CSI: Conversation scheme investigation

Do you ever find yourself in a low-grade squabble arguing over something that doesn’t matter, and wonder how it happened? You can learn a lot by deconstructing events to track trigger points and missed recovery opportunities. I call it CSI: Conversation Scheme Investigatiion.

Where did the conversation below get derailed, and where were the opportunities to elevate it? What was the trigger that turned two amicable colleagues into adversaries, and where could the conversation have gracefully been redeemed?

The case of the unanswered email


Terry sent Rob an article about the history of the company that included a couple of paragraphs about him. When they saw each other, Terry said to Rob, “You never responded to my article!”

Rob said, “You never asked me to!”

“I wanted to know what you thought about it,” Terry replied.

“You didn’t ask me to in the email,” Rob fired back.

This is where I intervened and said, “She’s asking you now.”

After Terry left, Rob explained to me that the email with the article was sent to a number of people, and he didn’t think it required a response. Clearly he felt attacked.

Dipping points and flipping points

Terry and Rob like each other, and they both have good hearts. Yet somehow a simple conversation triggered defensiveness. As a Converasation Scheme Investigatro, what do you think happened? What could have happened? Where were the flopping points and the flipping points?

From my investigation, I’d say the first flopping point was the very first remark. Terry opened with a perceived failing on Rob’s part. Now, if it were me and she had sent me the article, I would have assumed a response. It was clear to me her heart was invested in the article, and particularly if I had been mentioned, I would have commented. But I’m not Rob, and he didn’t make that assumption. Also, Rob gets a a tremendous number of emails that require immediate detailed responses. Terry’s inbox doesn’t get filled up the same way, so it’s difficult for her to relate to Rob’s situation.

Still, Rob could have let that go, and flipped the conversation forward by simply saying he liked the article. 

And once Rob showed the first signs of defensiveness, Terry could have flipped the conversation forward by letting go of the discussion of how he hadn’t answered before now, and asked, “What did you think of it?”

Conversation Debriefing is a very useful tool for developing communication skill if you don’t let it become a blame game. It’s a journey of discovery – and one that can loosen the grip that communication landmines can have. These landmines become goldmines of opportunity to flip a conversation out of the muddy downward spiral and into a conversation worthy of two professionals who like and respect each other.

Think about a conversation you had that didn’t go the way you had hoped. Examine it for flopping and flipping points. This is a fun game to play with people you trust who are willing to partner with you to figure out what happened. It’s incredible for learning about how the other thinks.

There’s a wonderful feeling when you flip a conversation forward.

Conversation Debriefing is one of 15 Communciation Kata techniques we’ll be learning at the SpeakStrong Method Intensive in Baltimore on November 5th. 


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