Template for a Critical Conversation

Sep 29 2016

by Laura Mixon Camacho

Photo Kathryn McCrary for Guide 2 Athens, Waiting on Martha and The Southern C

Not to be a Debby Downer on this fine day but there are times when you just have to have that conversation. If you’re like me, you’ve been putting it off for way too long and the issue can fester.

Let’s define a critical conversation as one where the stakes are high and opinions may vary. It’s the kind a lot of people (like me) prefer not to have.

“You may dread ‘critical’ conversations, but they serve a purpose – to protect a relationship by clarifying assumptions.”

Maybe you need to confront someone who is not performing at work according to set expectations. Maybe you want to establish more clear boundaries about what you’re willing to do or put up with. Or it’s past time for a well-deserved raise. Maybe you just have something to say and you fear they won’t like it, or you.

I recently took a class in Project Management and learned a fascinating way to view contracts: according to Professional Project Management standards, the purpose of a contract is to protect a relationship.

Critical conversations have the same purpose: to protect a relationship by clarifying assumptions. If you don’t speak up about something that is bothering you, everyone assumes you’re fine with it.

This template is a structured conversation you can use to help you have a difficult or delicate conversation. But the bottom line is…you can’t control other people, no matter how brilliant your contract or your communication.

But trying is always worth it.

Even if you don’t get the outcome you want, trying (and I mean making your best effort) means you value yourself. Trying means you’re setting an example and you never know who is watching you. Trying your best means you can’t fail, no matter what, because you tried your best.

How to Prepare

Success in communicating significant messages has something in common with painting a room; it’s all about the prep! Preparing for your critical conversation begins with getting clear on your desired outcome, or intention.

Make sure you are ready to listen deeply.

The other part of preparing is selecting the best time for you and making sure you’re (relatively) well rested and nourished.

Critical Conversation Template

Part 1 is the pre-conversation, the part where you talk to yourself.

I want to have this conversation with_______________________ and the outcome I want is ___________________________________.

This is important to me because _____________________________________.

I want to feel ___________________ about this situation. (There is no correct answer but defining your desired feelings is almost getting you there. Me? I always go for relaxed, that’s when I’m at my best.)

Part 2 is the conversation, the part where you talk to the other person.


“I know we are all busy and not have time to talk about this during the meeting, but I need to deliver our performance report to our customer this afternoon. I know you have a lot on your plate. Because of this situation I feel really stressed and anxious because I cannot do my best job if I do not have the information which I have been after for some time now. Can we sit down today and figure out how to get a hold of this information as soon as possible?”

Most of the time a well-prepared critical conversation turns out far better than you think it will. Trying is always worth it.


Laura Mixon Camacho View More Blog Posts from this Author

Laura Mixon Camacho, PhD, is obsessed with communication as a tool for building bridges and careers. She believes all conversations should be carried out with style and imagination. And public speaking is just a special sort of conversation. Laura creates quirky communication workshops and she does private one-to-one coaching. She is the go-to coach if you want to improve your communication skills to move your business or career forward with more confidence, more impact and less stress. Read more at www.mixonian.com.

Leave a Comment

6 responses on “Template for a Critical Conversation

  1. Dominique Paye

    LOVE this. I like that focusing on the goal keeps the conversation on track, yet your template still respects and leaves room for the emotional component of a conversation of this nature. As tempting as it may be to work 100% from a stock template (now the norm in the “customer service” arena), if you are truly having the conversation to preserve a relationship, it is critical to relate to one another as people. Beautiful balance. Thanks for sharing this!

  2. Cheri Leavy

    Between this article and the one by Louise Pritchard this week – I am hearing loud and clear that one key is to LISTEN!

  3. Omeria

    This is such a great way to approach critical communication,s so that it puts you more at ease by being prepared. Great information. Thank you!

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