Despite having read “Crucial Conversations” (McGraw-Hill) more than once
and attending countless presentations on delivering bad news and managing
conflict, I’ve never been very skilled in this area. I dread these types of
personal interactions, and I’m ashamed to admit that I do what I can to get
out of them—at home and at work.
But recently I was in a situation where I could no longer avoid a difficult
conversation. So I did what many other writers, PR pros and corporate
communicators would do: I treated the conversation as a writing assignment.
What started out as a blog post about everything that I wanted to cover
turned into a script where I could role-play the entire conversation.
What I discovered was that the act of writing a script helped clarify my
thoughts and find the right words for the conversation. It was truly an
“Aha!” moment when the solution to this long-standing problem suddenly
became clear and obvious.
The most difficult part of my scripting exercise was figuring out how to
start the conversation. (Which should come as no surprise, considering that
most writers struggle with leads and
opening lines) So I came up with several starters for my conversation, along with
starters that might apply to other difficult discussions:
1. “Can we talk about something that I think will help us work better
2. “If I understand you correctly, you’re trying to accomplish x, y and z.
I’m wondering if there’s a different way to approach this. Perhaps we can
3. “I’m a little confused about what occurred and why it occurred. I want
to discuss it with you to see how we can move this forward.”
4. “I understand that XXXXX happened.”
5. “I’d like to see if we might reach a better understanding about XXXXX. I
really want to hear your thoughts and share my perspective as well.”
6. “It’s a little bit awkward for me to approach you about this, but …”
7. “I like having you on the team because you raise important issues and
feel strongly about them. I’d like to talk you about whether you’re having
the impact you want to have.”
8. “I’d like to give you some feedback about XXXXX.”
9. “I want to understand what we’re trying to accomplish with this project.
Can you go back and explain the reasoning behind it?”
10. “We’ve worked together pretty well for a long time. I don’t know how to
talk about what went wrong in yesterday’s meeting when your view of what
happened is so different from mine.”
11. "I think we have different perceptions about XXXXX. I’d like to hear
your thinking on this.”
How about you, PR Daily readers? Do you have any conversation starters to
add to this list?
Laura Hale Brockway is a regular contributor to
. Read more of her posts on writing, editing and corporate life at