Three Words You Need for Your Next Hard Conversation

Oops. Ouch. Whoa.

Annaliese Griffin
Forge
Published in
4 min readAug 10, 2020

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Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

When I’m catching up with an old friend, or ranting to a work buddy, I don’t think much about conversational structure. But some conversations aren’t so easy. In those tougher discussions, it can help to lay out some rules ahead of time, as awkward as that might feel at first.

One tool that I’ve found immensely helpful for navigating difficult conversations comes out of community activism. I learned it in a parenting and racial equity workshop, and it’s called Oops, Ouch, Whoa. Here’s how it works:

  • If you say something that comes out wrong, that you suddenly realize is kind of shitty, or just sounds different hanging in the air than it did in your head, you say “oops.”
  • If someone else says something that hits you in a way that feels bad, you say “ouch.”
  • If the conversation is moving too fast, you’re not following a line of reasoning, you aren’t familiar with a concept or an acronym, or you just want to slow down, you say “whoa,” and ask for clarification.

The point of this tool is to signal a clear set of values: Mistakes are normal, harm can be mended, it’s okay to not know something, and accountability is a shared responsibility.

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Annaliese Griffin
Forge
Writer for

Annaliese Griffin is a writer and editor who most recently led the Quartz Daily Obsession, an award-winning newsletter. She lives in Vermont with her family.