Skill 5: Control the Conversation

Controlling a conversation is the final communication skill that combines the four previous skills we covered. Controlling a conversation does not mean dominating the discussion or stopping others from speaking. Instead, it means confidently guiding the discussion in a productive way when needed, such as redirecting off-topic comments, clarifying misunderstandings, and moving the conversation to more constructive subjects.

This important ability allows you to clearly show what you do and do not understand, creating a sense of safety to ask for clarification or for the pace to slow down without derailing the whole conversation. 

By integrating the previous four skills of No Hesitation, Jump In & Tell Me More, Disagree Smoothly, and Proactive Participation, you develop a complete communication skills package to feel comfortable in even the most complex, multi-layered discussions.

With these comprehensive skills, you can make a positive, influential impression while increasing your professional credibility, strengthening key relationships, and having a greater impact on important decisions.

What does Control the Conversation mean?

Controlling the conversation means: 

  • Focusing the conversation when it is off-topic. If the discussion goes off topic or into irrelevant areas, you can steer it back with phrases like “Getting back to the original point…” or “The core issue here is…”
  • Clarifying misunderstandings. Don’t let confusion linger. If it’s clear that your conversation partner doesn’t understand what you mean, redirect them with comments like, “That’s not quite right. What I mean is…” or “I’m sorry, I didn’t communicate well. I meant to say…”
  • Steering the conversation to more appropriate topics. If an unrelated subject arises, even if it’s a productive topic, you can redirect with “A better topic may be…” or “It may be more constructive to discuss…”, or even, “I like this type of conversation, but our time right now if for…”
  • Demonstrating what kind of communication you understand, and do not understand. Be upfront about when you grasp the concepts and when you need more clarity. Say “I’m still not quite clear on…” or “That makes sense so far, but…”

This also means letting your conversation partners know when you have trouble because of their speaking speed or accent. 

Controlling the conversation does NOT mean:

  • Dominating the conversation. This is not about cutting others off or being the only one to speak. The goal is a balanced dialogue—conversation catch-ball.
  • Controlling the speaking of others. You cannot and should not stop people from expressing their views. The aim is to guide, not restrict.

Control the Conversation Using the Four Previous Skills

Controlling the conversation is not a stand-alone skill. Instead, it is the combination of all the vital communication techniques we’ve covered:

  1. No Hesitation and Ad-libbing help you respond more spontaneously
  2. Jump-in & Tell Me More ensures you build rapport and delve deeper into any topic
  3. Smoothly Disagreeing allows you to voice your perspective
  4. Proactive Participation positions you as an engaged contributor

By combining these skills, you can feel confident in even the most challenging discussions. This leaves a positive, influential impression on your colleagues.

Developing this comprehensive communication skill takes time and practice. However, the benefits—increased professional credibility, stronger relationships, and greater impact on decision-making—make it a worthwhile investment in your career growth.

How to Control the Conversation

The key to controlling the conversation is to:

1) calmly use simple phrases and questions 

2) to take charge of the discussion 

3) while being respectful and non-confrontational. 

By keeping these three points in mind, you will easily be able to shape the conversation into something easy to understand and easy to participate in.

When should I control the conversation?

Control the conversation when you:

  • Don’t understand the meaning of a word or phrase. This ensures that you are following the meaning of the conversation. 
  • Can’t keep up with the pace of the conversation. Using this tactic consistently will teach the speaker to adapt to a pace more suitable for you.
  • Need to double-check that you understand. Remember, in many cultures, pretending to understand is seen as unprofessional and can lead to embarrassing situations. If you’re not sure you understand, it’s better to ask. 
  • Need to organize a conversation with many speakers. It can be difficult to jump into a conversation when different cultures have a different sense of timing. Use this tactic to make sure your voice, and the voice of your team, is heard. If needed, use humor to lighten the mood. (example: “You all are speaking faster than cheetahs!”)

Phrases for Controlling the Conversation

First, stop the speaker politely.

Any time you try to control the conversation, start by stopping the speaker politely. This gets their attention without being rude. Simple phrases like 

  • “I’m sorry”
  • “Excuse me”
  • “Pardon me”

are all easy-to-use, easy-to-understand English. It doesn’t need to be fancy.

Warren’s Tip! If you are jumping in to control the conversation multiple times during the same conversation, you only need to apologize the first one or two times. After that, you no longer need to do this first step.

Second, ask a question..

Asking a question, even if you truly desire to make a comment, is a safer, more polite way to express yourself. This is especially true after you’ve interrupted a conversation. Some easy question structures are:

  • Could you… / Can you…
  • Do you mean… / Did you mean…
  • Is it okay if… / If possible, I’d like to…

It’s fine to use a comment as well (some of our examples below use comments instead of questions!). However, we recommend using a question until you are comfortable with controlling the conversation regularly.

Examples of Controlling the Conversation

When you don’t understand the meaning of a word or phrase:

  • “I’m sorry, [that word] is new to me. Could you explain what it means?
  • “Pardon me. Could you explain what [that word/concept] means?”
  • “Sorry, so [that concept] means [explanation here]. Is that right?”
  • “Sorry to interrupt, but I’m not sure I understand [that idea]. Can you explain it another way?”

