7 Steps To Prepare For Any Difficult Conversation

Commonly people go into important conversations without ever clarifying the outcome they want. They have no ‘compelling future’ to communicate to the listener. Without having a clear outcome it will be difficult to recognise opportunities in any conversation. In this article I will give you 7 steps to prepare for any difficult conversation. You may choose to skip some of them but those who are the best prepared will be those who control the conversation.

There are many conversations where the outcome doesn’t matter. Surprisingly though, most conversations that you enter with staff, peers and clients do have an agenda.

Whether you are planning to see a patient that is not progressing as expected, a staff member who is struggling, or have a feedback session, it is extremely important to have a plan of how you want the conversation to go before it begins.

The format below is called “Outcome, Intention and Consequences” or “OIC”. OIC is a way to test the outcome for fit, prior to having the conversation. It also provides you with a way to increase the scope for alternative outcomes. 

When you are clear about the outcome you want and also your intention behind achieving the outcome, it is easier to recognise opportunities in any conversation that you may not have previously considered.


A process to prepare for an important conversation

1. Define The Outcome You Want

To achieve an intended outcome in any conversation it is important to consider exactly what you want. Is it plausible, desirable and motivating? This is in terms of for yourself, the other person and the relationship.

When defining the outcome you want imagine the future with the intended outcome. What does it look like, sound like and feel like?

Those who have a clear outcome are able to communicate that future in a dynamic way to others.

If the conversation becomes strained and you are clear on the outcome you want you will be able to fully listen to and appreciate another’s perspective . You will also be able to consider whether their perspective will in fact help you achieve your outcome. Just not as you had first thought.

2. Define Your Intention For The Outcome

How do you work out what your intention is for any given outcome? For many this is a difficult question to answer. Often it is because they have never considered the importance of clarifying what drives their need to achieve a specific outcome.

The process of finding an intention for an outcome is by asking yourself:

“What do I want the outcome for?” or

“When I achieve my outcome, what do I get?”

The real intention behind any outcome is nearly always based on emotion. So if you ask yourself this question and your answer is not an emotion, repeat the question with your current answer.

Once you have an intention or set of intentions for a potential outcome you can explore alternative outcomes. Do this by simply using the intention/s as a guide from which to consider alternative outcomes that fulfils the intention/s. Every alternative outcome generated can be tested by comparing the potential consequences to the intention/s.

3. What Will Be The Consequences Of Achieving The Outcome?

It is important to consider before going into any crucial conversation the consequences of achieving your desired outcome.

What will be the upside and downside of the outcome? Any consequence/s must be acceptable to you now and in the future. If they are not acceptable then this is the time to reconsider your outcome.

Not considering consequences prior to a conversation may end up in regret or remorse.

4. What Obstacles Do You Anticipate?

Fully considering any obstacles that may appear during a conversation will help you prepare to mitigate them. Better still you could ensure they don’t appear at all.

Obstacles can come in the form of interruptions, defensiveness, a sense of entitlement, strong emotions, misunderstandings, differing beliefs or negativity. There are sure to be many others that are specific to certain situations and personality types.

Considering them prior to the conversation my help you better communicate your message. It may require you to consider the unique perspective of the person you are talking to. You may also consider how to better ‘frame’ what you are going to say so that the other person understands the context of the conversation.

There are many ways to prepare for or eliminate obstacles. During the conversation is the wrong time to do it.

5. Lessons Learnt From Previous Similar Situations

You may learn something valuable by taking the time to remember situations similar to that which you are going into.

How is this upcoming conversation the same as others. What problems did you encounter previously and how can you use this to better prepare.

Life is constantly providing opportunities to learn and grow. These lessons generally come from situations that didn’t go as you would have liked. Those who are prepared to reflect with honesty and humility will put themselves in the best position to become a better communicator.

6. How Will You Know You Have Achieved Your Outcome?

Creating a clear outcome also means defining the evidence you will need to know you have achieved that outcome.

Ensure that your evidence is clear, specific and whenever possible, measurable. Having thought about these criteria in advance will help you to have some flexibility in any conversation.

There can be many ways to achieve outcomes and recognising this is only possible when you know where you want to go and can recognise when you arrive at your destination.

7. Is My Outcome Congruent?

Have you ever struggled with attempting to achieve an outcome that was not important to you? In contrast think of an example where you threw yourself into a project that you had chosen and did an enormous amount of work that you thoroughly enjoyed doing at the time. 

The latter is likely to be aligned with some important value or values. The former is likely to not be connected to an important value.

When you are congruent about what you want this manifests in your non-verbal communication. For contrast we have all witnessed people who are in two minds about something, they lack conviction, and subsequently communicate with no charisma. 

Congruence occurs when you have a clear outcome that is in alignment with your deepest values and intentions. As humans we are motivated by our values. Therefore it is valuable to become very mindful of what your most important values are and how they influence your behaviour in different situations.

If you consider an outcome and you find it is not congruent with your values then it’s time to redefine the original outcome. As I have mentioned previously, doing this before you enter a conversation will ensure you don’t end up somewhere the other party has taken you.


Take the time to prepare for any crucial conversations. By using the ‘Outcome, Intention and Consequences’ format, you can potentially save yourself significant time and resources. You will be able to ensure that you are focusing on creating futures that are desirable, plausible and achievable for you and the other party.

You now have 7 steps to prepare for any difficult conversation. Practice them and you may just start to enjoy those conversations you usually dread.

In my next blog I will look at how to review a crucial conversation. Those who review their performance on a regular basis are the ones that constantly learn and improve.

To learn more about motivational tools through effective communication download my eBook:

“Improving Patient Motivation In Physiotherapy”

I wrote this eBook in response to the most common question I get asked and that is “How do I motivate my patients?”

Or perhaps your staff would benefit from training in this area.

Contact us, and find out more about what we can offer you.

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