If someone can argue with what you are saying, you are not being as effective as possible. You can avoid many communication roadblocks simply by speaking the truth and properly structuring your requests. This is important in all arenas, but it’s particularly valuable in dynamic work environments where people are operating with strongly held opinions, beliefs, and conditioned responses. Whether you are communicating with an employee, a manager, a customer, or a friend, these 5 rules will help your conversation result in a productive solution rather than a frustrating impasse.

Stop Guessing

These five rules work because they focus on telling the truth and soliciting a truthful response from your conversation partner. This helps your partner address your concerns directly, rather than guessing. Let’s look at an example of how these rules can be applied.

You approach your manager to ask why she recently assigned two new accounts to another employee. “I feel that you are not valuing my contributions to the team,” you explain.

Hearing this, and with no additional context about the situation, your manager will immediately become defensive. In order to respond, she must rely solely on her own experiences with you. She can only guess how you are feeling, why you feel this way, and what you really want.

In this situation, a rational response from your manager might be to list three examples of how she has tried to make you feel valued in the last week. Will this solve your problem? No. It will take the discussion off track, away from your concern about missing out on new accounts and towards a discussion of whether or not those three examples actually made you feel valued. The deeper you get into this discussion, the further you will be from solving the real problem.

The Five Rules

Let’s see how this conversation would have gone had the participant followed the five rules, which focus on telling the truth. Telling the truth works because the truth is inarguable. No one can tell you that you have not observed, felt, or thought differently than you truly have. If you own and identify these properly within your discussion, you present a truth that no one can argue.

1.  Present the Observed Situation

State your true observation of the current situation. Be specific and free of judgments that could cause others to become defensive. Start off by qualifying your observation in a way that is comfortable for you.

“I noticed that the last two new client accounts were given to another employee.”

2.  Express your Feelings

State the feelings and/or sensations you felt as a result of your observations. Use basic feelings such as fear, anger, sadness, or joy.

“This made me angry and scared.”

3.  Identify your Assumptions

State the assumptions or predetermined thoughts you had about this particular situation. Why did this observation lead to such strong feelings? What is it you are afraid will happen next?

“My assumption is that you think that employee will do a better job, and that you don’t trust me.”

4.  Provide Context

How is this familiar? You will benefit both yourself and the listener by internally identifying and externally verbalizing how your feelings and assumptions are familiar. You are rarely upset for the reasons you think. Identifying the root cause of your feelings will help you determine the underlying problem or history behind your assumptions. This will also give the listener a better understanding of why you feel the way you do, and will help him separate this situation from the one you experienced in the past.

“I assumed this because the last employee who was passed over twice for new accounts was eventually asked to leave the company.”

5.  Make a Request

Here is where you get to ask for what you want! Make a clear request for the action you would like to take place. Making your request tangible and measurable will help to avoid ambiguity and misunderstandings.

“Can you explain to me why you did not give me these accounts? And can I receive the next account?”

A More Direct Solution

Your manager is now in a position to fully understand what you are feeling and why you are feeling that way. Further, she can give a response that will directly address your concerns and answer your questions.

“You are correct, we did give those two accounts to another employee because they are small accounts, and we want you to take on the next big client. I can’t promise you the next account, because we don’t know if it will be a larger client, but you are in line for our next larger account.”

When you tell the truth, the worst-case conclusion is that your request is denied. But at least you know where you stand based on the truthful information provided, and you can now determine your response, based on what is within your control, and act accordingly.