Conversation openers set the stage and mood for what follows. Most of us dread hearing the four words: “We need to talk.” Within seconds our heart starts racing, mind scrambling to figure out what we have done wrong, and then our defense attorney steps up to the plate.  Before the conversation has begun we are poised for a difficult interaction. In my workshops, heads nods, while knowing looks and laughter circle the room, when I  demonstrate the “deer in the headlights” look which inevitably comes in response to the words “We need to talk.”

Tough conversations – the ones we know are likely to derail into explanation, argument or defensiveness – are a given in any relationship.  At work, in business, with colleagues, as well as at home, with family or friends, we will eventually have to address a sticky or prickly subject. How we begin the conversation makes a huge difference in the outcome.

Here are a 10 conversation openers to the stage and mood for a productive and effective conversation.

  1. I would like to get your opinion and insights on a recent situation that happened at __________.
  2. There is something I’d like to discuss with you that I think will help us work together more effectively.
  3. I need your help understanding what went wrong in the meeting/discussion/project.
  4. I’d like to discuss ___________ but want to get your point of view first.
  5. I need your help with something. Can we talk about it (soon)? If the person says, “Sure, let me get back to you,” follow up with him.
  6. I think we have different perceptions and ideas about what took place at ____________ and I want to hear your thoughts on the matter.
  7. I want to discuss_____, because I think we can help each other come to a better understanding.
  8. I want to understand your point of view on __________.
  9. I wondered what your thoughts were on ______________ situation
  10. I would like to discuss___________ because I think we may have different ideas about it, and I want to understand your point of view.

Of course we want our point of view to be heard and understood. But we usually gain far more ground in a conversation and relationship when we focus on understanding and hearing the other person’s thoughts, input, experience, and ideas.

Think about a conversation you have dreaded or wanted to begin with “We need to talk.” Then pick one of these conversation openers and see how it works.

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