collaborators Podcast

Episode 040

Aug 16, 2023

In this episode we discuss how to crack the 3 levels of conversation and boost your communication skills

This is episode 3 of our Conversational Intelligence® C-IQ Series.

Are all conversations equal? In a nutshell, no. 

In the words of Judith e Glaser, to get to the next level of greatness depends on the quality of the culture, which depends on the quality of the relationships, which depends on the quality of conversations. 

Everything happens through conversation.

Nothing progresses, and nothing changes or happens without verbal or written conversation; something has to occur between the parties involved for something to change or continue.

We would like to know what you think about that statement. 

Why is it helpful to know the different types of conversations?

(listen at 1:25)

There are different types of conversations that are helpful at different times. The first step is always returning to purpose and understanding the desired outcome.

While designing this episode, we asked ourselves why knowing that there are different types of conversations is helpful. 

When we exchange words in speaking, is it a conversation? Absolutely. 

However, different types of conversations are possible and helpful at different times. 

If we know how to put forward the words we want to speak, how will we package them to meet best what we want to achieve? 

Here are a few of our ideas on why knowing the different types of conversations is helpful.

And the first one is always going back to purpose. 

  • Why are you having the conversation in the first place? 
  • What is the desired outcome that you want to achieve? 

Decisions may be required, brainstorming ideas, giving feedback, giving direction or information, or providing emotional support. So if you understand the desired outcome, you can frame and package the conversation to deliver that in the best way possible. 

How do you design the conversation? 

Designing the conversation does not mean you have to premeditate every sentence you will say; quite the opposite. It is helpful to understand the outcome you want to achieve and, therefore, reduce the potential for conflict and miscommunication. You do need to have some agility at the same time, meaning you also need to be able to flex with the conversation as it progresses. 

In the previous episode [E039], we spoke about Conversational Agility. When you have conversational agility, you can reframe, refocus, or redirect the conversation to move away from unhealthy conflict toward desired outcomes. 

Also, consider presenting the right level of information at the right times. 


During the work we've been doing with our clients, we observe that people new to the industry, company and or position receive vast amounts of information, which can be overwhelming, and therefore they get a bit lost. 

When you suffocate and drown people with vast amounts of information, you will lose them. The trick is to find the right balance between too little and too much. The idea is to create the conversations needed to help people embed information and feel like they belong so that they are comfortable asking questions to get more information in a psychologically safe way. 

The importance of empathy and active listening

(Listen at 3:55)

Empathy and active listening are essential when we examine the different types of conversations required. 

  • Are you meeting the person where they are rather than coming from where you are? 
  • Are you matching their need for the desired outcome? Or are you blocking? 

Are you having fair expectations of yourself and others? 


You find yourself heading into a conversation, and you don't have all the information. Still, you set yourself up as the guru in this story by thinking you must show up as the expert, as the people have no idea about the subject. So you drown them in the information you have. Because they will have some knowledge and views, but by going into the conversation as the 'guru', are you setting yourself up for failure?

In this situation, by going into the conversation with a transaction mindset, you may miss the body language, understanding the tone, looking at what's coming back and hearing the feedback and then being able to readjust the audience's expectations.

And when that happens, all rapport is lost. 

Conversely, when people see that you are doing what is in their best interest and it is not just about you, your power and your influence, they will start opening up and giving more and asking more, which makes them feel safe and reduces conversational waste.

If you are curious about Conversational Waste, then listen to Episode E007

Another opportunity to grow your conversational intelligence is in multicultural environments. Having the right conversations at the right time help to bridge cultures by opening up to cultural norms and social dynamics of individuals and groups. 

Be agile and consider what kind of information is needed right now. In what way and at what level of conversation is necessary to achieve desired outcomes? 

When we were studying conversational intelligence, it helped define different types of conversations. 

In Summary, why it is helpful to know there are different types of conversations.

