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  • Writer's pictureAmii Barnard-Bahn

In Crucial Conversations, Focus on These 3 Buckets

Any conversation has multiple paths and possibilities. In business however, there is limited attention and resources, so it’s critical to focus on the key things that matter most. In order to be an effective communicator and be viewed as a strategic thinker you need to define the focus of each interaction with intention and care.  

Use the Must, Should, Want framework to prioritize what you ultimately include. Do this each time you get ready for a meeting whether you are messaging up, down or across your organization:

1) What Must be shared?

2) What Should you say?

3) What do you Want to say? 

To elaborate: 

1. What Must be shared. These are material concerns that need to or are legally required be raised and addressed immediately. Examples include: problems with a major supplier, a potential layoff, new litigation that has reputational impact, a status update on a key deliverable. And, it goes without saying that if you raise a concern, you marry it up with a proposed solution and next steps. 

2. What you Should say. This is information that is helpful and important for your audience. What knowledge or insights are you especially positioned to share that will support your audience’s success? For example, with your boss or board, share breaking industry news on a competitor or insights on how to solve an emerging business issue. If it’s your team, do they need encouragement and inspiration? Would it be helpful for them to know that you’re hiring headcount, or being assigned new work responsibilities?

3. What you Want to say. This is extra information that, while important in the long run, may not be time sensitive. Think about what you want your audience to take away ultimately from your message and align with your message, keeping in mind that less is more here. Examples include future personnel plans, long-term questions about the company’s strategy, and registering an opinion on a “nice to have” issue.

These are all important to talk about eventually, but be prepared to ditch them immediately if your audience is under the gun and checking their watch. Whenever I would walk into my CEO’s office, I had my agenda and each bullet point marked 1, 2, or 3. Must, should, want. I considered the meeting a success if I got through all my 1 and 2’s. I was elated if I got all my 3’s in, which was often equally about personal bonding as well as performance feedback on my career. I’d say I got to my 3’s on about a quarterly basis, on retreats, dinners and Friday afternoons when people generally are more relaxed and have more downtime.

Sometimes you have the luxury of time, and you get to all your 3’s. But often that’s not possible, and even if it seems like there is room to run down your full list, keep in mind that everyone appreciates the gift of time back. Each moment before you are about to initiate a critical conversation, whether it’s a one-on-one meeting, a board meeting, or a meeting with your staff, number your agenda items into these three buckets. It will help you focus on what’s important now.


Speaking of conversations, here is a really fun one I did with The Corporate Bartender podcast, one of my favorites of all time! We had a fun and candid discussion about politics in the workplace, promotability, the ins and outs of career assessments, and executive coaching. (And we all got to our 3’s)! Check it out HERE.

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