Don’t Suffer in Silence – A Template for Scary Conversations

People are complex and not always direct in their communication. This dynamic has the potential to create misunderstandings that can lead to a lot of anxiety when developing software. I’ve felt that anxiety myself from time to time, and it can be poisonous, leading to a lack of sleep, a lack of trust, and ultimately reduced productivity. But there’s a better way to handle confusing situations.

Reading Other People

Generally, our concerns are based on our perception of another person’s actions. For example, developers can easily be rattled when they perceive that their client stakeholder is upset—something they might deduce from a tone of voice, a smug remark, or visible signs of frustration.

These signals could certainly imply that something is not right with the project, but they could also be based on the stakeholder’s mental state during a particular interaction. For example, the stakeholder might be upset about another project or something at home, or he or she may just have a strange personality quirk.

Addressing Confusion Directly

It’s easy to tell ourselves a story about what’s wrong. It’s even easier to suffer in silence. However, suffering without addressing the concern is an unacceptable solution because no one wins. Instead, I prefer to start a direct conversation with the stakeholder.

I’ve found that this type of conversation works best with a quick phone call—not email, which removes your ability to respond dynamically and immediately puts you on the defensive. Having an interactive conversation allows you to empathize with the other person and create a genuine connection.

I’ve put together a generic structure for such a conversation. It’s designed to address a concern, clear the air, and build trust without unnecessarily making a mountain out of a molehill.

"Thanks for the call. I wanted to have a quick conversation about X"
"It's important to me that we have a strong and trusting relationship"
"During our last discussion, I sensed concern about X"
"I'm happy to listen to your thoughts on X"


"Thank you for sharing your thoughts on X"


  "I value your concerns and want to have a productive relationship"


    // Speak to concerns

  } else {

    "I'm going to reflect on these concerns, " +
    "and will be back in touch in Y days to discuss further"


  "I really appreciate that we can have open and honest conversations"

  // End conversation
  // Send follow-up email with next steps

} else {

  // Move conversation to chitchat
  // End conversation


I know that these conversations can be scary, but after it’s done you’ll feel better. You’ll either know that there is a problem and you can work on addressing it instead of guessing what might be wrong, or you’ll realize that your perception of the situation was not accurate, and you can move on.

Good luck with your chat!