High-Density Conversations

Some of the most precious moments in our work are those we spend communicating with others in meetings. They’ve become even more valuable, given the increased rarity in the hybrid/remote age. That’s why it’s mind-boggling to watch how many teams have a conversation culture that essentially wastes these moments with lots of fluff and a low signal-to-noise ratio. As much as I enjoyed watching Ted Lasso (I’m now trying to lobby my wife to start rewatching it again), there was a moment that made me cringe. I’m not talking about the touchy finale but about the billionaire VC’s advice to provide harsh feedback using those stale “sandwiches.” You can do better. Maybe you can even get to the point where you’re as direct as Steve Jobs and Andy Grove (Intel’s legendary CEO) talking, but we’ll get back to that in a minute.

Selfish Fluff

To be honest, I know that sometimes these cultures are part of broader arching norms. There are countless hilarious threads on Israeli/European tech Twitter feeds discussing American corporate speak and bidirectional translations. When I asked ChatGPT to explain what people usually mean when they write, “That’s an interesting idea,” I got five options, four of which are negative (e.g., “polite disagreement”).

There are also other cultures where authority seems to be heeded too much respect. If you know you’re in one of those, either because that’s the norm in your country or because it is what your company has created, be mindful of that. If no one’s going to tell you the truth, you just might find yourself walking around naked (figuratively, hopefully). More often than not, when we’re preventing direct feedback and beating around the bush, we are protecting ourselves from dealing with the truth and not helping the other party. I don’t care what you’re telling yourself; you’re being selfish.

So, start by cultivating a culture encouraging people to speak their minds and stop sugarcoating so much that they get diabetic. As part of my hobby of learning Italian, I came across a nice little phrase: “Parla come mangi.” It literally means to speak as you eat and is an invitation to stop talking too politically correct and get to the point. Making that part of your organization’s dictionary can save you countless hours.


Another approach for increasing the density of conversations and reducing fluff is to ensure enough chutzpah throughout the organization. I’ve touched on this topic in both of my books (the latest is coming out in a couple of weeks, and if you grab a preorder copy now, you’ll get a free benefit! Check it out). One of the critical values in Israeli startup culture is this innate chutzpah.

For example, while the Italians have that little phrase, I can, off the top of my head, list at least five different colloquial terms in Hebrew to mean the same, many of which are single words one can use a shibboleth to ask the other party to cut to the chase.

Asking your team to channel their inner chutzpah can be boiled down to two simple steps to get you started. The first is about not burying the lede and reducing the amount of fluff and sugarcoating in discussions. This is about reducing the “noise.” The second part is expecting them to be more candid, even when disagreeing. This increases the “signal.” Some of this naturally depends on the leaders showing that they take criticism and feedback properly and do not “shoot the messenger.”

Ego Diets

One last element of effective communication is eliminating (or reducing as much as possible) the effect of our bruised egos. I find that oftentimes, conversations take too long, and discussions become too elaborate merely because we find it hard to change our minds. We stick to an idea even when it no longer makes complete sense because we’re in search of a ladder to help us get down from the tree. It turns out that some people don’t need these ladders.

Here’s a snippet of correspondence between Steve Jobs and Andy Grove (this is taken from the great new freely available book, Make Something Wonderful). Intel wanted advice from Pixar. Jobs said such precious advice should be paid for. Then Grove wrote this:

[…] I gave what I had, put some thought into the problem I saw you were facing – – and it never entered my mind to charge for it. In my view, that’s what friendly companies (and friends) do for each other. In the long run, these things balance out.

I am sorry you don’t feel that way. We will be worse off as a result, and so will the industry.

Can you see the directness? How succinct is this? He didn’t beat around the bush. He went straight through it. And Jobs’s reply is an excellent example of putting your ego aside (even though he’s notorious for not always acting like so):

I have many faults, but one of them is not ingratitude. And I do agree with you that “In the long run, these things balance out.”

Therefore, I have changed my position 180 degrees – – we will freely help.

If we can discuss like this more often, we can achieve results much faster. And, given that life’s short, this is all for the better.