How to start difficult conversations about meaningful things

October 28, 2021
Kimberley McAdams, PCC

We're more polarized than ever, and the impacts are showing.

With differing views (on everything from COVID vaccines to politics) and varying levels of frustration, resentment, burnout and fatigue - our inability to communicate about important and meaningful topics is negatively impacting our relationships, our organizations, and our health.

The inability to have difficult conversations in the workplace creates silos, unproductive teams, poor quality of work, inefficient communication, unresolved conflict, and workplaces that just aren't that fun or fulfilling.

At The Ally Co., we’re on a mission to equip you with the skills you need to navigate conflict, tension, and ‘difficult conversations’ with more ease and less stress.

One of the biggest hurdles to difficult conversations is actually just getting the conversation started. How do we approach tensions or conflicts in a way that doesn’t disconnect us further?

Enter ‘assumption clearing’.


We’ve taught the framework below to hundreds of individuals within our workshops, consulting engagements and coaching sessions. From our experience, just like anything else, building awareness of our assumptions is a muscle that develops. In the beginning, it can take practice and and a few sentences before building up the courage to state the assumption. But because we frame it as an assumption (might be true, might not be true, in fact it actually doesn’t matter) it’s often experienced as disarming rather than accusatory.

Where assumptions come from

At any given time, we’re holding dozens (if not hundreds) of assumptions. About people, about the world around us, about ourselves. They are based on conclusions we've drawn from what's observed, plus our past experience. As they remain largely unconscious, we adopt and hold on to them, even though they are largely untested. They erode our ability to achieve the results we desire as we tend to believe that:

Reading the above, you can start to see where we get into trouble with communication and the crux of having meaningful conversations is first getting clear on our assumptions, the impact they’re having, and cultivating the courage to have the conversation with the individuals involved.

To help start you on this skill-building journey, here’s a simple framework that we teach and practice regularly ourselves.

A framework for clearing assumptions

  1. An assumption I'm holding about ___ (you, us, our relationship) is...
  2. The impact that assumption has on our relationship is...
  3. What's here for me now is...

Here's how it might sound:

Assumption: Sarah, an assumption I'm holding about you is that you're having a hard time focusing, and might be distracted or overwhelmed with the workload.

Impact: The impact that assumption has on our relationship is that I'm cautious of bringing important projects to you, and aren't sure they'll be completed to the standard that we need or within the timeframe.

Getting present: What's here for me now is a sense of truth and transparency. I'm also aware that I shared something pretty big and I’m concerned about how it landed for you.

Pro tip: Before going into an “assumption clearing conversation”, write down some assumptions you're holding and the impact they’re having on the relationship. Often it can take some reflecting before getting clear on what the assumption actually is. We’re far more familiar with what our frustration is! Try for 4-5 different assumptions, and pick the one with the most charge to it.

Take action: Follow the steps above with someone you’re wanting a better relationship with. First answer the questions yourself, then make a plan to have a difficult but meaningful conversation. Let us know how it goes!

And check out the latest complimentary learning-in-action sessions!

Questions? Thoughts? Feedback? Whatever it is, we would love to hear from you!