7 Questions That Help Conversations Move Forward

The other day I attended a webinar led by Al Switzler, co-author of the books Crucial Conversations and Influencer. During the webinar Al made this point about interacting with colleagues:

If your response to frustrating conversations is to increase the frequency of your key point or the volume of your delivery, but you don’t change the content of your message, then you will remain stuck in your current situation. 

This is especially true in a leader-follower dynamic. Think about someone you lead who you don’t see eye-to-eye with. Do you seem to be having the same tired old conversation again and again? Do you think that if you could just somehow make your point in a way that’s more appealing, then surely this person will see your point of view?

That’s not how it works.

In fact, I’d bet that each time you repeat this conversation, each of you gets more entrenched in your original position. It’s like being stuck in the mud— trying harder to release yourself from the muck only sinks you in deeper. It’s human nature. We hold on to our convictions—long past the time they are reasonable and even when factual information bears out our misguided thinking.


You can’t wear somebody down with the same argument that they’ve been consistently resisting over time. You need to try a different conversational approach.

When you find yourself mired in the same conversational pattern, try these questions to help get the conversation unstuck:

  1. What has to happen in order for you to feel comfortable considering what I’m asking for?
  2. What is it about my suggestion that seems unreasonable to you? How can we modify it to make it more palatable to you?
  3. In what areas of this discussion do we agree?
  4. What is your main concern about [topic being discussed]? If we could successfully address that concern, how likely would you be to move forward with this?
  5. Here is where I see our commonalities [list them]. Here is where I see our differences on this topic [list them]. What can we do to bridge these differences?
  6. Let’s list the pros and cons of our respective viewpoints and see if we can draw out the commonalities.
  7. I’m not sure I understand what you mean. Would you please say that in a different way?

You’ll notice that all of these phrases are very open-ended. They invite conversation. Keep in mind that the goal of asking these questions is to understand the other person’s viewpoint, not to “sell” them on your viewpoint. If you return to persuading, then you’ve tossed yourself right back in the mud.

Getting a follower on board with your idea (or company policy, department paperwork, etc.) can be a lengthy process. Any response on your part that smacks of “because I said so” will only set you further back on the path. The next time you find yourself in a conversation that sounds oh-so-familiar, break out of the pattern and try a different conversational approach. You may just find yourself unstuck in no time.

Discussion question: what are some of your favorite phrases for getting people conversationally “unstuck”?


 photo credit: istockphoto.com © Daniel Kurz





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