Winning Conversations with ‘POISE NOW’: Step 3 - Inquire

Posted in : HR Updates ROI on 7 June 2016
Mary Rafferty
Consensus Mediation
Issues covered:

Winning Conversations with POISE NOW - Inquire

All of us have certain situations and conversations that we dislike and prefer to avoid. Perhaps we have to give someone a negative message, raise a sensitive issue, discuss a project that has gone wrong. 

We see only two options – we have to either go in heavy and push our agenda or water down our message and try and keep things smoothed over.

But there is a third way. 

You can be upfront and supportive, you can be clear and empathic, you can acknowledge and give a straight message.

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

Each stage flags a key aspect of a ’difficult conversation’ to reflect on and prepare for.

As well as being an acronym of each stage, the word ‘poise’ means with grace and balance – which tends to be a helpful way of approaching these kinds of situations and interactions. 

In this and future newsletters, I describe each stage in detail with suggested action points relating to that stage.

You can find a pictorial overview of all 8 steps on this infographic

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

At the end, you will have a clear, actionable roadmap that you can use to transform those ‘difficult’ conversations into win-win outcomes for both you and the other person in the situation. 

Step One: Purpose

This is about clarifying what you want to achieve in the conversation and setting positive intentions both for you and for them: You want this to be a learning conversation for both of you.

Step Two: Open

This emphasises having an open mind, open body language. Most importantly, it means having an open rather than closed frame when setting the context for the conversation. So describing 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  

This month’s newsletter looks at the third step: I for Inquire

Step Three: Inquire

It’s tempting at this point to want to move quickly to laying out the key arguments and messages that you want to get across. However, if our purpose in the dialogue is to influence another person in some way, we will have more success if we give them an opportunity to give their side of the story first.

According to former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss (Barker, 2013):

     “If your first objective in the negotiation, instead of making your argument, is to hear the other side out, that’s the only way you can quiet the voice in the other guy’s mind. But most people don’t do that. They don’t walk into a negotiation wanting to hear what the other side has to say. They walk into a negotiation wanting to make an argument. They don’t pay attention to emotions and they don’t listen”

Voss outlines the FBI Behavioural Stairway Model—five steps getting someone else to see our point of view and change what they’re doing. Most people err by skipping the first three stages.

FBI - Behavioural Stairway Model


Start by Listening

If you start by listening, you get an opportunity to learn more about what’s at the heart of the issue for the other person. Problems are more likely to be resolved when we understand and talk about the root causes.

 Use open questions to draw out their viewpoint, in a friendly, professional tone:

     ‘What’s your viewpoint of what happened that day…?’

     ‘What was it about that meeting that you found so difficult?’

Ask them to give concrete examples to explain their reasoning.

Then paraphrase back to them what they have said. Use a neutral, matter-of-fact tone.

Doing this shows you have been listening and also helps you check if you have understood their viewpoint accurately.

Most importantly, it lets them know that it’s safe for them to be open and candid.

You might say:

     ‘So am I right that you were a bit irritated at that meeting… you feel that I was trying to dictate things and that there was no room for discussion… you are concerned that if we go ahead with this change, it will impact on the rest of the project?’

Make it safe for them to say something they fear you might not want to hear

What if they still, despite your open questions, they seem hesitant to say what’s at stake for them? Patterson et. al, authors of Crucial Conversations (2002) suggest you try ‘priming.

This means making a guess at what they might be thinking or feeling but reluctant to express.

     ‘Are you concerned that I don’t want to hear what you have to say in meetings and that you feel a bit dismissed or put you down?’

Be careful with this as it risks sounding pushy or as if you are undermining their own voice. 


  • Write some open questions that you can use to draw out the other person’s point of view
  • Consider what it is they might be reluctant to say and how you might phrase



"Hostage Negotiation - The Top FBI Negotiator Teaches You To Persuade:". Barking Up The Wrong Tree. N.p., 2013. Web. 6 June 2016.

Patterson, Kerry. Crucial Conversations. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002. Print.

This article is correct at 07/06/2016

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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