Engaging Conversations: How To Say And Know What You Actually Think

CLIENT: Anyone who you are having the conversation with — real professional client, friend, boss, manager, spouse, lover, family member, etc.

There are situations in personal or professional life when you want to say what you think, what’s going in your mind but actually can’t say it. The fear of judgment, being wrong, being ignorant fills up your body and you, therefore, prefer to stay in your safe zone of staying silent. Most of the time this can work in personal life but when we talk about professional life it’s one of the things which is going to have a bad compound effect on your life if you don’t start working on it. It’s when you’re in the buy-sell cycle with a customer or having a conversation with your boss, client and you want to say something needful but just don’t know how to say it because you think if you say it in a direct/clear tone, it’ll make a bad impression. It’s when you want to have a discussion on important topics like a budget with a client or just a raise or your stress or you have to fire someone.

There are some people who just can’t say what they’re thinking and prefer to stay in a silent zone instead and then there are people who can say what they’re thinking but do not know where the thought (an idea or opinion occurring suddenly in the mind.) came from and want to improve upon that because most of the time it sounds like an attack or scream to other people when you say what you’re thinking especially negative/nasty things. For example, Saying ‘No’ is itself a kind of attack, and what happens when you attack a dog by staring at its eyes, it defends by barking. So, you don’t want to be like an automatic robot who just says what they’re thinking without knowing why are they saying what they’re saying, you need to know why are you saying what you’re saying so that you can transform the words in a kind/better way, say ‘No’ in a better way without saying it like an attack.

So, the first part of this article is about how to just say what you’re thinking because some people can’t even say the word ‘No’ and the second part of the article will be about how to know what you’re actually thinking so that you can say it in a better way as sometimes you actually don’t want to say ‘No’ but there’s something else, just becoming aware of your thoughts in simple words.

“Dialogue is also a two-way process: it is crucial to keep track of how we, the observers, speak to the people we are observing. Having a superior or condescending tone when conversing with our people is a sure way to get their guards up and put a limit on how much we can learn from them.”

- Lesson from Interaction Design Foundation (Design Thinking Course)


Be a baby, you too-conscious person.

Before we dug deep, I just want to pitch one quick and straight-forward baby-like approach of saying what you think, to you, which is just start saying what you’re thinking even if it goes bad in starting conversations, and give yourself an appraisal of getting started, we can transform the things in a better way, afterward. There are many chances when you start with this approach that it’s going to be awkward because you’ll most likely be using blunt words but you have to accept that’s what you want to say in the first place :P, right?. Let the other person/client leave or do whatever they want to do, there are chances of even losing some clients/jobs in the process but everything comes at a cost, doesn’t it?

Also, what happens is we in our mind imagine the reaction would be way worse than what it actually is going to be. We think that if we say what we’re thinking then we’ll look bad and arguments, word-attacks will begin which you don’t want and that is why we don’t want to have these conversations but know this — When you say what you think, it’s never as bad you think you’re gonna say.

A Kind-ruthless behavior is all you need.

  1. “That’s not enough money.”
  2. “There’s a better way to do this.”
  3. “I don’t want to do this.”
  4. “I don’t work that way.”
  5. “You’re just not understanding my point.”
  6. “I wish I could kill you.”

How many times have you been in situations with your client or someone where you want to say the above statements but whereas you’re just responding to requests, granting the concession, acting upon the nerve, and dealing with obstacles and you need to work some other way yet you simply don’t say it. Instead, you’re (in that moment) just lost with a fake smile in finding out how to say these things in another way so it won’t look bad but you just can’t figure out, and guess what during your thinking the client has just won in making you do things which you don’t want to. Or sometimes there are situations where everything just ended with a silent awkwardness and silliness since you dropped all pretense of politeness and made an end to the conversation with a ruthless swoop, where you’re either fired after this or you know you’ll consequently leave in some days because you both feel uncomfortable in working now.

How did you feel after the latter situation? Most likely a blend of relief and guilt. Relief, because you’re not in the persuasion of the client anymore of doing wrong things, the unwanted feeling of anger and pressure which was building up during the conversation has come to end resulting in relief. Guilt, because you were again wrapped up in overthinking during the conversation which made you treat the client in a bad way which is, of course, you didn’t want, and when you at long last attempted to show the fortitude that you’re right. To be clear, your relief was caused by your ruthless behavior and your guilt was caused by your frustrated/irritated emotional state. So, why not just keep your ruthless behavior and drop your frustrated emotional state — guilt and make you feel kind and ‘alright’ about it. Basically, Kind Ruthlessness is what we need here because you don’t want conversations to end on a bad note, yet with an authentic grin rather than a fake smile.

Kind Ruthlessness is simply saying what you want to say but with a neutral smile. In any scenario where you are thinking about what to say and not, you’re just better off saying what you think as soon as it occurs in your mind instead of second-guessing or waiting for a better moment which ultimately gives the other one a pass to win the situation. Saying ‘No’ is far much better during conversations instead in the beginning or end of the conversations because you have less emotion attached to the words when you say as soon as it occurs in your mind and less chance of having stress.

