Wright Foundation | November 4, 2015

4 Steps to Get
Conversations Back on Track

We’ve all been there. You’re in a meeting, expressing an important point, all eyes are on you, and BAM…your mind goes blank.

Or you’re listening to a client talk on and on, and suddenly you realize you didn’t absorb what they were saying, or worse—you don’t understand what they’re talking about.

Instead of letting your voice get choked up as you try to make a save and find yourself speechless, or instead of risking offending a client when the conversation is going south, take a deep breath and step back.

When you feel things riding off the rails, it’s time to pause for a moment. Hit a timeout and reset. Engage your emotional intelligence to get a feel for everyone in the room. The important part is to be honest. Tell the truth by simply saying, “I’m sorry—I’m losing myself a little here,” or “I’m not following.”

Identify the problem and go back to the last thing you remember. If you’re in the middle of speaking, it’s perfectly fine to rewind and say, “Just to recap…” and give yourself an opportunity to right the ship going off course. If it’s a two-way conversation that’s spinning out, refocus the conversation by stating the problem again, and bringing it back to the main point at hand.

Once you’ve taken back the situation, part of your plan needs to be assessing where everyone is and ensuring you’re still working towards the common goal. Ask around the room: “How close do you think we are to resolution?” and, “How aligned are we on a solution?”

You may be going along in a conversation to find your audience in a completely different place. In sales, this can mean the two of you aren’t agreeing on the outcome (and you aren’t making the sale).

Think of it as driving. When you start to go in the wrong direction or take a wrong turn, you consult your map or GPS. You reroute and come up with a new plan and as you start moving towards your destination you assess how far you are from your goal point and your ETA. You don’t just pull over and say “forget it” or back out of your journey. Here are four key steps to getting your conversations back on track.

Step 1: Be Honest

First and foremost, be candid and honest with your audience. Most people can relate to getting off track and it will ease everyone’s mind within the situation. How many times have we watched someone struggle to bring a conversation back around and wished they would just say, “Give me a minute” rather than continuing to flounder?

Step 2: Explain

Step two is to explain where you think you are. Reiterate the main points of the conversation that got you to where you are. If you zoned out or drifted off, say, “I think I got lost when we started talking about x, y, and z…” Often when you repeat back the talking points, it will jog your memory enough to resolve the issue or it will spur your conversation partner to clarity.

Step 3: Regain Your Steering

The third step is to talk your way forward. Now that you’ve gone back to the last thing you remember, start to steer the conversation. Talk through where you are and where you hope the conversation will be going. If it’s a sales situation, let them know you’re hoping to find a way to find a mutually agreeable outcome.

Step 4: Assess Everyone’s Alignment

The final step is to then assess all participants and determine where you are in terms of a resolution. How aligned is everyone on the solution? You may think you’re almost at a conclusion (and state that!) and they may say you’re miles away from the desired outcome. Take an assessment and make sure you’re all working towards the same vision.

Dealing with Difficult Situations

If it’s not going well, you’re engaged in conflict or you have to make a tough choice, be honest with all parties. If you’re deciding between employees for a position, a potential job offer, or whether or not you should accept a sale, state the problem outright. It’s just like saying, “I’m getting a little off track here.” You can say, “I’m trying to weigh my options,” or “I’m just mulling over your offer.”

Then, again work to re-steer the conversation, hit the main talking points, and explain where you think you are. Sometimes articulating it can get you to reach your conclusion or give you direction. Talk your way forward in the conversation and then ask the participants where they are with things after you’ve stated the problem.

In any conversation or situation this will give you the tools to keep the ball rolling and help save you from riding off the rails. Think of it as the parachute or contingency plan when you need to keep yourself afloat.

Want to boost your career? If you’d like to learn more about what the Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential has to offer check out:

Want to improve your sales? The Wright Sales Program is a hands-on, experiential program that provides sales professionals with an opportunity to boost their sales performance through the application of social and emotional intelligence to their selling techniques. [Learn more!]

Dr. Bob Wright

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Wright Living is a division of the Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential, a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.