I Like Turtles – Joining the Conversation

by Stephen T. Messenger

April 5, 2022

I have a terrible habit of overpreparing for conversations. I’ll have a response keyed up while the other person is talking, sometimes before they even started. Once they pause or ask me a question, my pre-scripted answer just comes out.  

In a meeting, I’ll use a narrative I prepared beforehand, regardless of the conversation. Or even worse, I’ll use a mentally-rehearsed remark to reply to my wife—without listening to what she just said.

Jonathan and I are often of the same mind.

In one of my favorite video clips of all time, this young man had his line ready to go on the news. He just needed to be asked a question… any question.

Jonathan knew he was in an interview, and he knew what he wanted to say. When that chance came, nothing was going to stop him from talking about turtles.

We do this too often. Whether at work or home, we tend to prepare an answer before the question is even asked.

I can recall a work meeting where the group was talking about reallocating space within the building. I prepared for the meeting and had my thoughts ready to go.

The first 20 minutes were comprised of quality discussion and lively conversation. There were some great ideas and compromises. The brainstorming session evolved naturally over time and generated new initiatives, some of which conflicted with mine, but were better.

Then it was my turn: “I like turtles”—it was really some statement that didn’t naturally fit, but may have well been about turtles.


One of a leader’s main jobs is to influence others. If they’re not even listening to the conversation, they have no opportunity to encourage behavioral change.

See the Big Picture

Conversation is an evolving dialogue, and yes, even during boring staff meetings. All too often people see their part as only a snapshot in time. Yet, if you focus on what you’re going to say or how you’ll be perceived, you’re going to miss the bigger picture.

We need leaders who think about more than just their part. They understand how their role and resources fit into the organization, and they contribute to the conversation with ideas that help not only the boss, but others around the table. Think about what others are thinking about, not just what’s going on in your world.

Join the Conversation

Many meetings have a natural place for you to provide input. If you’re not a scheduled speaker, usually at the end you get a chance to weigh in. But, when appropriate, join in the conversation.   

A former professor used to tell us, “A good leader can listen to any conversation, critically think about any topic, and weigh in with important questions to help move the group forward.”

Your boss needs you to come prepared to participate and help the organization.

Be Prepared

Participating in evolving dialogue does not mean to show up unprepared. The fact that you like turtles may be a great fit for the conversation. But you must also know about all the other backyard animals that may be discussed.

The path of any conversation is unpredictable. Having background knowledge and doing your homework helps you to be a contributing participant, not a static one.

I Like Turtles and…

If you come into the room prepared for the topic at hand, thinking about the bigger picture, and ready to engage in the conversation, when appropriate, you’ll help meet organizational goals. If you come in ready to talk about your turtles, you probably didn’t need to be there in the first place.

Lead well!

I highly enjoy being on this leadership journey with you! Thank you to everyone who subscribes to the free, weekly email distribution and for those who come in to catch an article every now and then. I appreciate all the leaders out there who are making our Nation better in whatever profession or family you’re focused on!

One thought on “I Like Turtles – Joining the Conversation

  1. Ah, yes, the “seek first to understand, then be understood.” The Good Book has some good thoughts. I like the way you translate age old lessons into today scenarios. Two thumbs up.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: