Sometimes, when you’re cooking, you don’t need a recipe. It’s either a simple dish or you’ve made that particular recipe so many times that you can whip it up simply from memory or experience.

Then there are other times when you’re working on a new or complex dish. You still have the same skill set and yet your odds of success go way up if you have a proven recipe to follow – something to go along step by step.

I would argue that conversations follow that same path, that the art of conversation and the art of cooking aren’t that different from one another. Most conversations will come naturally but others can be more complex or difficult. Many reasons account for this, especially in a business setting, including: size of group, emotional reactions to the topic or the intricate elements, angles, or questions the topic encompasses. But if you have a recipe—an underlying guide to follow—success is much more certain.

Gaining alignment on a project or initiative where people have different preferences, ideas, or concerns is one such example. The following design—or recipe, if you like—allows you to engage everyone in the conversation while revealing and addressing whatever questions or concerns might come up.

Leaders or groups are likely to seek alignment when defining goals, making decisions, or formulating strategic plans. When it’s important to have everyone in the group on board with the outcome, these are the steps to follow to reach alignment:

  • Describe what you would like to do and how you intend to do it. Be clear about your intended outcomes and the path you will use to produce those outcomes.
  • Find out what people are thinking. Start with an open-ended question that allows them to express anything and everything and gives them a chance to direct where the conversation goes. Stay with this conversation as long as they continue to ask questions or offer input.
  • Clarity is often a missing piece, and you want to ask about it directly. Asking whether people are clear gives them permission to say that, for whatever reason, they can’t get behind what you are asking.
  • Ask if people see the value in this. People might understand what you are proposing, but if they don’t see the value in doing it, they probably won’t align.
  • Ask people if they have concerns. People might like your idea, but supporting it might raise a conflict for them. If they can identify their concern, you can determine whether you can address it.
  • Once you know what is in the way, ask whether anything is missing that would make a difference to alignment if it were included.

Once you have the items identified in steps 5 and 6, ask the group whether, if you promise to address their concerns and requests, they are now able to align with the decision or plan.

Meetings, at the core, are a series of conversations. Work through each topic by having a thoughtful dialogue and follow a specific set of steps rather than jumping all over the place. If you can accomplish this, you can expect better outcomes and shorter meetings.


This post originally appeared on Leadership Forum Inc.