Creating Clarity in Complex Conversations

Figures in a spin

Product development is a team sport mostly carried out through meetings and conversations.

Two practical things you can try to help create clarity and reduce chaos in particularly complex conversations:

  1. Consolidate progress with a series of summaries.
  2. Crystallise outcomes in writing.

These might seem obvious, but they don’t happen as often as I’d hoped.

Consolidate progress with a series of summaries

Do you find yourself in meetings with multiple people discussing complex topics?

Does a series of tangents and related issues emerge as the conversation progresses?

In the end, are you unsure of where things are at?

Are you confident that you understand the situation but are uncertain if it’s the same for others?

Taking complex, meandering conversations and providing clear, structured summaries throughout is incredibly valuable 1.

I think of each summary as incrementally locking in consensus or taking a collective step up the ladder of inference, as described in Crucial Conversations.

Sometimes the state of play seems obvious, and therefore it feels unnecessary to summarise. I suggest pushing through this feeling and doing it anyway to ensure alignment and avoid pluralistic ignorance.

Crystallise outcomes in writing

As soon as you leave the conversation, you are immediately misaligned again 2.

You can reduce this misalignment by sharing a written conversation summary including decisions and actions.

Given the volume of conversations leaders tend to be in, capturing the outcomes becomes essential for rebooting context later or remembering which decisions were made and why.

  1. This can be as simple as listing the facts established to date, assumptions, trade-offs available, or agreed actions. ↩︎

  2. It’s ok. This is normal. Read more on autonomy and alignment from Jean-Michel Lemieux↩︎