The Easy Way To Start A Difficult Conversation

Written by David Pullan

The Easy Way To Start A Difficult Conversation

Imagine the scenario.


It’s Thursday night and there’s an important piece of work that needs to be with a client by Friday lunchtime. Success is key to your business and there is a lot of expectation from the board riding on this.


One of the key work streams has been given clear guidelines and has been on the job for a week. Sadly they seem to be all over the  shop in terms of delivering what is needed.


You need to do something about it but you know they are tricky to deal with.


It looks like there are a few options here.

  1. You could  rant and rave and and threaten them with a slow and painful death.
  2. You could avoid the conflict and stay in the office until 3am to deliver the work yourself.
  3. Or you could use F.I.F.O

F.I.F.O is a conversation opening model that a very good friend of mine shared with me. He was told about it on a leadership programme at Columbia University.


It stands for,


  • Fact
  • Implication
  • Feeling
  • Opener


If you use it well it can provide the bedrock of a very useful conversation where everyone is clear as to the ramifications of a situation and there is the possibility of moving towards a successsful outcome.


So let’s look at the scenario we find ourselves in here.


Fact: I gave you guidelines for this project a week ago and set you a very clear deadline. The data I need from you is central to the output. I haven’t seen any results yet and we need to deliver by lunchtime tomorrow.


Implication: This is a very high profile piece of work and the ExCom have massive expectations regarding the win. If we fail because we didn’t put enough effort in then that will reflect badly on everyone and it won’t be great when we get to bonus and promotion time.


Feeling: I have huge belief in your ability to deliver this which is why I gave you the job in the first place.


Opener: Can we spend a couple of minutes looking at where you are on the project, any problems you might be having and how we can get the results by 11am tomorrow?


If you string these elements together then the person you are speaking to will be clear as to where they stand and the resulting conversation can start to move towards a solution. 


You will also have avoided a stand up row or having to sit at your desk until 3am doing the work yourself...I hope.


This week think about some difficult conversations you need to have and FIFO them.



  • W B Yeats

    'Think like a wise man, but communicate in the language of the people.'