Winning Conversations with ‘POISE NOW’: Step 2 - Open

Posted in : HR Updates ROI on 18 April 2016
Mary Rafferty
Consensus Mediation
Issues covered:

Mary's new 8 step ‘POISE NOW’ programme is designed to help you prepare in advance of a potentially contentious conversation.

Step one looked at Purpose. This month’s newsletter looks at the second step – O for Open

Tus maith, leath na hoibre’ – ‘A good start is half the job done’ – old Irish proverb

Is it a choice between sink or stay dry? 
Step One focuses on the Purpose and setting positive intentions for what you want to achieve. You have set positive intentions – for you and for them: You want this to be a learning conversation for both of you. 
But you never get a second chance to make a first impression. 
How you start is crucial. Done badly, it can derail things very quickly. 
Think back to when you were a child at the swimming pool. Were you one of those who scrambled out of your clothes and ran as fast as you could to the deep end and jumped in? 
Bet you ended up with your togs half off, choking and spluttering, frantically flailing to get to the surface. 
Or maybe you were a timid child. Undressing was a painful activity in the cold, tiled dressing room. You stand at the pool edge dipping your toes in for ages and gingerly eased in up to your waist. It took you years to learn to swim a basic stroke. 
Conversations where the stakes are high can feel like this. You think you have to jump in at the deep end load on the hard facts or skirt endlessly around the edges. You can end up almost drowning or never getting in at all. 

Having an open frame
Jean-François Manzoni (2002) writes about the dangers of narrow versus open ‘framing’ when delivering a negative message.
Narrow or binary framing sets the discussion up as a win/lose discussion where each can end up backed into a corner. 
‘Your negative attitude’ or ‘You need to delegate more’ are narrow frames
A more open frame describes the situation in a way that: 
Let’s the person know there is an issue to be sorted 
Has room for each person’s view point 
Doesn’t trigger a defensive response  
Rather than opening with ‘We need to talk about your attitude’ you might try ‘I wanted to talk to you about what happened in the meeting yesterday, I was upset/frustrated by something you said. I wanted to explain this to you and also to hear your take on things.’ 
Mediators do this all the time. They help people see the situation from a more neutral and objective stance. Rather than ‘right versus wrong’ they see a situation as “different viewpoints” or “ a gap between what happened and what expected”.
You can be a mediator too. 
Find a neutral, non-judgemental way to describe the concerns you have. 
Draw the person into a joint problem-solving process rather than you telling them they have to... or else. 
Have an even, friendly, even tone. You want to start a two-way dialogue. Not throw down a gauntlet.

Allay their fears
No matter how you phrase it, broaching difficult subjects as in ‘I’d like to talk to you about…’ is likely to spark some anxiety for the other person. You can minimize this by:
Reassuring them around any anxieties that could arise for them
Being explicit about the positive intentions you have in mind 
Something like: ‘I am not trying to have a go at you or make you feel defensive. I just want to understand where you were coming from, let you know where I was at with it.’ 
Read more about why and how acknowledging and allaying the other person’s anxiety ensures a more productive and constructive conversation.   

You can find a pictorial overview of all 8 steps on this Infographic here.

You can also download an eBook with all 8 steps from my website here for free.  

This article is correct at 18/04/2016

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Mary Rafferty
Consensus Mediation

The main content of this article was provided by Mary Rafferty. Contact telephone number is +00 (353) 71 9651966 or +00 (353) 86 8252423 or email

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