Discussion Toolkit

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Summary:
Saying the right thing at the right time can be difficult. Prepare yourself with a handful of phrases that will help you keep the conversation going in the right direction. In this week's column, Michele Sliger offers a few of her own phrases to help you build a discussion toolkit.

Many of us often find ourselves wishing we had some magic phrases that would make conversations more productive and less difficult. I'm sure we've all had our share of experiences where we've thought of the right thing to say several hours after the conversation or meeting ended. (That's frustrating!) Wouldn't it be great if we had a toolbox full of just the right phrases, the perfect questions, and the best ways to start, guide, or end discussions? We could just reach in and grab the most appropriate lines to help us in almost every situation. Below are a few lines you can use to help build your own basic discussion toolkit.

For Personal Conflicts

And how is that working out for you?

This is a great rejoinder to use when you first want to make sure there's a problem on the table and that the other person recognizes it. After the person offers a lengthy explanation of how things are done, asking how it's working for him will lead either to a quick end of the discussion ("Everything is working out fine, thank you very much"-"Well that's great, I guess I'll be going then.") or a genuine interest in doing something differently ("It's not working out as well as I'd hoped, to be honest"-"Okay, let's see if I can help.").

What did he say when you told him that?

This response to a complaint helps prevent team members from expecting you to be a go-between, and it can also help extricate you from having to listen to gossip. Usually folks are focused on handing the problem to you, and when you hand it right back it can take a minute for them to realize the ball is back in their court. This isn't to say that you should leave your associates to handle difficult conversations all by themselves if they aren't prepared to do so. Leaders do have a responsibility to help staff learn precisely how to sort these things out for themselves and how to find the right words and the right approach.

I've noticed that . . .

This is an objective and non-confrontational way to begin a discussion. State what you've noticed, and then listen. Whether you've noticed that an individual is really stepping outside her job description to help others on the team or that an individual has a problem getting to work on time, starting a conversation with a presentation of things that you've observed to be true opens the door for the other person. She can respond with delight that you've noticed her hard work-or gripe that she has to be all things to all people. She may have an explanation for her tardiness or a promise to do better.

What are you going to do next?

It's always good to leave a discussion with an understanding of how each person is going to take the information she's learned from the meeting room back to her desk and apply it in the business. Asking what the next steps are creates a future line of action items and milestones that can be followed so that the problem is tracked through to a resolution.

For Meetings

Would you summarize that into three or four bullet points for me?

Some people solve problems by talking about them out loud. Often team leaders find themselves being the sounding board for such monologues. Help your team members learn how to summarize issues by asking for verbal bullet points. This also keeps meetings moving. The question can be addressed to the whole team by saying, " Who can summarize what

About the author

Michele Sliger's picture Michele Sliger

Michele Sliger has extensive experience in agile software development, having worked in both XP and Scrum teams before becoming a consultant. As a self-described "bridge builder," her passion lies in helping those in traditional software development environments cross the bridge to agility. Along with co-author Stacia Broderick, their book The Software Project Manager's Bridge to Agility focuses on the topic, helping PMI-trained project managers make the transition. Michele is a Certified Scrum Trainer (CST) and a certified Project Management Professional (PMP). If you have a question, or would like help with your agile adoption, Michele can be reached at michele@sligerconsulting.com.

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