Deep Dive into the RISE SYSTEM

Dive into conversationsWhere NOT to Start…


So you read my RISE Cheat Sheet and you’re thinking that you would like to put this to work.


Let’s deep dive and discover how to scale my system in your professional life and discuss some examples.

If asserting yourself and asking for things you want is completely alien to you, allow me to give you a word of advice first. Practice with someone that you have a relationship with, where even if the first attempt isn’t very elegant, the relationships will remain intact.

It’s important to gain some experience in a safer space before using this new way of communicating on your hottest topic with your most difficult person. After all, consequences work both ways.

If you are living with others, especially children, I am sure there is some little niggling thing that annoys you. First of all, we have more power at home than at work. Figuring out consequences on which we can follow through can come easier to us.


I remember using the RISE Script on Bob, an old boyfriend. He was rather passive aggressive with me. A classic example of his behavior was when we planned to go to the movies.

When he would ask me to go, I always asked him which movie he wanted to see. He would always smile sweetly and say over and over “oh, whatever you want” until I picked a movie. This was followed by complaining about what a waste of money this was. EVERY TIME!

Using the RISE Script the next time he insisted I choose the movie, I simply said :

“When you insist you’ll enjoy any movie I pick and then complain that I made a bad choice, I feel like I failed in making you happy. I want you to either pick the movie you know you will like or not complain about the movie I chose being a waste of money. 

If you do that, I won’t feel like a failure. If you insist on me picking the movie and do this again, I’m not going to the movies with you anymore.”

So let’s break that down to see how that plays out using RISE:

(Review the Behavior) “When you insist you’ll enjoy any movie I pick and then complain that I made a bad choice,”

(Identify the Impact) “I feel like I failed in making you happy.”

(Specify the Behavior) “I want you to either pick the movie you know you will like or not complain about the movie I chose being a waste of money.”

(Explore the Consequences)
Positive: “If you do that, I won’t feel like a failure.”
Negative: “If you insist on me picking the movie and do this again, I’m not going to the movies with you anymore.”

This was safer to start practicing on than, for example, telling my boss that my productivity was affected every time he interrupted me to make him a coffee. Or say something that would upset my secretary who was irritable and was managing a very sensitive project.

So practice on a simple problem at first with few and easy to manage consequences. Read on as we will apply this system to a work scenario.

Why We Need to Do This…


I am a helpful person who loves to solve problems or to help people make decisions. I like that about myself but it is a double edged sword. Most of my life, I was under the mistaken impression that I should avoid conflicts at all cost. I strived to make others happy.

I found it very uncomfortable to engage with  someone who expressed frustration, anger or disappointment and I became avoidant of people I viewed as difficult. This pattern of behavior disabled me from having deep relationships and being happy. It’s hard to be happy when we rarely get what we want.

I had become a doormat.

Doormats chronically seek approval and have an aversion to dealing with what they view as “negative emotions”. They will avoid difficult conversations or ignore how they feel, to their detriment.

Even if no one is screaming at each other, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the basic conversations are happening. Avoiding having the basic conversations makes the important ones impossible to have.

The truth is that we need to give others the information they need in order to be in an authentic relationship with us. We also need to be willing to hear what they have to say.

In fact, to be able to have healthy and successful conversations, with colleagues, clients, leaders in our industry and anyone important to our lives, we know that guesswork and mind reading don’t work.

I have spent over 30 years reading and researching how to improve communication, especially in conflicts. One theme is present in all of them. Whenever possible, we must:

 “Seek to Understand”


If something is important to us, we need to take the time to assess how it affects us and appropriately share it. We also need to try and understand the other person’s position. Seeking to understand is actually the starting point of finding solutions.

When we try to understand where the other person is coming from, a couple of things happen to the way we interact with others.

  • We develop empathy.
  • We turn opponents into allies.
Dig for the solution

Dig for the solution

Empathy is the ability to listen to another person without judgments and become aware of what they may be experiencing.

Think about it; when we are upset about something, and we feel understood and validated by another person, it feels good. They don’t even have to have experienced what is upsetting to us. They don’t even need to say they agree with us. Just that they get where we are coming from.

