Have you something difficult to say to someone?

Not sure how to say it?

Need to sort it soon?

red10‘s Piers Carter introduces “I’M SQIFFE” – 8 steps to increase the chances of getting a good outcome from a difficult conversation.

This article is part of red10‘s Conflict Handling Masterclass

Explore the other techniques, and contact us if you would like a Masterclass tailored to your situation.

How to tell someone they smell

I was delivering a workshop titled: ‘How to Say Anything to Anyone’ recently in a big pharmaceutical company, and I thought the focus of the conversation was going to be work related and feedback focused.

I thought we would be talking about performance reviews and how to discuss with your boss how to work together.

Whilst this did comprise some of the conversations, the topic that seemed to galvanise people the most was how to tell a colleague they had an ‘odour problem’.

Their question was: how do you tell someone they smell?

Introducing IM SQIFFE

In our red10 Feedback Skills Masterclass, as well as exploring Erin Meyer’s important cultural data, we practise four models for giving positive or constructive feedback that differ depending on:

  • The potential impact of the conversation landing badly
  • The time available

If the risk is high and you can invest the time, then – with practice – the “I’M SQIFFE” model increases the chances of a good outcome for everyone.

It’s an acronym of these eight steps:

(In case you’ve not heard the word, squiffy means tipsy or “slightly drunk” ?)

I – Introduce the conversation

“Hi, when would be a good time for us to talk about something I think will be helpful?”

“Do you have 2 minutes to talk through something…?”

This introduction gives choice and preparation time to the other person but does not invite a “no” for them. It assumes the conversation will happen and soon.

It assumes the principle of having constructive conversations one-to-one rather than in front of a group.

M – State your motive

“I am keen on us having the best working relationship possible…”

“I want to bring something up with you which should really help you with this project …”

Stating positive intent is really important for all feedback.

Be authentic and honest. If you are trying to score points or beat the other person, then you aren’t well-placed to give the feedback.

S – Situation

“I’ve noticed …”

This is where you describe the situation or the data or the behaviour – what you know, have seen or experienced; just the facts, no judgement, simply what you have noticed and when.

It may take practise to use just facts, rather than judgements. Judgements sound like ‘Unprofessional’, ‘Patronising’, ‘Insulting’, ‘Idiot’, ‘poor’…

Q – Question

“Are you aware of this?”

or “What do you think?” or “Why is this happening?”

This is the time to ask them their opinion or their view of the situation.

They may be already aware, know it is happening, have heard this feedback before or have no knowledge.

Or there may be facts they share that you didn’t know that pivots the entire conversation into a different direction.

You never know what they’re going to say and need to flex to it – and it may mean you don’t need the next step…

I – Impact
(If appropriate)

“Do the consequences seem to be X?”

or “When you do this, it makes me feel…”

You might not need to share the impact, yet often sharing the impact on you, another person or the situation is useful for the other person to know.

F – Feelings/thoughts

“What are your feelings/thoughts?”

A second check on their view to find/resolve any misunderstandings before moving to a solution.

F – Future

“I have a suggestion which may help …”

“Next time I notice this would you be ok with me mentioning it to you?”

This final piece is future focused and explores together what can be done to improve things.

E – End Well

“Thank you for being so open to that conversation”

This is really important.

Whilst you may want to get out of there as quickly as possible, it is important to end on a positive note. There is always something genuine to commend.

Putting all of this together

The acronym IM SQIFFE makes it easy to remember.

We’ve experienced how people’s skills and confidence increase remarkably by practising this model through a whole series of conversations over the course of an afternoon.

The top tips are:

  • Practise, practise, practise – Difficult conversations are difficult, by their very nature and, as with anything else which is difficult, it is important to prepare.
  • Get to the point – it is all too common for people to dance around the delicate issues.
  • Check your motive – if you are trying to score points or get one up on the other person you are not the right one for the job. Building better relationships is the key motive here.

With practice, this technique can work for all conversations you might find challenging, not just for people with personal hygiene issues.

So, get out there and learn to say anything to anyone – it’s liberating and will improve your relationships when done right.