Before You Have that Talk …

Sitting in your boss’s office, launching into an explanation for why yesterday’s presentation was a fiasco, your brain is a minefield of poor word choices and jerry-rigged rationales. Make one wrong synaptic step and kablooie!


Kathleen D. Ryan, coauthor of “The Courageous Messenger: How to Successfully Speak Up at Work,” offers three questions that you should ask yourself before you start the conversation. They’ll help you emerge unscathed from the corner office.

Have I focused on reality?

“When people get nervous about a tough conversation, it’s often because they exaggerate the outcome,” says Ryan. “Don’t dwell on repercussions that you believe are possible, but on the ones that you think are probable.”

Why am I having this conversation?

“Just before you launch into the conversation, take a deep breath, clear your mind, and focus on why it’s important to have this talk. By concentrating on your goal, you’ll go into the conversation with more confidence and a clearer sense of purpose.”

Am I going to inflame the discussion?

“Keep your word choices neutral and nonjudgmental. Using words that cast blame will put the other person on the defensive and amp up the conversation from a discussion to an argument. Compare this accusatory sentence with one that’s neutral:

‘You say completely ignorant things from time to time that indicate to me that you’re a racist.’

‘You say things from time to time that make it sound as if you don’t respect me.'”

Coordinates: $25. “The Courageous Messenger: How to Successfully Speak Up at Work” (Jossey-Bass Publishers Inc., 1996), .