How we start a crucial conversation matters. It determines if we’ll get great results or create a whole new set of problems.
Specifically, the opening 30 seconds are extremely critical. If we want the conversation to be effective, we need to do three things in less than a minute:
1. Start with the facts.
2. Share why those facts are a concern.
3. End with a question that invites the other person into dialogue.
But before we do any of that, we need to be clear on our goal — which isn’t to convince or compel. The real goal is to get better results.
We get those results by creating a larger shared pool of meaning. That shared pool of meaning comes from dialogue. So, if we want to be more convincing, we need to speak up in a way that encourages someone else to share their perspective.
Here’s how it worked for me:
“Don’t Spend Your Money Like That!”
No one wants to be told, “Don’t spend your money like that!” In fact, few people really want to be confronted about their budget at all, but I needed to have a conversation with a family member about his spending.
I care about him and want him to succeed, but he was making terrible financial decisions. Out of concern, I tried to talk to him about it. Yet every time I brought it up, the dialogue went nowhere.
As I tried to convince him to change his ways, he’d shut down, stop talking, leave the room, or hang up the phone.
This really bothered me — and not just because we weren’t having an effective crucial conversation. I hated watching someone I care for suffer and experience the consequences of that suffering. If things were going to change, I needed a different approach.
So, I changed my goal and aimed for dialogue. Instead of trying to convince or compel, I wanted to speak in a way that would encourage him to add his meaning to the pool. Without dialogue, we had no shared pool of meaning, only individual perspectives.
To cultivate conversation, I had to plan my first 30 seconds carefully.
Rather than starting with my opinions like, “You’re making bad financial decisions!” I began with the facts. I said, “I heard you say you had these expenses. Last month, you had those expenses and others.”
Then, I shared why those facts were important: “I’m concerned about the long-term consequences of those expenses and how that impacts your quality of life.”
I then asked an open-ended question, “I realise I’m only seeing this from my perspective, so I’d like to hear you how you see your budget. What’s your view?”
He actually responded by engaging in a conversation. He said, “It’s alright that I have all these expenses and incur these losses. I just write them all off as tax deductions at the end of the year!”
To me, this sounded crazy! He was justifying major losses each month for a minor savings at the end of the year! The math didn’t add up. But, I didn’t say that. Instead, I said, “I didn’t realise that was your justification for your losses. How much are you saving at the end of the year?”
“I don’t know exactly, but it’s a lot,” he replied.
So I asked, “Can we sit down and figure it out? I know you’d love for me to stop asking about this. And if that number is big enough, I’d like to learn about the deductions because maybe I’m missing out on some savings.”
He was all in. He grabbed his files and sat down with his paperwork and calculator. But after a few minutes, his mood shifted. Then, he came to his own conclusion. He realised the yearly deduction was a fraction of what he was losing.
He turned to me and said, “I really need to rethink some of my financial decisions.”
What a shift in results! Before, he resisted any conversation about money. Now, he was open to change. Why?
When we give up the goal of trying to convince or compel, we become more convincing.
And we do that through confidence and humility.
Be Confident and Humble
Confidence and humility can seem like a contradiction, but both are essential to a crucial conversation.
When I say “we need give up the goal of trying to convince,” I don’t mean we give up hope on a positive outcome. We still step up to crucial conversations and speak confidently. It’s not about sugar-coating situations. It’s about balancing our confidence with humility.
Without humility, no one hears the message. And one of the best ways to demonstrate humility in the first 30 seconds of a conversation is with an open-ended question.
When I ask, “What am I missing?” I communicate, “I have the humility to admit that I might be missing something.”
When I ask, “What’s your perspective?” I show, “I have the humility to admit I have a limited perspective.”
We must commit to speaking up confidently and humbly. When we do so, others become willing to take part in these conversations — conversations that do much more than attempt to convince someone we’re right. These conversations produce real change.