When is a conversation about change a waste of time? (and three questions you can then ask)

People who talk about change are rarely short of conversation material. But not every conversation about change leads to change.

We waste a lot of valuable time if we get stuck in abstractions, models, bullets and definitions. Then we lose ourselves in contemplation. Only the intellect is speaking, the feeling is on mute.

What’s wrong with that?

Feelings are the engine of change. People don’t change because they understand something, but because there is something that touches the heart.

So what then?

The mind does not have to leave the conversation. We need it as a reality check. It is only important that we turn on the microphone of our feelings as well. We don’t have to be airy-fairy to do this. Even in a business conversation, appropriate words can be found to put everyone’s feelings about the situation on the table.

How then? 

We can invite each other to share the feeling with three questions:

  1. What do we want?

‘Want’ is an emotive word. When we ask people what they want, we invite them to express their desire. Then they dedicate words to a value that they want more of. For example, health, stability, accessibility, well-being, equality, independence.

  1. What will go wrong if we do nothing?

With this question we encourage people to put their pain on the table. They say what bothers them or what worries them. They share their sense of urgency. Pain and desire are two sides of the same coin. Pain is about that same value, but about the lack of it if change is not made.

  1. Who do we want this for?

With this question, we bring the conversation to the beneficiary. That is the person who receives the increase in value. It could be patients, pupils, neighbours or new employees. It could also be ourselves. With the recipient, the change gets a face. Abstractions do not touch the heart, but people of flesh and blood do.


If a conversation gets stuck in contemplation, it is important to seek out the conversation about our pain, our desire and the beneficiary. Then we can find out if we want the same thing. For where there is a will, there is a way.

Annemarie Mars, June 2021

Photocredits: “Swans” by Rebecca Siegel is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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