Getting a side-tracker back on track

Fed up with digressions, diversions and delays? These tactics will help you keep your conversations on-topic.

Have a clear purpose

Sometimes conversations get side-tracked because people don’t know why they’re talking in the first place. Prepare for the conversation beforehand. What must be covered? What outcomes do you want? Note down the crucial points. Tell the other person your purpose early on.

Check for mutual understanding

So you’ve told the person you want to talk about x, y and z. But do you know what he/she wants? Maybe the person wants to discuss issue w or focus on issue y. Check whether you’re on the same page. Ask ‘is it okay to focus on these issues?’ or ‘is there anything else you’d like to cover?’ A few minutes spent clarifying where you’re both coming from will save time in the long run.

Check for relevance

Step in if you think the conversation is going off-track. Ask ‘how is this relevant to issue z?’ or say ‘I’m not sure how this relates to issue x. Would you explain?’ This may be enough to refocus the discussion. Keep your tone friendly; show genuine interest. Avoid sounding accusing or frustrated.

Dismiss digressions with timeliness and tact

Act quickly if the conversation is obviously going awry. Side-tracks get worse the more people talk about them. Say something like ‘that’s an interesting point’ or ‘thanks for making that point’. Make no further comment and immediately steer the conversation back on-topic.

Another tactic is to park the comment for another day. Say something like ‘I agree that point is important but for now can we focus on issues x, y and z.’ The earlier steps (agreeing purpose/clarifying understanding) give you a frame of reference to do this.   


Need advice on what to say? Ask Eleanor now. Send your question and we’ll answer it in a future blog post.

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