How to structure difficult conversations

When going into any meeting, presentation or especially a challenging conversation, it really helps to have a framework to structure your thoughts.

Barbara Minto’s ‘Pyramid’ structure is one I’ve just learned about and it’s very effectvel.

It goes like this:


Set the context, environment and go through any supporting data. Generally give the lay of the land or the key facts so far.


What’s gone wrong? How are our plans threatened and what’s the potential impact? Explain how and why it’s got to this point.


There’s nothing better than a question that you already have the answer to. Summarise the complication with a question that prompts a resolution… and then give your pre-prepared answer.


State your proposed solution. Then, explain how you go there. List as many fact-based reasons you can as to why this answer is the best way forward. If someone shoots down one of your reasons, don’t panic! Keep going through the list like a ruthless prosecutor.

At the end, take any questions and address any concerns. If everyone is on board (they should be, because you overwhelmed them with reasons to be), allocate actions so that the solution can come to life.

Even if the four steps above don’t go to plan, at least you had one. Appearing in control is a victory in itself and will help you influence the outcome more often than not.


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