How To Communicate Tough Decisions In 5 Steps Without Conflicts (Convergent Thinking 5)

If a decision is like an axe falling on the tree of possibilities, communicating findings to people who haven’t decided but must suffer them can be even more violent

Luca Vettor
4 min readSep 23, 2023
Photo by Afif Ramdhasuma on Unsplash

Communication depends on the target audience, which is even more pivotal when decisions negatively impact the recipients.

There’s no way to communicate a tough decision and make it agreeable. The only opportunity is to deliver the communication as inevitable. Why should it be an opportunity?

Let’s explore the five steps to communicate a decision as unavoidable and make it evident that it prevents conflicts.

Step 1: Set the stage

Decisions arise in a defined context that gives them sense. Those who make decisions know the context very well; they even interiorize it, which is an obstacle when communicating findings to people who are unaware. Once interiorized, ideas and facts become apparent, so we tend to take them for granted. And this is the worst mistake when communicating decisions.

Instead, remember that the context of a decision is part of the decision itself: Set the stage by explaining the context; otherwise, your communication appears dogmatic, and decisions are perceived as despotic acts.

Setting the stage is paramount, but it’s only the premise: don’t spend much time on it. You have to communicate a decision, not its context; adopt the 20/80 ratio: 20 for introducing the context and 80 for delivering the decision.

Step 2: Introduce consequences

Exploring possibilities and deducing consequences is exercising convergent thinking. When communicating tough decisions, the most effective mindset is ‘convergence.’

How you presented the context in Step 1, your verbal and non-verbal communication, and the structure of your thinking must all logically converge to the decision.

Be careful about the word ‘logically’ above because its actual meaning depends on the audience who receives the communication of the decision. ‘Logically’ might refer to personal and debatable thinking; often, humans aren’t rational, particularly regarding tough choices. Leverage the emotional logic of your audience to communicate findings.

Given the personal logic of your audience, use that logic to present the consequences of the decision as acceptable.

Step 3: Show empathy

The person communicating the decision is part of the same world as the person who receives the communication. That’s the ground of empathy.

Remember that you can show empathy because you feel empathy. Don’t pretend to show what you don’t feel: you’ll offend your audience and fuel conflict.

Step 4: List the alternatives as even worse

Steps 2 and 3 connect you to the audience. Step 4 hardens that connection by preparing the convergence toward the decision to communicate.

When deciding rationally, the selected decision is the best possible from at least one standpoint; otherwise, that would make no sense. That means choices are worse than the selected ones.

Listing the inconvenient alternatives allows for communication that converges into the chosen decision. You build this narrative based on the trust you gained in Steps 2 and 3 by speaking as your audience thinks and showing empathy.

Step 5: Deliver the decision as inevitable

Step 4 prepares the last step: if all alternative decisions are inconvenient, the chosen one is rationally inevitable, regardless of its consequences, as they are the best possible, at least from specific standpoints.

Steps 1 to 4 prepare the audience to adopt those specific standpoints for which the delivered decision is the only acceptable. Step 5 provides the communication.

Conclusion

Communicating unpleasant decisions is a challenging part of life. It’s about decisions that likely conflict with the will of people who suffer decisions they receive.

The goal here is not to sweeten the bitter pill but to show that the drug is the only solution to healing. Does it make sweet the bitter pill? Not at all, but it moves the focus to a better future.

Acceptance is tricky. Acceptance is the path to a different — possibly better — future. If you don’t accept, you stay a prisoner of today and lose the future.

Try this mindset when communicating tough decisions, and let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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Luca Vettor

Solopreneur online writer and technical writer. My mission: Do you struggle to understand the software? Stop by! I'm your bridge toward the software!