How to avoid misunderstandings and have stress-free conversations

How to avoid misunderstandings and have stress-free conversations

Think of water as an analogy for communications. It flows smoothly when the temperature is normal. But when the temperature changes it goes into different states: ice or steam. In both these states, change needs to happen, to create the flow again.

This is the same with communication.

Communication is not just about the way we listen and the way we respond. It’s a highly nuanced art. Effective communication is about using many different skills, to discover what is in each other’s mind and build solutions together.

Do any of these situations ring a bell?

You are expecting feedback from your manager, but you don’t get it.
You are too reluctant to speak to someone about something on your mind.
You are too busy to have that important meeting or conversation.
A colleague didn’t finish some important work, but they don’t tell you why.
Your business partner hasn’t been in touch for days and you wonder what’s wrong.
Your son/daughter hasn’t got back to you on something you asked from them.
Your manager started to say something but didn’t finish and you didn’t ask them to clarify.
You know something’s up with your son or daughter, but they clearly don’t want to talk about it.
You don’t like what you are doing yet you’re not addressing this.
You don’t think you’re being compensated fairly and yet you’re reluctant to have the conversation.
You don’t understand why she/he is getting credit for work they have not done and it is building up inside you.

Have you ever worried about communicating in these situations? Grown anxious at the thought of finally having the conversation with that person? Decided in your mind how it’s going to go, before you even approach them?

You are not alone.

Over the years I have learnt the importance of developing emotional intelligence to gain the confidence to see the bigger picture and manage my fears about having that conversation.

Conversational Intelligence®

Three years ago, I was introduced to the book “Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results” by Judith E. Glaser and was so intrigued that I decided to work towards C-IQ for Coaches® Enhanced Program and C-IQ Certification.

Judith passed away in November 2018 and has left a tremendous legacy to the world. She captured how one builds trust with others through Conversational Intelligence® (C-IQ). She delved into neuroscience, the chemicals that we produce in conversations and how “Words create Worlds”.

The Ladder of ConclusionsTM

Parts of the content presented here are adapted from Conversational Intelligence® and the work of Judith E. Glaser.

When there is an absence of communication it can lead our minds to make assumptions about why, usually negatives ones. We start to think of situations in the past, we draw conclusions based on other people’s stories and our own beliefs and insecurities about the situation build up.

However, if we instead build a positive picture of the situation, we go forwards with hope and confidence and normally choose the right words.

When we allow the negative thoughts to accumulate, there can be a sequence of events known in the world of Conversational Intelligence® as the “Ladder of ConclusionsTM”.

By understanding the Ladder of ConclusionsTM we can understand our own reactions and, as a result, manage them in a more beneficial way.


Our first instinct is to protect ourselves. It’s perfectly normal – in the very beginnings of time this type of fear was intended to keep you safe. When we are fearful the brain produces increased levels of cortisol (a steroid hormone). This ‘switches off’ the parts of our brain which control our use of language and our ability to express ourselves.


Depending of the situation, we could feel anxious and this level of anxiety can grow. As time goes on without communication, our imagination takes over and the stress builds up.  This can develop into very real physical symptoms like exhaustion and cloud our decision making.


These biological and psychological reactions lead to a thought process about the lack of communication.

We think about things that happened in the past, our memories and feelings.

We consider other people’s stories and interpret them for the current situation.

We imagine what the other person must be thinking.

We make a lot of assumptions with very little evidence.

In short, we start making things up and make the problem bigger in our own head.


From these thoughts we create beliefs and insecurities.

We build a picture or story in our mind of how it will be when we eventually have to have that conversation.


Finally, we draw a conclusion.

And as we progress up the ladder, the conclusion we make in our heads is bigger than the problem actually is!

The solution – pluck up the courage and have the conversation

These are our eight recommended steps for having the conversation…

1.    Self-awareness

The first step is to recognise the Ladder of ConclusionsTM and that this sequence of reactions will be affecting you in some way, whether consciously or sub-consciously.

You need to understand that if fear is the basis of any conversation, it is not going to go well. The stress of the situation will build up the cortisol levels, this will make you less able to communicate, and will trigger a flight or fight reaction. None of which is useful!