For some of us, empathy is easy; for others, it takes a little practice.

Of course, when we feel heard and respected, this creates an alliance. It suddenly becomes easier to find common ground when someone has made an effort to understand where we are coming from.

That is why when we practice empathy, the person receiving our compassion and understanding becomes easier to work with and we can now solve our common problems.

Although it may not be appropriate to stop and find that empathy up front, doing it after something uncomfortable has happened becomes very important.

So our RISE Script now becomes the S-RISE SYSTEM with the pre-step being “Seek to understand” whenever possible.

How to Use This System…


The S-RISE SYSTEM is a guideline. If you are not in the habit of asking others for what you want, take your time in experimenting with the five steps. This is like developing a new muscle.

These four steps don’t necessarily need to be in this exact order. Asking for clarification about where they are coming from can happen at any time during the conversation. Seeking to understand can be the only thing we bring up, or we can use the first two steps to identify why we’re asking questions.


(Review their Behavior) “When you asked me a question and walked away before I completely answered you,”

(Identify the Impact) “I felt dismissed or unimportant.”

(Seek to Understand) “I was thinking that you may not be aware that you are doing that. Can you tell me what is making you do that?”

Seeking to understand comes from a place of trust, kindness, curiosity and empathy. Giving them the benefit of the doubt or an opportunity to save face will improve the dynamics of a bad relationship and strengthen the good ones.

If you want to ask them why they are doing something before telling them what you want, you have chosen to begin by seeking to understand. As long as it is done with open and non-judgmental curiosity, we may not even need to bring up a behavior and go through the rest of the script. We can never understand “too much”!


(Seek to Understand) “Michelle said you took the office laptop home last night. What did you need it for?”

One morning, I said this to my colleague.  The night before, as my participants were walking in for a presentation I was about to give, I realized the laptop to use the Power Point was gone. Caught off guard, I pivoted with the content so that my presentation didn’t suffer. (Professional Speakers have a plan B.)

Even though it was frustrating, I knew taking the laptop was not malicious and that there was obviously a good reason my colleague took the laptop. Neither of us knew the other needed it. Approaching her this way made us realize we needed to implement a better system for who got the office laptop.

(Specify the Behavior) 

I think the hardest step in the basic RISE Script is to calmly and confidently state what we want or need in order to influence their future behavior. That is the S in RISE.

Let’s face it; none of us like to be told what to do without understanding why. So specifying what we want comes after we indicate the behaviors they are doing and the impact on others.

It’s better to attach a timeline to ‘by when’ this desired change should happen.


“We need to come to an agreement on how to share this laptop by next Monday, so I know what to expect for my class.”

(Explore the Consequences)

Exploring the consequences is often misunderstood. People think of consequences as punitive. It’s really about letting them know what the results of their behaviors are.

If you are approaching someone in a frustrated manner, I would skip the fourth step of exploring consequences until you are calmer. Saying that you feel frustrated when you identify your feelings gives you an opportunity to let them know that you may need to discuss this more when you are calmer. Just do the first three steps.

When learning to give consequences, I always encourage people to start practicing with a positive one. If we were raised in a punitive environment, this may be more difficult to figure out.

Positive consequences is about explaining that if you do what I am asking, this great thing will happen.


“I will know you care about my feelings”, or “I will trust you to follow through on our agreements”.

Do not go into consequences right away if upset, especially if there is a strong possibility of sounding angry or punitive. Remember to be certain that, if you give a consequence, YOU WILL follow through on them.

It is not the severity of consequences but the certainty that motivates the other person.

We don’t need to Explore the consequences, every single time. Exploring the consequences has the most value when we’ve been clear with the other three steps, Review – Identify – Specify. 

Once there is a history of respect and honest communication, it becomes almost unnecessary to point out consequences. So I encourage people to only trot those out with more difficult characters in our life and only go there when necessary.

Start with the first 3 Steps

So if the S-RISE SYSTEM makes you uncomfortable, start with something small and irritating but not life changing. Just practice the first three steps when you begin practicing and work your way up to use all four. Then start looking for bigger concerns. And, be patient with yourself while you’re learning!


