Susan Morris

Pivotal Communication Tips

By Susan Morris

Has this happened recently? You’re in the midst of a conversation with a peer, direct report, or even your manager. You realize that the conversation is not going in a positive direction. You and the other person keep going around in circles. The agenda is not being followed. Or worse, you can’t suppress your frustration and irritation. Here are several suggestions to turn the conversation from perilously negative to positively successful.

Tip 1. When you need to make a complex decision that has great financial and business impact, before acting ask “What new information, if we had it, would change our decision?” This question makes sure that all factors have been brought to the table, that nothing has been overlooked. New sources of data could be from an internal or external expert, or asking other teams or groups to share what they have learned.

Tip 2. Let’s say you want to give feedback to a colleague but there is little time. However, you know that giving actionable feedback depends on immediacy, not waiting for a better time. Here are three turbo-charged statements to conduct a micro feedback conversation:

  • “I liked…” Share what they did well, what you appreciated, or what the other person did to meet your expectations.
  • “What if…” Create an opening to consider what could be done differently, or what new approaches could be tried.
  • In the future…” End this brief conversation with a focus on the future. Give the feedback recipient time to explore what changes and improvements they are willing to make.

Tip 3. Imagine that you are in a team or group meeting. You are asked for your opinion on a topic outside your area of expertise. You could bluff, you could come up with a reasonable answer, or you could throw the ball back to the true expert, either in the meeting room or after. However, another option is to say, “I don’t know.” By admitting that there are boundaries to your expertise, you are showing respect to others who do know. You are modeling that perfection is not the goal and that you value honesty and humility.

Tip 4. Here is a final pivotal tip for handling a troubled colleague. You ask them, “How are you?” and you get the standard response, “OK,” but you notice body language that indicates just the opposite. You could ignore this and get down to business. However, empathetic managers ask, “How can I help?” with sincerity and authenticity, and then stay silent. You may have to ask this question repeatedly to build trust that your offer to help is genuine. After asking how you can help, be ready to provide the resources needed, recognition for a job well done, or your perspective on how to handle other challenges.


Susan MorrisInternationally certified professional coach Susan Morris is passionate about helping STEM women advance and getting a seat at the top of their organizations. Contact her at to maximize your personal and professional potential.