(Influential Leadership) Master Clarifying Conversations, Part 2

Last time I shared this relationship ‘truth’:


The quality of a relationship is directly proportional to

the amount of effective communication that exists in that relationship.


Men Talking Over Coffee
Photo by Juri Gianfrancesco on Unsplash


One key to effective communication is the clarifying conversation.


Steps To Mastering The Clarifying Conversation


Step One: Get Clear Your Intent


The first thing you want to do is check your own motives. For the clarifying conversation to be successful, you need to detach yourself from the conclusions you may have already formed in your mind. Remember, the purpose is to learn the other person’s perspective, so you need to come from a place of objectivity. Be curious to find out the other’s intent by being open to any possibility.


Step Two: Practice Your Articulation


Many struggle to have these conversations because they don’t know what to say, especially at the beginning of the exchange. We don’t want a confrontation and we also don’t want to come off as overreacting. An approach like “We need to talk,” is better than nothing, but can put the other person on the defensive from the get-go.


While there is no single best approach, I’ve found the following to be effective:


Example #1:


“John, I need your help on something…

when you said, ‘(fill in the statement)’ it sounded like you might have been dissatisfied with the way I handled {name the situation}. Is there something we need to discuss around this?”


Example #2:


“Judy, I need your help on something…

I’ve called you several times to follow up on our last phone conversation and I haven’t heard back from you. I know you’re not the type to just ignore phone calls. Can you help me understand what’s going on here?”


The key components are to:


1) Ask for help – people are usually glad to help if you ask, and

2) Extend to them the benefit of the doubt – it’s one thing to questions someone’s behavior, it’s another thing to question their motives. The second can severely damage a relationship.


Step Three: Make Sure The Environment Is Right


This conversation is very important. Therefore, make sure that the setting is private, free from interruptions and distraction, and that there is adequate time to engage in the dialogue. For example, if you approach the person to have this conversation and they have another meeting in five minutes, schedule another time with them rather than trying to squeeze the discussion in.



It can be easy to use this step as an excuse to put off these conversations. Don’t be tempted. If it’s not a good time to have the conversation, make sure you still take action to schedule it!


Step Four: Focus on Understanding


Remember to stay objective and curious during the conversation. Your job, once you’ve kicked off the conversation, is to LISTEN and SEEK UNDERSTANDING. To do this well takes good self-management skills. Make sure you really hear them out. Ask clarifying questions that make sure you’ve heard them right. The goal is not to prove a point or defend yourself; it’s all about clearly understanding their perspectives and intent.


Step Five: Change Perceptions or Procedures


Next you need to assess whether you need to change your perceptions or procedures. You may find out that you perceived the whole situation the wrong way, so now you can begin to look at it differently.


Like when Mary ignored you in the hallway, it wasn’t because she thinks you are a poor performer, but rather she had a difficult meeting to prepare for that was weighing on her mind.


Alternatively, we might change our procedures. For example, you may have felt uncomfortable that your boss went to Ben, one of your direct reports, for some information. You stewed about it for weeks and then you saw it happen again. You begin thinking that your boss doesn’t view you as competent or doesn’t respect your position.


You have a clarifying conversation and find out that your boss had a special project that required some quick answers from your direct report. He knew you were already involved in meeting some high-pressured deadlines, so he got the information from Ben himself so as not to distract you.


You feel better once you’ve heard the explanation. Now you and your boss work out a communication procedure to eliminate this misunderstanding in the future. From now on, he’ll mention the context to you before he approaches your staff.


You Can Make A Difference Today


If you want more success, fulfillment and satisfying business relationships, begin incorporating having clarifying conversations as a regular practice. It’s easy for communication mishaps to occur. It takes leaders with the courage and intentionality to clean these situations up as they occur.


Coaching Challenge


Intentionally integrate clarifying conversations into your meetings for the next thirty days and then take inventory of the impact it has on the quality of your professional and personal life. How much has the quality of your professional life improved on a scale of 1 to 10?


Remember, one key conversation can make a lifetime of difference.


We’d love to hear feedback from you on this topic. Leave a comment with your insights and experiences.


Contributed by David C Miller

Learn more about influencing skills in his book: The Influential Actuary. )

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