Don’t Derail the Conversation

Don’t Derail the Conversation

How many times have you been surprised to watch a conversation or interaction go off the rails? Not just “confused” off track, but “anger and tears” off the rails.

Have you ever asked yourself “What just happened?” and come up blank?

Let me share a tool with you. It may be the answer to that head-scratcher. We are going to look at a frequently overlooked level of communication known as certainty.


Provisional- Very low certainty. Think brainstorming. It is full of dreams and ideas (good and bad). And because I love farming analogies- Lots of chaff, not a lot of wheat. 


Plan- Some certainty. There is probably a goal or objective identified and agreed upon, but we are still working out the details. Things can and probably will shift some as we consider and select options.


Promise- Lots of certainty. Exactly what it sounds like. It is serious. As in “cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye”.


This framework may seem simple and straightforward. The breakthroughs come when you take into account natural style and compatibility. At which level of certainty do you naturally start thinking? How similar is it to the people you are working or living with?


Maybe you are like my husband, Ethan, who starts in Promise. He immediately starts executing and shifts to Plan and Provision when there isn’t enough information yet to deliver on a Promise.


I start in Provisional.  So much so that when I get into a creative zone, thoughts start exploding like popcorn. Actually there should probably be another level on the diagram for people who think like me. Picture this- on the far left of the diagram there should be “Possible”, which has zero certainty Rarely on topic. Random thoughts that I am hearing for the first time as I say them

I can tell you from personal experience that lack of alignment on certainty is exhausting. I am sure you have lived it too.  Imagine how much energy you could waste trying to catch up to nearly missed deadlines because you thought it was Provisional and your boss thought it was Plan.  Or how much work could you have to scrap that was never needed in the first place, because it was only Provisional when you thought it was Promise?

The best way to make sure you are on the same page is to ask. If the conversation is already going off the rails, ask as soon as you notice something is wrong. If you are really on top of your game, you will start the conversation with your intention.

Here are a few examples:

Provisional- “Can I run something past you? I need some feedback about something I am considering.”

Plan- “This is an issue. How are we going to solve it?”

Promise- “Here’s what needs to be accomplished by tomorrow. Let’s make sure you have everything you need to get it done.”



Effective communication is vital for healthy relationships. Addressing certainty will strengthen communication when you are on either side of the message. Just in case it needs to be said-Your natural style won’t keep you from being excellent at the other levels. If you gravitate to Provisional, you can be great at making plans and living into promises. You can be terrific at innovative brainstorming even if you usually start at Plan.  It just requires an intentional shift which I promise will be worth it.