4 Phrases to Shift Your Next Conversation From Information to Insight

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You’re trapped in a meeting where everyone is rehashing last month’s performance at the most ridiculous level of detail. Thirty minutes into a 60-minute meeting and you’re only a quarter of the way through the 147 page deck.

Wow…nothing more efficient than sitting together and reading off of slides.

How do you pivot the meeting from a complete waste of time, mired in unfiltered data, and baseless conjecture, into a valuable discussion with some hope of triggering insight and maybe even action?

There are a few simple pivots that will do the trick.

Before we get to the pivots, we need to talk about the difference between a low-value, information dump discussion and a high-value insight generating one.

The Difference Between Information and Insight

When I complain about a discussion being limited to information sharing, I’m talking about a few different issues.

  • listing a litany of facts and raw data, which could be digested more efficiently by reading them on your own
  • sharing anecdotes, which even in the plural don’t count as evidence
  • proposing relationships among factors, which are likely to be spurious correlations

Insight is a clear, deep, and sometimes sudden understanding of a complicated problem or situation. (Cambridge English Dictionary)

Processing more and more information is no guarantee that you’ll glean insight.

No matter how quickly or accurately you can rhyme off the number of widgets that you sold in the Bethesda Shoppes kiosk last month, it doesn’t mean that you understand why you sold that many, what might have affected the number, and how you could improve the sales next month.

Information isn’t sufficient to understand, predict, or control anything. For that, you need insight.

Pivot a Conversation to Insight

Even if you’re not the chair or facilitator of the meeting, you can influence your colleagues to have a more insightful conversation; to move beyond the what, to the so what, and now what.

There are two steps, with a few options for how you implement each.

First, when your colleagues spout information, respond by validating them (not necessarily agreeing with them, but at least making them feel heard and understood). If you blow past their information, you might come off as dismissive and that will get you nowhere fast. Choose one of the following:

Option 1: Repeat or paraphrase: “Ok, so we sold 1,834 widgets last month.”


Option 2: Emphasize: “We were at 1,834 widgets last month. That’s a really important place to start.”


Option 3: Reward: “Thanks for bringing that sales number up. I wanted to dig into that too.”

Once you’ve validated what the person is saying (making it clear that you’re an ally in the conversation), now you can pivot toward the so what. Interject with one or more of the following phrases:

Option 1, Go Deeper: Go one level beneath the information to try to understand root causes. You could try: “If we look at both the Bethesda number and the numbers from the other mall locations, what do you think is driving the decline in mall traffic?”

Option 2, Rise Above: Go one level above the information to try to identify themes. You could try: “If we combine that with the numbers from the past three quarters, what trends are we seeing in mall versus stand-alone traffic?”

Option 3, Shift Perspective: Come at the same information from a different angle. You could try: “How would our real estate team look at these data? What other factors might they encourage us to consider?”

Option 4, Seek Evidence: Look for additional data that would help you validate causes and relationships. You could try: “If we believe this might signal a shift in traffic from mall locations to stand-alone, how might we test that? What other possibilities are there that we’d want to eliminate before coming to that conclusion?”

Used together, validating your colleagues’ interest in information and then pivoting them toward a more rigorous attempt to gain insight will make your conversations more interesting, more valuable, and more useful.

More on Getting Out of the Weeds

Shifting from information to insight is just one of the skills included in my course on Staying Out of the Weeds. Not only does the course teach you five different techniques for adding more value, it will also help you significantly reduce the time and energy you’re spending on low value work. It even includes the right words to say ‘no’ to your boss and an emergency plan for when saying ‘no’ doesn’t work.

Check it out. There are two free preview lessons so you can get a feel for the material. If you like it, it’s on sale for 50% off until July 31st. Just use the coupon code “medium” at the check out.

Also, check out my previous article for a fun diagnostic you use to see how just how far in the weeds your team has sunk.

Getting out of the weeds will make work feel more fulfilling, will change how you’re viewed and open up rewards and promotions, and will help you reclaim your work-life balance.

If you’re stuck in the weeds, it’s time to break free.

Written by

NYT Bestselling Author, Keynote Speaker, Ph.D. Organizational Psychology, Conflict Doctor

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