3 steps to prepare for High Stakes Discussion

Guest Blog by Nancy McCabe



Here’s 3 critical steps to prepare for any high stakes discussion.

  1. Fact Gathering.

Not sure what you don’t know? Do your homework.

When Ali, his new boss of 4 months, set-up a performance review meeting, Jamie was determined to have a challenging conversation. He wanted to ask for a raise along with a new job title to better reflect his expanded roles and responsibilities after he took on the work of a colleague who quit. With only a week to prepare, Jamie reached out to a former colleague of Ali’s and discovered that she is fair and decisive when presented with facts. Jamie spent days tracking down current information on similar jobs with compensation in his industry. At his review meeting, Jamie showed up confident and fully prepared to talk compensation and titles. While he didn’t get the full raise he requested, he did receive a new title with a promise that he would be eligible for a raise in 6 months.

  1. Reality Checking.

How do you approach a conversation when the other person has the answer to the question you’re afraid to ask?

Marie succeeded in doubling sales in her retail business thanks to the hard work of her sales team – with one exception. Jack consistently failed to meet his quota and only reluctantly engaged with team members and clients. After 12 months of unproductive meetings with Jack, Marie opted for a reality check and asked one simple question: Jack, when we meet tomorrow, I’d like to know what you’d say to me if the tables were turned?The next morning, she was shocked and relieved when Jack showed up for the meeting on-time, with a smile on his face, and said Marie, I am sorry. I am clearly not cut out for this and I’d like to resign so you can find someone who is.”

  1. Consensus Building.


When there is significant distance between you and the final decision maker, it’s crucial that you get the support of as many stakeholders as possible.  Andy Molinsky of Harvard Business Review suggests,  “It’s crucial that you meet with people who have different points of you so you can anticipate objections and perhaps most important, incorporate their thinking into any proposals you suggest.”

Seth was 6 months into his job when he devised a new approach to a tedious process that was wasting the time of the team’s most experienced developers. He doubted that his suggestion would be taken seriously by the EVP, so he initiated a series of informal conversations with his colleagues, and then with his boss. Everyone he met with agreed that his solution was viable and worth implementing, since the time lost in making the switch would easily be recouped in just a few days. He built his case with their comments and suggestions before asking his boss to coordinate a meeting with the EVP. At that meeting, Seth was relieved to get the OK to implement the change and proud when his colleagues nominated him for an innovation award. He’s on track for a promotion.


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