Why “aha” moments need conversation supplements (Jan. 22, 2020 issue)

Hi friends,

This week I introduce the notion of conversation supplements and describe how I’m correcting a category error I’ve made in my work.

“Aha” moments need conversation supplements

Master difficult conversations

Learn my best tips for staying cool under pressure and elevating your leadership in complex times.


You read an article about how to grow as a leader, something that resonates. There are now three of these in my Linked In feed: the power of diverse voices, “take a wrecking ball to your company’s iconic practices,” and why emotional intelligence matters more in hiring than technical skill.

“That’s it!” you say to yourself. “That’s so true.”

Your mind is alive and your heart abuzz. This is an “aha” moment.

Then a few weeks pass. Something reminds you of that article, so you go back and reread it. This time, your experience is different. The article’s core idea still strikes a chord, but this time you ask: how can I put this into action? The insight hasn’t changed, but now you want something more: action. What can you dowith the amazing insight? The article has little to offer.

The “aha” isn’t wrong, just incomplete. Like skis without poles or a basketball without an air pump. What the “aha” needs is a supplement—in this case, one that makes it actionable.

That’s what we’re doing here. We’re in the supplements business. Instead of selling Vitamin D for bones or Melatonin for sleep, I’m offering supplements for leadership. Action happens through conversation, so what you’re getting are conversation supplements.

Consider three categories of supplements: speaking, listening, and day architecture (who you talk with, when these conversations happen, and what you do before and after them). In my conversation pantry are hundreds of supplements in these categories. Here’s a sampling:

  • Supplements for speaking:  elements of powerful offers, four ways to respond to requests, framing difficult conversations, possibility conversations for shifting mood, flipping complaints to commitments, “My Assessment, Your Assessment,” and “Help me understand.”
  • Supplements for listening: paraphrasing, clarifying questions, putting distracting thoughts on paper, drinking water, “Two Feet, Five Breaths,” wiggling your toes, and imagining a chord of light connecting your heart with someone else’s (strangely effective).
  • Supplements for day architecture: weekly conversation audits, set times to check email, regular breaks, cancelling or shortening meetings, focused journaling, extended “work sprints” for solo thinking and deep work, sleep hygiene, and restroom visits.

After you start taking supplements, life takes on new forms. You have something to do. When you re-read that article, your thinking shifts. Before it was “I love that idea but what can I do with it?” Now, it’s “Thank you, dear insight, for kicking my new listening practice into gear.”

I’m correcting a “category error”

I think a lot about politics, history, and civic culture. In the final days of 2019, I realized I’ve been making a category error: mixing these interests with leadership development. The reasons were noble enough: to share insights and feel whole. But I now see this as less synthesis than confusing conglomeration. Most of you are here for my leadership ideas and practices, not extended explorations of the fate of liberal democracy or strategies for handling climate change. In the future, I will be correcting this category error by separating these interests. This newsletter will continue to focus on leadership development. If politics enters the picture, it will be directly connected to leadership development. I’ll use other channels to discuss politics, climate, and history. Sound like a good idea? Terrible idea?  If you have strong thoughts either way, let me hear them.

Cheerfully real,
Amiel Handelsman

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