Advanced Communication Skills Series Posted by Nicola Maxwell

So, you’ve got a tricky issue to address with someone.  It involves telling them something they might not want to hear.  It could be some negative or sensitive feedback that you suspect they’re likely to react badly to.  How do you get the conversation off to the best possible start to ensure they’re more likely to listen and respond in a positive manner?

What we say in the opening moments of a conversation like this sets the tone for everything that follows. It also has a direct impact on the other person’s mindset. If they feel like they’ll be listened to and involved in the conversation they’ll respond more positively. If they feel like they’re being pre-judged and about to be railroaded into something they don’t like, they’ll respond badly.

Your ‘intention statement’ sets out how you’ll open the conversation and it should contain 3 key elements:

1. Have a clear purpose

In order to create good relationships with people that are based on trust, it’s important that we are honest about our intention. If the point of the conversation is clear for both parties from the outset that level of openness and transparency builds trust.

However you choose to phrase it, it needs to be clear that there is a difficult issue that needs to be addressed and that is the purpose of your conversation.

“I’d like to explore some issues that have come to my attention that are causing me some concern…”

We expand on the specifics of the issue when we deliver the feedback itself. This is what follows your intention statement.

2. Be collaborative

As we’re giving sensitive or negative feedback, we need to ensure we create an environment in which the other person feels they have a voice. This is why it’s crucial to make it clear in your opening statement that you want this to be collaborative. It is not enough just to say you want to talk about it, this should be stated explicitly:

“…and I’d like to hear your view on things…”

3. State the positive outcome you want to achieve

The final element of your intention statement is the positive future outcome. This is the outcome you want as a result of having the conversation. It’s important that the outcome you articulate is also an outcome that is likely to appeal to the other person. That way, it carries more value and impact.

“…so we ensure we work together as one team to deliver a great experience for our customers.”

In summary, your ‘intention statement’ should have 3 key elements:

  • A clear purpose so the person understands there is a tricky issue you want to discuss
  • An explicit invitation to be collaborative so the person understands you want to hear their views, and finally,
  • A positive future outcome that highlights what you hope to achieve

Bringing those three elements together, your intention statement would look like this:

“I’d like to explore some issues that have come to my attention that are causing me some concern, and I’d like to hear your view on things so we ensure we work together as one team to deliver a great experience for our customers. I’ve noticed that…”

The good news is that your ‘intention statement’ is one of the few things you can prepare in advance of this kind of conversation. So next time you have a tricky issue to raise, create a platform for success by taking five minutes to get your ‘intention statement’ straight in your mind.

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