And most of the frustration or stress in life is caused by the little things you don’t do or miss. Your frustration in these moments of conversations increases with the gap between what you know you should do and what you actually do. That frustration when your client is talking with you and you just want to say something and you were not able to and inside of yours, there’s a storm of frustration going on? Yes, that’s the moment when you just say it before it makes you less attentive afterward which you don’t want. And also the more you hold it inside the more likely it is to come out as mean, awkward or unprofessional.

Hypothetically, Let’s just say that a client said that their budget is around $500-$700 and whereas during the budget in your mind was $7000-$10000, that’s when you think that you’re under attack and you unconsciously think that you have to defend or attack client’s words because your body is in ‘fight or flight’ mode now and had released a complex mix of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol to prepare you to fight with the client by obviously using words. KEEP THAT ATTACKING-WITH-BAT talk aside, please.

So, either you just keep saying, “No, we can’t do this. It’s out of our budget” with your kind ruthless behavior to a number of clients and sees your business going down or just start to know slowly what you actually need to say without going straight with ‘No’ attack. It’s about HOW TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK?


“Being transparent isn’t about being direct or clear, it’s about illuminating the parts that are not clear to anybody, giving visibility to your thinking.” — Anonymous

Let’s just go to snacks after we read this blog? What do you say?

Well, if you were here in real life with me, we would have but let’s just talk hypothetically and you answer it and I’m in your town, so where should we go Mr./Ms.? — I didn’t hear it (but keep the word with you), Sorry.

So, let’s just assume that you said — STARBUCKS

Now as we know that one goes through thousands of decisions on a subconscious level and make a decision on the conscious level, so I want you to pause and think backward and write it on paper where did the answer of where are we going (Starbucks) came from, let’s go backward and see these decisions which were made on the unconscious level.

Understanding Thinking

Let’s put them in a proper thought order, from where this all started to where it ended with your decision. It started from when I asked you the question to your emotional/limbic brain to neocortex brain to your decision.

Do you know about the Limbic and Neocortex brain? Go through the article to know better about — https://psycheducation.org/brain-tours/3-brains-in-one-brain/

In Simple words, the Limbic brain is a brain that does not have rationale and language, it’s when you feel something or has a mood for something but can’t articulate it in words because this part of the brain doesn’t have words. But the Neocortex is the part of the brain which has language and rationale, and it helps in giving the reason for your mood (which exists in the limbic brain) through the use of words.

The Analogy Of Caboose And Engine (Give Visibility To Your Thinking)

Remember that old design of trains when you were a kid, and the train used to have a Caboose and an Engine. We’re going to put our thoughts in proper order and light by using the diagram of the caboose and engine. See the image below:-

Understanding Thinking

As you can see in the above image when you place your thoughts in the proper order of taking a decision, you get to know from where does your train of thoughts (thinking) starts (with engine) and ends (with caboose). Your thinking starts with a base emotion (engine) which is just gut feeling and here in the example it is ‘something healthy’, and then you think of where you can get ‘something healthy’, how can you get it, and all the way to ‘Starbucks’, i.e. reaction (caboose).

Most of the times in our life we’re a ‘caboose driven person’ instead of an ‘engine-driven person’, which means we use direct words like ‘I hate you’, ‘I love you’, ‘You’re bad’, ‘Starbucks’ instead of starting with a base emotion which is your gut feeling and getting into engaging conversations.

When we’re a ‘ caboose driven person’ we just tend to react to situations with words and sometimes that can turn out to be good when you have something nice or neutral to say, but most of the times it feels like an attack to the listener when you have something bad to say, which is not healthy for both of you.

A ‘caboose driven person’ is a person who is described in the first section of the article (how to just say) but to understand what’s actually going on in our mind we need to become an ‘engine driven person’, we need to understand where did ‘no’, ‘Starbucks’, came from. We need to start controlling our train of thought so that we can give a good direction to them and the direction can only be given to the engine, not the caboose. When we’re not controlling the train’s engine we’re not in control of the whole train — and in the same way, when we don’t know what we actually emotionally feel (remember that ‘I don’t know’ feeling) we won’t know what we’ll actually say (remember saying ‘No’ with guilt) and bad/good things happen with a feeling of unknown regret/happiness.


Let’s take a real-life situation that one can face in professional conversations — Budget, shall we?

