Ray Donovan Teachs Us About Economy of Conversation


If you ever watched this series, you know that anti-hero title character Ray Donovan is a man of very few words.  So much so that most of the other characters in any given scene mention it to him directly.  Ray is mostly a “do-er,” he is rarely vulnerable and we only learn what he thinks when he dreams or has a memory via flashbacks.

What is intriguing about his conversation trait is that other characters end up carrying on many of the conversations with themselves, often realizing what they want to do or be.  We don’t have to be Ray Donovan to ask good concise questions that open the conversation to better understand and better connect with our counterpoint. If we focus on the individual we are connecting to, their agenda first, and approach with genuine, concise language, we can build trust and give space to partner with one or more counterpoints –  people actually – to co-create amazing outcomes.

Conversation has two components: talking and listening.  Let’s start with our outbound language: talking! (We’ll discuss the listening part another time).  The old adage “you have two ears and one mouth, so act accordingly” holds some weight here.  And, it’s really important to be powerful when you engage your mouth in conversation.  

Stop Explaining Yourself

In many of my coaching workshops one of the biggest traits people exhibit is explaining why they are about to ask a question they’re not comfortable asking.  It goes something like this: “I would like to ask you a question regarding your strategy so I can better understand where you are planning on taking your organization so I might be able to match stuff I want to sell you with what you are trying to accomplish, so, (whew!) What is your strategy this year?”  Enter the oxygen tanks.

Stop Stacking

What is stacking?  It’s literally when we ask several questions in a row that are basically the same question.  Somehow we don’t believe in just asking one question, so, we ask it a couple or three ways to really confuse our counterpoint.  It goes something like this:  “What’s the impact on your business? How will it affect you? What’s the outcome you’re looking for here?”  Now, each of those are powerful on their own and will elicit very different answers.  The hazard here is that human beings will only hear the first or the last question.  Now, your other two wonderful and concise questions are vaporized. And you may not know exactly which question their answer applies.

Stop Hijacking

Similar to a stacking maneuver.  Hijacking is an interruption of a great question with a statement after you’ve asked about something and given room for an answer.  Statements often include explaining yourself after you’ve asked a great question. It sounds like this: “What outcome do you desire for this project? (counting 1, 2, 3,) because I know that I can tailor our demonstration so as not to waste your time.  And many of our clients find these features really fit what you’re trying to accomplish.” Why not just have this conversation with yourself?

Stop Giving Tests

There is a need to add our judgements and filters into questions.  When you do, the question becomes less powerful because it lacks curiosity.  The best questions are open ended and begin with What? How? And Why? When we stack potential answers after a powerful question, similar to a multiple choice exam, we close down curiosity and limit what our counterpoint might answer that we don’t expect.  It goes like this: “What is most important to you? Is it saving time? Saving money? Increasing productivity? Bringing products to market faster?”  What if it’s none of those?  Now what?  Fail.

Just Stop Talking

I love this one.  If we are going to channel Ray, one of his best traits is that silence elicits incredible responses from others.  We have to be patient, and somewhat brave, to wait it out.  I’ve waited out some clients for over a minute.  It’s grueling sometimes.  Ten secs feels like an hour. Remember, if you ask someone a really transformational power question, one that evokes a desire to connect to your counterpoint’s agenda, it takes at least 8 -12 seconds for them to formulate an answer.  Let ’er rip and just be quiet…

The late Dr. Judith Glaser, renowned psychologist, coach and author of Conversational Intelligence (C-IQ), stated that “everything begins and ends with conversation.”  That’s true.  Whatever goal we are trying to accomplish, problem we are wanting to solve, job we are seeking, business we are building, and argument we are having (including arguing with ourselves) begins and ends with conversation.  Where her theories and practice shine is in the intentional way she created conversational strategies that build trust between individuals and groups.  This was her gift to us.  It means that we take care with our interactions and meet others on level playing fields where we can “co-create” impact and results.  Bravo Dr. Glaser!

Lazy conversation dishonors us all.  It creates ambiguity, costs time, delays impact and fails to move us forward.  

Ray Donovan usually speaks little, only wanting to know enough to get you to decide what you want (and ending most conversations by either doling out money or swinging a baseball bat…or both?).  Look, that’s Hollywood: action-packed – yes, overdramatic – big yes.  What you get from Ray is the next thing: to move forward quickly, work together and do it with few questions or concerns, because you know what to do and be.  Concise, economical conversation can be that vehicle for all of us.  Ray is busy so just ask me.

I guide emerging professionals to build trust, become more relevant, and surpass their competitors, thereby creating the ultimate personal, professional, and financial success for them and their businesses.”  Welcome in 2022 with the wild idea of investing in you!  Here’s a link to start creating that discussion right now!

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