Framing What You Need To Say In A ‘Difficult Conversation’ – Free Template

Framing What You Need To Say In A Difficult Conversation Mary Rafferty Consensus Mediation

Download Word Doc version of ‘Framing Your Key Messages

Download a completed template ‘Framing Your Key Messages in Addressing an Issue‘  in relation to addressing lateness. (This is an example of how you might use the template , it is not a prescription or recommendation. Your context, situation and way of expressing yourself might be completely different.)

Video Transcript

Hi Mary Rafferty here

In this video I’d like to share a tool from my ‘Difficult Conversations’ training programmes.

This tool can be used in many contexts to support someone preparing to give a difficult message to another person. It might be a manager having to raise a ‘tricky’ issue with a member of their team. Or perhaps you are facilitating/mediating between 2 people and want to help each person prepare how best they might communicate their concerns to one another.

It can also work as a coaching tool that you might share and go through with a client who is planning how to address an issue with another person.

So the tool is called ‘Framing Your Key Messages’, for those of you who have a copy of my eBook POISE NOW – you can download for free on my website – this tool relates to step 4 = S – Share.
You can see  on the left hand side a set of prompts to help shape what you need to say in a constructive way.

The first box invites you to ‘name the issue’ so in other words, put some wording on what the ‘topic’ as it were is that’s being discussed. However, you see I’ve also put the words ‘open frame’ so it’s about using wording that doesn’t already pre-judge or cause the person to feel they are being attacked.

A typical example of a closed frame would be ‘talk to you about your attitude’ so that phrasing implies a judgement about the other person and that they are in some way a ‘problem’. Whereas an open frame would be where I might say ‘I’d like to talk to you about what happened in two recent Project X meetings…I was concerned that you didn’t seem to be contributing as much as you usually do and wanted to ask you about that and what’s happening for you in relation to the Project’

The second box then invites you to be more specific. So perhaps write out a couple of examples – it’s always good to get these on paper for yourself anyhow. Then in terms of communicating these, a nice frame that comes from the Crucial Confrontations people is the idea of ‘describing the gap’ – so simply stating what your observations were as against your expectations.

Again, you are trying to move away from getting into value-based labels and opinions such as ‘bad attitude’ or ‘very unmotivated’ and find a way to express your concerns in terms of observed ‘facts’ e.g. ‘you didn’t ask any questions and that’s not usual for you in my experience of you at previous meetings’

Clarifying what’s at stake can be helpful – so giving the person insight into your reasoning and your thinking and assumptions in relation to the issue. That can range from the impact on the work, project to the broader impact perhaps at a team level or even a concern you might have in terms of a negative impact for that person themselves.

The fourth box invites you to reflect on some wording that might describe the emotional impact for you – if relevant or appropriate. This is not an encouragement to act out your emotions and tell them how awful they are and how angry you are. Rather it’s about reflecting on whether and how best to communicate the impact of a behaviour or action perhaps that you might have found difficult at that professional -personal level.
For example, ‘when you don’t engage much during the meetings, the impact for me is a sense that you don’t want to be there…and that I’m annoying you or putting upon you in some way…’

Next, acknowledging, if relevant, what your own contribution might be to the issue can also be helpful so you are demonstrating you are willing to take ownership of your part in an issue rather than make the other person be “the problem”. You are also modelling an openness to reflecting on one’s behaviour and naming things one could have in hindsight done differently.

Indicating your positive intentions and wish to resolve the issue – here you are being deliberate in trying to counteract the ‘negativity bias’. This is our human tendency to pay more attention, or give more weight to negative experiences over neutral or positive experiences.

Having now spelt out or expressed your concerns, you want to ensure that you also assure the person of a positive intent in the conversation and name for them your wish to resolve and make things work better for both.

Finally, having said your piece, it’s now time to pose some sort of question that communicates to them that you want to hear their viewpoint and perspective on the situation.

You can see then underneath, some further bullet points suggesting next steps i.e. listening, drawing their viewpoint out further with some questions, using paraphrasing to check then that you’ve understood their viewpoint. The last bullet is then about you checking in with them to see that they’ve understood your viewpoint.

There is a copy of this template available to download above. I’ve also used the template to frame how one might address a simple (not necessarily easy!) issue such as lateness for work. So there will be a copy of that above also. Of course I’ve completed this using my words and my phrases – I’m not suggesting you say things exactly as I would, this is just an example. You have to find words and phrases that ring true and authentic for you.

I’m also putting some links to other blog posts on this theme that you might find helpful.

Let me know how you get on! And please get in touch if I can be of any help whether it’s coaching, training or mediating any aspect of ‘difficult’ conversations that might arise for you – just email me at:

Thanks for watching!

Other related blog posts:

Trying to Get Your Point Across But They Won’t Listen
The Secret Ingredient for Success in Difficult Conversations
Frustrated trying to deal with difficult behaviour? Try these 3 simple shifts