You’re on a call conversation with a client and you’re discussing this whole fancy dream project of your life, writing down the scopes, deliverables and calculating price at the back of the mind. And when the budget conversation comes up, the client says that they have a budget of $1000 when according to you the total price of the project is going to be $10000. Wait, don’t let that feeling of hate, judgemental come up (you’re just reading) 🙂

So, how will a ‘caboose driven person’ react in this situation, probably this? :-

  1. No, I can’t do this. It’s out of my budget.
  2. You should consider working with someone else.
  3. It won’t pay my home bills (Getting Personal — Getting personal is one of the worst things one can do in professional conversations, no one cares about your personal life (friends, family, career) and a good professional understands why one does not care).
  4. I really think you’re cheap.
  5. Why do you think I’ll accept that low amount?
  6. You disrespect me.
Understanding Thinking

A caboose driven person here will just try to defend himself/herself from not being manipulated by the client’s budget, he/she will just shut down the conversation by probably using the above statements because he/she thinks the client (who is on the other side) has made an attack on them by saying the price which is not a good fit, and now they’re just trying to defend. But The root problem here is that we creative people/design people don’t understand that clients don’t know how much these things cost, we just assume that they’re cheap, they don’t know things, they don’t value design, which sometimes is just misconception. And we let our caboose drive our decision, which is ultimately a loss for us.

Understanding Thinking

But, How will an ‘engine driven person’ will react in this situation?

Now, I need you to think what is the first thought or feeling that comes to your mind when someone says that they have a low budget, what happens in your body when you hear it? — Shocked feeling, Surprised feeling, did your pupil dilate?

Being surprised is a gut-feeling which you then try to put into words comes to like — WOW, I’m feeling surprised, shocked or it was just unpredictable, etc. Let our gut-feeling/engine drive our decisions from here and accordingly if we’re shocked with the price we could just say

“WOW, It’s totally different than I thought”

Does the above statement sound like an attack yet? Is it much better than — ‘You’re cheap, I can’t do this, go work with someone else’. What we have to do here we have to try to make this conversation engaging instead of word-fights, we need to put efforts to try to understand the world from the client’s eyes — why do they have a low budget, what challenges are they facing, do they really need our service, why are they considering us and slowly try to bring the client in our world and help them understand why is the budget low, why is it not a good fit, what challenges do we have to face which client is oblivious of.

In the buy-sell cycle, a client can do only three things:-

  1. Client can hire you
  2. Client can hire someone else
  3. Client can do nothing

In a fun and much more clear way to understand this?, The person you like the most of the company you want to join can:-

  1. Can Be With/Hire You
  2. Can Be With/Hire Someone Else
  3. Can Do Nothing (Still Hope xD)

You need to put your personal wants and needs aside and understand how you can actually help the client in their business, it can either be with you or not and that’s the moment you become one of a good salesperson and the definition of a good salesperson is defined in the book — 101 Things I learned in business school:-

Business 101

After your, ‘WOW Statement’, what do you think your next sentence would be, I think the next sentence would be just -

I’m wondering how I can make this work?.

We’re not saying it can’t be done, it’s impossible. We’re just saying (in a way) it can’t be done just by us but we do want to help you in any way or the other and that’s why we ask how we can make it work. Let the client fill the gap here when you say the above statement. They’ll probably ask (if they want you) what is your budget, what were you thinking, what problems are you facing (get people to see the world through our lens, remember?)

  1. You uncover the actual challenges of clients, what goal are they trying to hit.
  2. You discover whether you can actually help them or not in any way.
  3. You discover is there any practical solution for the problem the client just said.
  4. You discover the actual scope of work and make the client understand the complexity of it.
  5. You both agree on a price which is okay for both of you. Neither of you shouldn’t go out of the room thinking that it’s too much or too little.

That’s when we have stepped into an engaging conversation with your client which is purely objective. And when you step into these type of pure objective conversations where you put your judgment, personal wants aside and just care about how you can help the other person to the best of your ability, you enter into a phase which Chris Do calls it — The ‘Diagnostic Phase’, the phase where:-

Watch the following video to understand more about the diagnostic phase:-


When you slowly try to become mindful of what’s going inside of yours in all types of conversations you understand what’s actually happening and you have a choice of how to take it forward. I’m sure there’ll be clients, people who will try to be rude to you, manipulate you and no matter how bad you want to help they’ll still disrespect you and for them, you can just walk away by saying ‘No’ with a smile. But you also don’t want to lose good clients who are ignorant of your field and do want to learn how you do things and pay you a good amount of money because they respect you and understand that you’re doing work for them which ultimately is going to help them and needs to be appreciated.

You don’t want to lose latter kind of client because your ignorance of how to say what you think and the practice of becoming mindful and saying how to say what you think is not a skill which can be learned overnight, you’ll have to go through a number of calls, meeting, chats to develop it and become efficient at it. And this is a skill which is ultimately going to help you thrive in professional life and in personal relationships too, Fail fast and win 😉

And one thing I want to leave with you thinking here which I heard in a talk is that we all human beings have the *habit of listening with the intent to reply* either in mind or by saying it. Is that really a great communication skill we have? What if we have just no intent of replying while listening, I understand it’s important sometimes but not all the time and as designers or human beings in general we first now need to learn how to listen by staying silent and analyze what the other is saying and then take the decision of how to reply or do we have to reply only?.

Originally published at https://charchitgarg.com on November 23, 2020.

I share what I write in my so called "Crap Diary" and some other stuff too. Sorry for not being specific here.

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Charchit Garg

Charchit Garg

I share what I write in my so called "Crap Diary" and some other stuff too. Sorry for not being specific here.

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