2.    Climb down the Ladder of ConclusionsTM

Before you have the conversation, you need to ensure that you’ve acknowledged your progress up the Ladder of ConclusionsTM and reversed it. Conflict builds up in our interpretation of the story. Understanding each other without judgement is an important process.

Think about the outcome you would like to have from the conversation, rather than the outcome you’re fearful of.

Think of this positive outcome from the point of view of both parties – how could this be resolved in a way that you would both be comfortable with?

Imagine the conversation which will lead to the right outcome for you both. Run this over in your mind a few times.

Opening your mind in this way releases the right chemicals, which will enhance your positive feelings.

3.    Make the time

Procrastinating or waiting for the other person to contact you is not going to help. It will just give you more time to climb back up the Ladder of ConclusionsTM. Plus, the other person may not have the faintest idea that something’s wrong, so how will they know to contact you?

Make the time. As soon as possible.

Check that it’s a good time for the other person (you don’t want to start the conversation with them being inconvenienced) and that you are able to talk in private.

4.    Try to avoid email

Ideally the conversation should be face to face or by phone. Emails can be so easily misconstrued and, since you have acknowledged already that you were on the Ladder of ConclusionsTM, why give extra scope for anxiety?

In addition, it can take a while to receive a response to an email, so you run the risk of an even greater build up of stress as you imagine why they haven’t replied yet.

5.    Be clear

Start the conversation by being clear that you have something to discuss. For example, “do you have five minutes to talk” or “something’s on my mind that I wanted to speak to you about.

Then ask the question in a way that encourages a healthy conversation. Think about this before you speak to them – you want to ensure that you choose language that does not put them on the defensive.

Choose words which are positive, appreciative, uplifting and genuine to start the conversation.

Here are a couple of examples:

Situation: You are expecting feedback from your manager, but you don’t get it.

The wrong way to start:

“I am worried that you have not got back to me yet, regarding the current situation.”

The right way to start:

“Just wanted to see when is a good time for us to review the current situation. Your feedback and direction is really valuable to me.”

Situation: You know something is wrong with your son or daughter, but they clearly don’t want to talk about it.

The wrong way to start:

“What’s wrong with you? I’m not a mind reader!”

The right way to start:

“I get the feeling that something’s bothering you. Is it something we could talk about?”

6.    Listen

Be prepared to listen to everything the other person has to say. Forget any assumptions you might have made about what they’re going to say and listen to what they’re really saying.

Listen actively and with compassion, don’t jump to conclusions about what they are about to say or what they might mean. If you’re not sure what they mean then ask them – don’t assume. In the world of C-IQ we use the term double-click.

Throughout the conversation it’s important that when you’re listening you don’t allow your own mind to run away with thoughts. Breathe deeply and return to the pure state of listening.

You can find more listening tips here.

7.    Empathise

Good listening skills should allow you to truly understand the other person’s perspective and connect with them.

Once you’re at this stage then empathise, demonstrating that you understand their viewpoint. This will reduce any defensive feelings the other person may be having and make them more open to listening to you in return.

8.    Agreement before disagreement

When you’re at a point where you truly understand the other person’s perspective on the issue, the next step is to express the areas of agreement. There will always be some common ground, so make sure you recognise this first.

Finally, you’ll be left with the points that you still disagree on. Now that you both truly understand each other’s point of view, you can have a healthy conversation that flows in the right direction.

You are in a position to be solution focused together.

Whether this is a business or personal conversation, through your awareness of the Ladder of ConclusionsTM and your willingness to use Conversational Intelligence® (C-IQ) to hold a more empathetic discussion, you should achieve the positive outcome you imagined, or possibly an even better one.

Coaching in Conversational Intelligence ®

Conversational Intelligence® (C-IQ) is one of the many tools we use to help improve communications within businesses.

This provides a deep understanding of the dynamics of any interactions, allowing you to appreciate what is happening in your brain while you’re having the conversation.

Introducing conversational techniques into businesses can significantly improve communications and, as a result, create a healthier organisation.

If you’d like to find out how Conversational Intelligence® could help your business, call us on +44 (0)20 8432 9886 or contact us here.

Parts of the content presented here are adapted from Conversational Intelligence® and the work of Judith E. Glaser.