Imagined Conversations

A Technique for Enhancing Work Relationships

In the workplace, individuals manage multiple relationships throughout their organization and across hierarchies. Alumna Paula Thompson’s (EdD ’12) research (“An Exploratory Study of Work-Related Imagined Interactions with Real-Life Coworkers,” ProQuest LLC, UMI No. 3540744) explores a new area of positive psychology—imagined conversations with coworkers. Imagined conversations take place in our minds with people from our real life. During these imagined conversations, you mentally play the roles of both yourself and the other person, imaging what each of you would say and how you would react.

Thompson’s curiosity on the topic stemmed from reading work by the founder of the positive psychology field, Martin E. P. Seligman, PhD. Seligman’s book, Flourish, presents the concept of well-being and how nurturing positive emotions and relationships can help people accomplish their work. Positive psychology thinks of the individual as an instrument for change; and internal self-management is necessary for the workplace. “Previous research on imagined conversations focused on marital or family relationships,” Thompson said. “I wanted to look at imagined conversations in the workplace because success in most every job is dependent on effective communication.”

When people retrospectively relive conversations, they are mostly negative. However, when thinking about upcoming conversations, people’s thoughts are more positive. Thompson found that people used their inner cognitive brain space to process prior events, undergo catharsis, and release pent-up frustrations. Many of her research subjects used imagined conversations as a coping tool in response to unhealthy or chaotic workplaces.

Three Tips for Making Imagined Conversations Work for You

1. Imagine the conversation going well.

When you imagine a future conversation in your head, picture yourself at your best. Identify emotions that may need to be checked, and process those ahead of time. Imagine the best case scenario, and all the words, gestures, and feelings that go along with it.

2. Relive a past conversation with that person.

You’ll want to develop your talking points around what you realistically know about the person. Are they a crier? A yeller? Do they shut down during difficult conversations? Based on how you’ve witnessed them reacting in previous situations, you can tailor your future conversation accordingly.

3. When things go badly, don’t dwell.

When your brain relives an emotional experience, it’s the same as living it (see Self Comes to Mind, Constructing the Conscious Brain by Antonio Damasio). Instead of replaying a past negative social interaction over and over, take 10 minutes to replay it once, identify what you can learn from the experience and do better next time, and then close the flashback and move on. You want your mind to be focused on what you can control.

Ultimately, Thompson’s research helps to shed light on the hidden dynamics of the workplace and increase an individual’s agency to manage workplace relationships. Individuals can use imagined conversations to navigate their workplaces to feel healthier, more fulfilled, and more effective in their jobs.

To learn more about Thompson’s coaching and consulting, visit

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