Courageous Conversations

The things that are not being said onboard are often the cause of more trouble than the things that are being said onboard.

Not all of us are brave enough to tackle these issues head-on and some of us are a bit like a bull in a china shop and don’t deal with them in a very helpful way, sometimes making things worse.

The trick is to keep the conversation ‘adult’.

So, in the name of harmony and the sustainability of your crew relationships, here is a framework to help you…

• Request
• Observe
• Consequences
• Action
• Perspective

1. Request

When you need to have a ‘conversation’ with someone do you think about when to do it?

You have a couple of choices…

• Rugby tackle them in the crew mess and pin them to the wall until they listen…
• Procrastinate, delay and avoid them until it has become a HUGE issue in your mind and they have forgotten it ever happened…
• ASK them if you can have a word – and make sure it is at a time when you can both be uninterrupted.

I recommend the last one!


“Jo, we need to have a quick chat – do you have a minute now or would you prefer to talk after dinner?”

Don’t give them a choice about IF – don’t ask IF you can talk to them. Tell them it needs to happen and give them a choice about WHEN.

2. Observe

One of the things that makes these conversations so difficult is the business of making it tangible. If a manager ever told me I had a bad ‘attitude’ I would argue that I didn’t – and it wasn’t something tangible, so they couldn’t ‘prove’ it. People aren’t generally stupid… they know that is a weak statement and will use it against you.

So, what do you do?

You tell them what you have SEEN or HEARD. That is observable behaviour and much harder to wriggle out of.

The caveat is that YOU must have SEEN or HEARD it. Third hand information is not reliable and is subject to others judgements and perception.


Rather than ‘you seem to have a problem with me” which is intangible.

“I noticed that when I came into the crew area for lunch, you turned your back and started to whisper to Mark and when I said Hi – you chose not to respond”

Now at this point Jo could say ‘No I didn’t’ – if that happens then you restate your case “I noticed it and I want you to know that is how it appeared to me”

Own it. If someone really has been behaving badly, they will know it. You don’t need to, or want to get into an argument at this stage – JUST STATE YOUR CASE

3. Consequences

Tell them how that made you feel, or the impact or the consequences of their action.

This brings the issue to a head – because if there were no consequences then do you really need to have the conversation in the first place? If it matters enough to you then you must tell them, if not, don’t bother. Pick your battles.


“That made me feel excluded, unwelcome and really uncomfortable. As we have to work together that can only impact negatively on our ability to do the best possible job, and that will reflect badly on both of us.”

Expect some come back through this process, when/if that happens – acknowledge their point and then plough on. Like pulling off a plaster – this needs to be done so don’t let them stop you STATING YOUR CASE.

Example… Jo might say

“Oh, come off it – I was chatting to Mark and you walked in on a private conversation, you’re being too sensitive”

and you would respond

“I appreciate your perspective, and repeat that it made me feel excluded, unwelcome and really uncomfortable which can only impact negatively on our ability to do the best possible job, and that will reflect badly on both of us.”

4. Action

Here’s where you state what you want.

“I don’t expect to be your new best bud – but I do expect you to give me the same respect I give to you and remember that this is a common area and I have as much right to be in it as you do.”

Don’t mess about – don’t apologise for yourself, don’t whine or plead – JUST STATE YOUR CASE.

Jo won’t like it – but let it sink in and he will know he wasn’t playing nicely and will think twice about doing it again. He will probably have a bitch behind your back and feel a bit wounded – but ultimately, when things have calmed down again – he will respect you so much more.

Finally… (and optionally)

5. Perspective

If you want to use steps 1-4 as the prequel to a larger conversation, this is the point at which you invite Jo to share his perspective…

“What is your perspective Jo? How do you see the situation?”

He might already have added some of his perspectives earlier, e.g. “you are being too sensitive’ but give him the chance to tell you how he is feeling and you might actually start to understand each other a bit better.

Be brave – try it out. The more you do the more ‘normal’ it will feel to you and to others and people won’t be surprised by it when you speak to them.

This model (ROCAS) was devised by my good friend and associate Kevin Cottee-Wort and has proven to be a real game changer for me in my conversations… give it a try. You have nothing to lose – and perhaps a lot to gain!

And if there is a conversation you need to have and you’d like some help – drop me a line (completely confidentially) on or via WhatsApp on +44 (0) 7557223528 and we can talk it through together first.

Sara Ballinger