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When you have something important to say to another person there’s a good chance that they won’t hear much after the first line. This means they’ll miss the point of what you need to say, and the subtlety of your argument. Your eloquence will be wasted.

We make decisions based on what we think will come next. The headline grabs out attention and if its a good opener, it encourages us to engage rather than making snap judgements. But, if the speaker is unsure, nervous or even a little angry about something, this will come through in their opening statement, and the listener immediately becomes a retaliator.

Harsh startups (“Now listen…”, “I’ll give you two hours to…”, “Why did you…?”, for example), are a turn-off. They tend to produce a knee-jerk reaction in the listener which induces defensiveness rather than discussion. This often happens unintentionally because the speaker just hasn’t considered how their words will be received.

If you want your conversations to succeed, especially when discussing sensitive topics, think ‘engagement’ first, and only follow with your main message when you are sure you have created the space for a collaborative conversation.

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