Leaders face difficult conversations with their employees, advisors, board members, and colleagues every day. These conversations are even more challenging when working remotely and during times of heightened stress.

In a Chief workshop, Chief Guide Antonia Bowring presents a conversational framework that can be used to ensure more effective communication. Read a summary of Antonia’s framework and key takeaways alongside this helpful handout.

Antonia Bowring: The bad news is that there's always going to be conflict in our lives, both professionally and personally. But the good news is that this model provides a helpful approach for dealing with conflict. When you understand your own feelings and needs, you can better understand other peoples' feelings and needs. And that's where you start to have real communication.

An immediate reaction to conflict is often judging and blaming, but this framework helps you understand that no one else can make you feel a certain way. They can act as a stimulus for your emotions, but you own your feelings, and your feelings stem from your own needs.

Part 1: Observe without evaluating.

You want to make an objective observation here without any judgment around what the other person is feeling. There are a lot of connections here between this model and models for delivering feedback. When we combine observation with evaluation, people hear criticism, and that immediately shuts them down to actually hearing what comes next. So you want to start with a concrete observation. Instead of saying, "You are being aggressive," or "You have been very angry with me," you could say "You yelled at the team very loudly."

Part 2: Clearly state your feelings.

Expressing our feelings is challenging because we're not used to being vulnerable. But vulnerability is an important part of resolving conflict. And sometimes, we express things that seem like feelings, but they are really more judgements about what we think someone else did to us. For example: "When you look at your phone when talking to me, I feel neglected." The word neglected implies that someone has done something to you. A better phrase would be "When you look at your phone, I feel lonely." It's important to be precise here.

Part 3: Connect your feelings to your needs.

The goal here is to move away from blame, and towards expression of your own needs. Rather than saying "I am frustrated that you arrived late," you could say "I am frustrated that you arrived late, because I was hoping we'd have time to review our presentation before the board meeting."

Part 4: Make a clear request.

This helps ensure that your needs can be met. The objective is not to change people or their behavior, but to establish mutually successful relationships. To make a clear request, you need to describe a particular action. Rather than saying, "I want you to respect my privacy," you could say "I'd like you to knock before you enter my office."

Again, empathy is a critical component here. You have to be able to express your own feelings and needs, and then be able to listen attentively to what the other person is feeling and needing. And that's the dance. You are not responsible for someone else's feelings, but you are responsible for trying to better understand them. That's what brings about consensus.