Are you ever hesitant to start important conversations? I used to be. Especially if I needed to bring up an unpopular topic with my team or talk with my spouse about changes in our family finances.

Whatever the subject, it usually takes me more than a deep breath and an ounce of courage to initiate an emotionally charged conversation. 

I’ve found the key to having a successful conversation is preparation. 

There are three things I ask myself when I’m getting ready to have a high-stakes conversation at work or home:

  • What are my intentions? 

I always spend a little time thinking about why I want to have the conversation. And I share my intentions with the other person and express my appreciation that they took the time to speak with me. For example: 

“Thank you for taking the time to meet with me. I want to talk about ______.” 


“I know we both want to have a productive conversation, so please hear me out, and then I’m happy to hear what’s on your mind.”   

I also try to think about the timing of the conversation. I want to make sure we have time to talk, and I try not to pick a moment at the end of a long workday, especially if it’s a sensitive subject.

  • What do I want to talk about? 

It’s important that I take a few minutes to organize my thoughts. I focus on one issue at a time and think of 1-2 points I want the other person to take away from the interaction. 

  • How do I want to show up?

I always take a moment to imagine myself having the conversation. How do I want to come across during the interaction? And how do I want to feel about myself when it’s over? For me, I usually want to be confident, calm, and open.

When I imagine myself in the conversation, I think about how I can embody those characteristics. If I sit up straight with an open chest, I look and feel confident. Then I take a few slow, deep breaths to relax and calm my nerves before I start speaking. 

I also want to show that I am open and not defensive, so I pay attention to what the other person is saying and how they are responding. If I start to feel defensive, I ask the other person a question to further understand their point of view. Asking a question buys me time to collect my thoughts and learn more about what they are trying to say.    

It only takes a few minutes to prepare for a high-stakes conversation, and it makes a big difference. Think about your intentions, what you want to say, and how you want to come across. Then you will show up as your best self and feel more capable and equipped. It works for me, and it will work for you too! 

Debra Roberts, LCSW, is a conversation expert and creator of The Relationship Protocol communication model. Her proprietary and practical approach to communication revolutionizes how professionals work together; it is at the core of The Communication Protocol, an online professional development program for companies and teams. Debra examines existing communication patterns and teaches essential tools for communicating effectively in the workplace and in personal relationships. As a result, organizations experience increased productivity, collaboration, engagement, and overall satisfaction. Featured as an expert on multiple media platforms, including The New York Times, The Cut, and Well+ Good, Debra is an award-winning author, a columnist with, and an occasional contributor to Business Insider. In her personal life, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, playing tennis, and empowering people through kindness and simple communication tools.