How to open up a conversation when you’re upset. A checklist. 

This article and checklist are based on many, many conversations I’ve had with my clients. Most frequently when they’ve found themselves upset or angered by a team member’s behaviour or remarks. 

Recognising that we create stories about other people before we’ve had a conversation with them is so useful. It’s particularly important in teams, because there will be countless times when wires are crossed, intentions missed, and remarks misconstrued. 

I hope this helps to guide you on how to construct a conversation when you feel upset. 

  1. Remember, it’s always better to talk about it than to say nothing. You might be saying nothing, but you are thinking plenty!
  2. If you find yourself talking about someone to someone else – it probably means you should be having a conversation with that very person.
  3. Regardless how you feel, make sure you approach the chat with curiosity and kindness – don’t assume you know what is going on or what the intentions are for the other person (because you definitely don’t).
  4. Think of the conversation in two halves (and maybe even two conversations).
  5. The first half is about you understanding what is going on with the person you’re speaking to and what they intended to say – as opposed to how it landed with you. 
  6. You already know the impact on you (and possibly others) so there’s no point in exploring that at this point. Instead, try very hard to understand what was intended.
  7. Were they genuinely trying to upset you?
  8. Were they trying to be constructive?
  9. Was there something else going on for them? 
  10. It’s important that you find out what the person’s actual intentions were before delivering constructive feedback
  11. Then it’s time to share how it made you feel. It may not be what he/she intended (or it may be) but you are entitled to feel how you feel. It’s important they know. 
  12. The second half of the conversation is about learning.
  13. What could they have done differently?
  14. How could they have anticipated how else it might land?
  15. What is the impact beyond what they said?
  16. What could be done to improve the process?
  17. If they were making a point, how could they have raised that in a different (less upsetting) way?
  18. Importantly, what can you learn from this?
  19. What will you both agree to do differently (make an agreement)

I hope this helps when you next need to have a difficult conversation with your team. 



Search the whole etc Playbook...

We have 100's of articles to help you with leadership, growth, talent and running a better business.

Agency Founders Surgery - free 1 to 1.

If you have something on your mind, a challenge you’re wrestling with or just want an alternative point of view, I’d be very happy to lend an ear and maybe help you start to unpick the issues.