The Conversation Contract™

Here is a complete toolkit for implementing one of my most powerful and versatile techniques, The Conversation Contract™. Leading psychologist Thomas Harris, author of the bestselling I’m OK–You’re OK, developed the basic process to help people conduct the most important and stressful conversations in their lives. I have refined it over the past fifteen years in my work with salespeople, managers, government officials, and CEOs to its present form. You can use it for better meetings, telephone calls, and family interactions.

Start with this video and reinforce your skills with the printouts linked below. You may also want to use my 12 Step Program for productive confrontation by clicking here, Conversations that Make a Difference.


Conversations that Make a Difference

.PDF of 12 Step Program for conducting a difficult, stressful, or frightening conversation
12 Step Program for conducting a difficult, stressful, or frightening conversation

Here is my 12 Step Program for conducting a difficult, stressful, or frightening conversation in a way that will create new possibilities for relationship and action.

  1. Get yourself centered.
  2. Make sure the other person is willing to talk. Use my Conversation Contract™.
  3. Help the other person feel safe. “We’re friends and colleagues now and we’ll still be friends and colleagues after this conversation.” Easy on the relationship, rigorous on the topic.
  4. Get a firm agreement on facts before delving into opinions. Be conscientious about distinguishing facts from opinions. “The client reported several misspellings in the report,” is a fact. “Your work is sloppy,” is an opinion.
  5. Remember, seek first to understand, then to be understood, is Covey’s fifth habit.
    Listen before you speak. Encouraging the other person to talk first is also a way to get his or her concerns out of his or her head to make room in there for what you have to say.
    Ask questions to clarify how it looks to him or her. Stop behaving as though you know what they think; be genuinely curious.
    Repeat key points back to him or her to show that you are listening and to verify that you have heard correctly. You do not need to agree with the person’s point of view, but it is helpful to let him or her know you understand and you accept that he or she sees that way right now.
  6. Take responsibility for your own reactions.
    It is not responsible to assert, “You are forcing me to double-check all of your reports.” It is more useful to explain, “When I hear a client complain I feel obligated to double-check all of your reports.” See the difference? The first is the voice of a victim making an accusation, one who has reached a firm conclusion about the location of the problem: it’s the other guy. The second is a person making a choice on limited information, one who is eager to consider alternatives.

    The simple shortcut from victim to choice is to start sentences with “I” rather than “you.”

  7. Establish the level of trust: sincerity, capacity, competence, consistency, and care. “I know that you can see when a project is suffering from scope creep and that you will let me know about it.”
  8. Explicitly agree on the shared commitment or values e.g., “We both want to preserve the company’s reputation with clients and develop the next generation of project managers”
  9. Point-out what you see as missing or not working. Reach an agreement on the facts of the situation and its threat to our shared commitment.
  10. Explore and create together possible actions to move closer to circumstances consistent with your shared values. Don’t get stuck on your favorite course of action. It is not a solution until both sides take action to make it work.
  11. Make requests and promises.
  12. Establish a structure of accountability for monitoring the agreed actions.

These steps are in sequence, like bricks in a wall. If you are having trouble completing a step, return to the previous step. That is, if you cannot agree on the relevant shared values, talk about trust. If you cannot talk about trust, talk about safety. If you cannot talk about safety, get in touch with your center. Get centered even if you need to take a break and leave the room.

See also, on this blog, step-by-step conversation instructions with video here:
The Conversation Contract.

Good advice from David Brooks via
The New York Times, Kindness is a Skill

See also on this blog, The 3 Rs of Dispute Resolution.

Reluctance to be wrong stops creativity & growth

A great article in the New York Times, a few highlights:

Paul J. H. Schoemaker, chairman of Decision Strategies International…

“We get fixated on achievement,” he said, but, “everyone is talking about the need to innovate. If you already know the answer, it’s not learning. In most personal and business contexts, if you avoid the error, you avoid the learning process.”

We grow up with a mixed message: making mistakes is a necessary learning tool, but we should avoid them.

Carol S. Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, has studied this and related issues for decades.

“Studies with children and adults show that a large percentage cannot tolerate mistakes or setbacks,” she said.