  • Achieve the desired outcome - making decisions, brainstorming ideas, giving feedback, or providing emotional support.
  • Reduces the potential for conflict and miscommunication
  • Presenting the right level of information at the right times
  • Empathy and active listening
  • Having fair expectations of self and others
  • Building rapport and trust
  • Agility - reframe, refocus, redirect
  • Reduces conversational waste - saving time and energy
  • Bridging cultures - social dynamics with both individuals and groups

So let us dive into the C-IQ 3 Levels of Conversations

(listen in at 7.48)

In the world of conversational intelligence, we define different types of conversations as the three levels of conversation. 

These may help you think about the types of conversations you need to have or the ones you're having in a slightly different way. 

So the three levels are transactional, positional and transformational. 

Transactional - Level 1

The transactional conversational style is all about information exchange. For example, it might be about how to keep people in the loop, which we see a lot in meetings and emails. 

Meetings tend to be very transactional and directive, particularly meeting types such as daily stand-ups and pre-tour meetings which tend to be about stats and next steps. They tend to be one-way and categorised as 'Tell and Ask' interaction types and all about information exchange. They tend to operate from a place of low Trust and low levels of listening. 

It has its place, particularly when we need to give direction or get instruction. It is more about what you want to hear and what you need from the other person. 

The questions in this conversation style tend to be closed-ended, resulting in yes or no answers and protecting what we believe is the truth, and it tends to encourage protective behaviours. 

So we tend to be just hearing and verbalising. There is not a lot of rapport and trust going on at this point. 

When overused, it may push people in specific ways and have too much of a Tell Yell, Sell conversation style. If you feel you are not being heard or believed, you may shift to selling, and if that does not work, you may revert to yelling.

It may result in the potential for instilling fear in others or creating resistance and reluctance to change. However, it can be a very healthy conversational style when used in the right context. 

Positional - Level II

(listen in at 11.46)

Level two is a Positional conversation style about how to influence ways of thinking. It is about advocating and inquiry.

Remember to consider what is the desired outcome of the conversation. What is the purpose?

Do you need to influence and share rather than instruct or sell? If you are sharing, then Level 1 is fine; moving to a Level II conversation style is more appropriate to influence others or look for solutions. 

There is an exchange of power and interplay between parties. You want to encourage people to your point of view. Trust is conditional, and listening tends to be to accept or reject. 

Consider conflict resolution options; it could be a win-lose, a win-win outcome, or somewhere between. So this level is about wanting to influence those around you, encouraging people to your point of view, and, generally, winning them over. 

Again too much of this style may also move people into protective behaviours. But if others think you have their interests at heart, then it will be open to exchange. So level II is also positional. It is about the exchange of information as well. So in the right context, it's a very healthy conversation about exchanging what we want and the agenda. 

Trust at this level is conditional. We'll trust each other if we agree on where we're going. But if we don't, then we may not. And that's when there's a tug of war. So depending on what your belief is, things may shift. Persuade and influence or hold my position.

Where is the Trust in a Conversation?

Let's recap, Trust.

  • Level I is transactional, low-level Trust, where the conversation concerns the desired outcome of one side. 
  • Level II is conditional Trust, where if the parties agree on where they are going, they will trust each other or not if they do not agree. 

Transformational - Level III

(listen at 14.25)

Again, returning to our first point - what is the purpose of the conversation? 

Are we going into a conversation where we want to exchange information and energy, be co-creative, experiment, have transforming ideas and outcomes, and do it in a shared discovery style? Then we move into a Transformational level III conversational style. 

This conversation style opens us up, and we open ourselves up to ideas, have more empathy, ask questions for which we have no answers, and invite others to participate. These conversations are about sharing and discovery and operate in high Trust. 

It is about co-creation. It is not about creating a space where you have groupthink or everybody being nice. It's true transformation, healthy conversations, and healthy dissent. Sometimes it helps to have a bit of tension to come up with great ideas and process systems. 