When the discussion is too fast-paced or lengthy:

  • “I’m sorry, but I couldn’t follow everything. Could you please summarize the key points?”
  • “Excuse me. Could you please repeat that?”
  • “Excuse me. The discussion has been a bit long. Is it okay if we review the main points again?”
  • “I’m sorry, but this is quite complicated. Could we slow down and look at one piece at a time?”
  • “Pardon me. There is a lot of information here. Could you point out the top 2-3 takeaways?”

When you need to double-check that you understand: 

  • “May I summarize what I’ve understood so far?”
  • “Sorry, let me make sure I understand correctly…” (then summarize in your own words)
  • “Excuse me. Just to confirm, do you mean [this option] or [that option?]”
  • “Pardon—Before we move on, I want to make sure I understand.” (then explain your understanding)

When you need to manage group discussions with multiple speakers:

  • “Excuse me, I have a comment to add.” (Wait for an opening, then make your contribution)
  • “Pardon me. I’d like to go back to what [Warren] said about [the topic] earlier.”
  • “I’m sorry. Could I jump in with a question?” (then ask your question)

Remember, rather than being silent, it’s always better to politely clarify and control the flow of the conversation.

What are the benefits of Controlling the Conversation?

Looking professional and creating a positive influence are key reasons to develop this ability. Similar to the previous communication techniques we’ve discussed, actively participating and guiding the conversation is considered a crucial “unwritten rule” in business settings.

By controlling the flow of the discussion, you can:

  • Ensure you fully understand the information being shared
  • Maintain a pace that aligns with your comprehension
  • Subtly teach others to communicate at a level more suitable for you

On the other side, demonstrating this level of proactive communication also:

  • Shows you are an engaged, valuable team player
  • Allows you to influence the direction of the discussion
  • Builds trust in your capabilities and strengthens your professional relationships

What are the Unwritten Communication Rules Around Controlling the Conversation?

Communicating in Indirect Cultures

Indirect Rule 10: When you don’t understand, wait until that person has finished speaking or presenting before asking a question.

This indirect communication rule is about waiting to ask clarifying questions until after the speaker has finished talking or presenting. It relates to controlling the conversation flow in a few important ways:

  1. You must use patience and self-control rather than interrupting right away when you don’t understand something. You temporarily allow the speaker to control the conversation, but make sure you write down any questions you have!
  2. However, by waiting and thinking carefully, you maintain control over ensuring your own understanding before discussions continue. The responsibility is on you as the listener to interpret any underlying meanings.
  1. Asking clarifying questions after they finish allows you to regain control of the conversation in a respectful way. You can now resolve any remaining confusions or questions you wrote down.
  1. Doing this demonstrates sensitivity and respect for hierarchy/seniority levels, which indirectly helps you influence the overall workplace relationship dynamics.

The goal is finding a balance: not interrupting excessively, but also not passively allowing misunderstandings. Waiting before interjecting gives you time to consider the full context before re-establishing control to achieve mutual comprehension.

In indirect cultures, controlling conversation flow is about when you interject as much as how. Patience, self-guided reflection, and prioritizing relationships are crucial for this approach.

Communicating in Direct Cultures

Direct Rule 1: It’s important to promote mutual understanding and progress.

Speakers should state things directly rather than implying or being vague. As the listener, you may need to control the conversation by asking for more overt explanations if something is unclear. The goal is ensuring everyone is on the same page so work can efficiently move forward.

Direct Rule 3: When it comes to making sure a message is understood, the speaker has more responsibility than the listener.

This means that if you are listening and you don’t understand, you need to turn into a speaker—you must speak up—in order to communicate your lack of understanding. Listeners are expected to confirm their understanding by speaking! They should summarize and ask follow-up questions. This ties to controlling the conversation flow by encouraging you to pause the speaker, rephrase key points, and verify you interpreted correctly.

Direct Rule 10: When you don’t understand, ask questions to clarify the matter immediately.

This rule directly instructs you to jump in and ask for clarification if something is unclear. Interrupting politely is preferable to allowing misunderstandings. This means it’s okay to control the conversation when you are trying to resolve confusion and achieve mutual understanding.

All three of these rules discuss the expectation of interrupting or redirecting a conversation if you don’t fully grasp something. Controlling the conversation through clarifying questions and confirming comprehension is more important than letting misunderstandings continue.

Whether in a direct or indirect communication culture, controlling conversations effectively requires nuanced skills. Direct environments emphasize promptly interrupting to clarify confusion and keep discussions transparent. Indirect settings call for patience, self-guided interpretation, preserving positive rapport, and raising points respectfully after speakers finish.

Conclusion: From Participant to Facilitator

Controlling conversations is the final communication skill that combines the previous four skills. While it takes practice, developing this ability to effectively guide discussions provides major personal and professional benefits.

On an individual level, controlling conversations ensures you fully understand the information being shared by resolving any confusion, maintaining an understandable pace, and keeping the focus on priorities. It shows you are an engaged listener and critical thinker. When seen as an influential team member, you increase your professional credibility and strengthen key workplace relationships.

From an organizational perspective, teams with strong conversation structure avoid misunderstandings, make better decisions through open discussions, and maintain forward progress. They make everyone feel their voice is heard. More than that, the ability to skillfully guide dialogue is a trademark of respected leaders!

Mastering control begins with using simple phrases to politely interject, asking questions, and redirecting respectfully but firmly. With persistence comes growth.

Like the previous skills, controlling the conversation is a practice. We’re confident the investment is worth it to elevate your performance, increase your professional impact, and emerge as a powerful communicator!

Scroll to Top

Get Updates on New Chapters!