  • We are risk-averse because “our personal and professional pride is tied up in being right. Employees are rewarded for good decisions and penalized for failures, so they spend a great deal of time and energy trying not to make mistakes.”
  • We tend to favor data that confirms our beliefs.
  • We assume feedback is reliable, although in reality it is often lacking or misleading. We don’t often look outside tested channels.

Closers: Great American Writers on the Art of Selling



CVR Closers

Great American Writers on the Art of Selling

by Mike Tronnes, editor


I often recommend novels to my sales training clients to help them get into the heads of people unlike themselves, to experience unfamiliar worldviews so they can better empathize with prospects. I recommend this collection of fiction to salespeople to help them get more comfortable in their own heads.

This collection of short stories and novel excerpts covers the history of sales in modern America, from rail riding drummers who had no homes to today’s real estate broker next door. I was pleased to see that most of the portrayals of salespeople were sympathetic and insightful, not the usual huckster bashing. Each selection captures (more…)

The Psychology of Persuasion



CVR Psychology of Persuasioncvr Psychology of Persuasion


The Psychology of Persuasion

by Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D.



Robert B Cialdini

Influence is written as a guidebook for the savvy consumer. The author’s conversational style and frequent sharing of personal experiences will certainly recommend it to that audience. My interest in the work is probably closer to that of the typical reader: as a persuasion professional I am looking for specific ideas to increase my effectiveness. My attention has been richly rewarded.

Professor Cialdini organizes decades of research and experience into six easily comprehended categories of influence techniques. Relevant examples from marketing and sales are used to (more…)

Lying is the toughest part of being a salesman



Two Faced Mask

Lying is the toughest part of being a salesman. No, not me lying, but people like you assuming that I–the salesperson–am lying. Expecting the worst of salespeople seems to bring out the worst in prospects.

Years ago, I heard that one of my clients had been put in charge of a major new project. Expecting more business, I went to his office and said, “Congratulations on getting Project X.”

He looked me in the eye–looked me in the eye!–and said, “That’s not my project.”

“Who’s got it?” I asked.

“It hasn’t been approved,” he said.

I was in a meeting a few days later where he reported on (more…)

Negotiation Skills for Sellers



How many new sales do you need to recover the cash lost in just one poor negotiation? If your net margin is 10%, you would need $1,000 in new business just to cover the deficit from giving away a single $100 discount.

Every dollar that poor negotiating removes from your price is a dollar of pure profit lost; free cash flow you have utterly wasted.

The most shameful part is, because you failed to negotiate well, the customer didn’t even appreciate the bargain you gave away.

Everybody lost!

I have read a lot about negotiation and even written a little, but most of the literature is for buyers trying to get better price and terms. Advice for the other side of the table, the salesperson, is harder to find. My executive coaching client, Raj Khera, CEO of MailerMailer, has just put a superb, free guide for business owners on his blog. Titled Negotiating price: how to overcome price resistance, Raj’s post is concise and practical. Apply his simple advice and increase your profits.

Don’t confuse hard negotiating with heartless negotiating. A deal that doesn’t make sense for everyone makes sense for no one.


Always leave some money on the table.

Never spill blood on the floor.




You may need to return to that room again.



Stories sell

People think in stories. No, that’s not the important thing. People feel in stories. Feelings (emotions) help people decide, buy, stay loyal, and refer new customers.

Heinen's Fine Foods“One of the things Whole Foods taught us is the need to tell stories” about our products, Mr. Heinen said. In fact, Heinen’s has 50 stories that it trains employees to tell customers about its meat, produce, baked goods and other items.

Tom Heinen
Heinen’s Fine Foods in
The New York Times

What stories are your customers and prospective customers hearing about you?



See also, Creation Myths and Why We Need Them: Origins.



One more question…

One more question…



Download a handy one page .PDF of this post by clicking here.Establish the habit of slowing down your responses to questions, to save time and trouble. A simple and effective way to do this is by training yourself to respond to every question with a clarifying question. This gives the questioner a chance to explain why they asked and what they are trying to accomplish. You’ll be surprised how often the quick answer you might have given would not have helped them –or you– at all.

Suppose, for example, you shipped that big report yesterday, just as you had promised. Today the client telephones and asks, “Have you (more…)