And, it is okay at this level to challenge the status quo a little. There is a good chance that psychological safety is also high. You move to co-creation, and we can go into open conversations with curiosity and wonder and embrace that tension in the room while we're designing whatever outcome you want. 

It allows the space to explore uncharted territory, go when no one's gone before because you are asking questions you have no answers for, and then listen to each other along the way. 

(listen at 18.04)

Let's say you want to have a performance conversation with someone. Are these conversations transactional, positional or transformational? Our experience suggests they are often transactional and very uninspiring. 

So let's take the simple example of walking on-site, and somebody is not wearing their safety glasses or gloves. 

Is it a transactional PPE conversation such as - why aren't you wearing your safety glasses? You need to wear them as they are mandatory in this area. You are in the telling style of conversation. 


It could be someone that you know and typically has their glasses on. The conversation might be as simple as highlighting the fact, and they say thanks, and you move on—another simple transactional conversation. 


It could be a multiple repeat offender of behaviour, or a way of being that is regularly seen and unacceptable. The addiction to being right overflows in one direction or another and keeps going and pushing until the outcome is one way only. There is no long-term change.  


Do you need more information? A more transformational approach opens the conversation for sharing, learning, and behavioural change. 

Where you will have to listen to connect what's happening here; what is the story behind the continued behaviour? Or you're not generally like this; what's up? Did something happen? Do you need to take five minutes? Let's go and have a coffee. Etc. 

You can see through that example that context matters. Consider the 5th principle of human performance—context matters, and how you, as a leader, react matters. 

The more equipped you are with ideas on how to have the right level of conversation for the right moment, the better leader you will become. And we use the word leader for anyone leading a conversation. 

The question for you to consider is, is one better than the other? It depends. When do you use which level? That's something for you to think about.


(listen at 20.01)

Let's summarise this episode to help you with the bigger picture.

We talked about the three levels.

  • Transactional (Level I): These exchanges are about sharing information, characterised by low trust levels.
  • Positional (Level II): The aim is to influence perspectives, with trust being conditional and power dynamics at play.
  • Transformational (Level III): In this realm, co-creation and open sharing thrive within a backdrop of high trust.

C-IQ 3 Levels of Conversations Matrix

Three levels move us from I-centric, Transactional to WE-centric, and Transformational, depending on your needs. 

We want to move towards We-centric when designing Cultures of Care because it creates space for different dynamics. 

To summarise the three levels of conversation - you use level I when you want to inform, level II when you want to persuade, and level III when you want to co-create. And all three of these might happen in one conversation.

The critical thing to remember is that at transactional, we tend to operate from low Trust, and we're not generally open to influence. At positional, we tend to operate from conditional Trust, it depends, or I'm going to wait and see; we are more open to influence. And finally, at level three, we tend to operate from high Trust.

Choosing the appropriate level depends on context and purpose. Conversational Intelligence offers a roadmap to master these levels, enhancing relationships, culture, and outcomes.

And we are very open to opportunities for co-creation on your journey to boosting your conversational intelligence.  Click here and say hi. 

In the upcoming episodes, we'll take a closer look at the dynamics of each level. This will help us better understand where we stand in a conversation and how we feel about it. We'll also cover practical skills for navigating these levels more effectively.

About the Show

Our purpose in sharing this podcast is to have a chinwag (conversation) to help people change how they think and behave about safety. 

We do this by engaging in dialogue and testing the levels of trust and psychological safety, which are core to organisational culture. Making safety part of your DNA so that your people speak up, show up, do right, and become safer every day for yourself, your team, and your business.

We will explore topics related to organisational and safety culture, leadership, the language of risk, emotional literacy, psychological safety, conversational agility, intercultural intelligence, and whatever else pops up during our conversations—sharing our experiences and learnings. 

We intend to share nuggets of wisdom that will challenge your perspectives, potentially solve a nagging problem, share actions you can implement, and give you at least one aha moment.

And, if you enjoyed the show and gained value, please share with just one other person to help spread the word.

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