How often have you walked away from a conversation and thought, “We got off track” or “What was the point of that discussion” or “What a waste of time; we didn’t accomplish anything.” We can probably agree we’ve all felt this way at one point or another.

Both in business and our personal lives so much is hinging on our ability to communicate effectively. The daily conversations we have with our coworkers, bosses and family members can be successful experiences and accomplish what we set out to do or unproductive exchanges that lead to wasted time, confusion, disappointment, or worse – missed opportunities.

Ultimately, the quality of our lives depend on the quality of our conversations and good conversations take focused practice. They don’t just happen naturally. There are many necessary skills surrounding effective conversations, but one of the most overlooked components is to clarify the goal of the exchange before it even starts. Gaining alignment with the other person as soon as you enter into a conversation can save time and energy and lead to more positive results. This can be as simple as asking your partner a few clarifying questions such as, “What do we hope to accomplish here” or “What does success look like for you and me?” or “What is the outcome we most want?”

When both parties clarify the purpose and focus their attention on the goal, everyone is aligned and working toward the same outcome. Try this in your next conversation and notice how your conversations become more targeted and clear.