“When you surprised me by inviting guests into the team meeting without discussing it with me first, it can give the impression to our subordinates that we are not working well together. Let’s agree not to surprise each other in front of our staff from now on.”

“I understand your stapler broke and you are waiting for the order to come in. As of now, if you need to borrow my stapler, I want you to leave me a post it note so that I’m not wasting time wondering where it went.”

These ares not life changing but irritating.

Understanding our Reactive Self…


My B.A. included a Specialization in Human Relations where I focused on Organizational Development and Group Development, My favorite theory was Jack Gibb’s TORI Theory of Trust Formation.

Gibb's Theory of Trust

Gibb teaches that the effectiveness of group dynamics can be broken down into Trust versus Fear. Communication is basically Data Flow. Data Flow can be either closed or open. When data flow is closed, or information stops, fear is the problem.

Fear, and the states it presents itself in, can destroy a career or important relationship. We stop thinking and start reacting and that’s when we can get into trouble.

Whether we’re afraid of losing face, or we feel unsafe or we just plain don’t want to accept something; we go into a survival mode and stop using the thinking part of our brain. I call this being in our dinosaur brain. Fear basically brings us into a reactive state.

Fight Flight or Freeze

Fight / Flight / Freeze

You may have heard of it as the Fight / Flight / Freeze survival mode. For some of us, it is far too easily triggered.

Both doormats and bullies fall into this survival mode pattern.

I’m sure you can see that the person who is chronically freezing or flying is more likely to be a doormat. And the bully is more likely to fight at every turn.

Obviously, if the other person is raging, the first order of the day is to physically stay out of their way if it looks like they may become physical.

Since we are talking about the workplace, I’m going to assume that you are in a situation where the other person may be angry or difficult to reason with, but will not become physical.

Unless the other person has a gun, or is about to hurt themselves or someone else, we need to believe that there is an opportunity for a real conversation and turn on our thinking brain.

Otherwise, stop reading this and call 911. NOW!

Are you still with me? Whew! That’s good!

So if you find yourself in a reactive mode, where your anger or fear is triggered, you are the one responding as though you are in danger.  Therefore, we must do our best to stay calm, take a deep breath to get out of our dinosaur brain and stop and think.

Planning for the Conversation…


If we have an ongoing concern to discuss, planning the conversation in advance and taking the time to think beforehand can really help improve outcomes. Start by asking yourself three questions.

  1. What do they want/need?
  2. What do I want/need?
  3. What is a deal breaker for me where I need to walk away?

Having an opportunity to figure things out in advance of a conversation can be scary. We often talk ourselves out of having a conversation saying “I should’ve said something in the moment. It’s too late now. Never mind.”

What’s great about difficult people is that they will always give you another opportunity to discuss the problem ‘in the moment’.

Be aware that if you traditionally freeze up every time, they are used to your pattern of behavior. When you try something new, they may try to bring it back to the status quo by triggering you into your dinosaur brain so you will freeze again. Just keep trying until they realize this is the new way that you will behave. Do not give up.

But as I said, they will give you another opportunity. Let’s dig into those clarifying questions so you will be ready!

#1 What do they want / need?

We need to get out of ourselves for a minute and think about the other person. That is easier for some than others.

Even if we are not sure what they want or need, we need to be respectful of the fact that they are attached to an idea or an outcome. Too often, we just tell ourselves that we are dealing with a “crazy person”. You know that is not helpful, right?

Whether we agree with what they want or need is not part of the question. Without judgment and dispassionately, we must look at where they are coming from. What is important to them?

The good news is that once we practice asking ourselves this question often enough, we begin develop this curiosity for other people’s point of view.  So when a new conflict occurs, in the moment, our curiosity muscle is strong enough to ask that question without sounding exasperated or frustrated. It is really about being genuinely curious.

They may not be clear on their answer if they are upset. Incoherence is not a sign they they don’t know, but rather, they are probably in their dinosaur brain and can’t think or speak clearly right now.

On the other hand, if they are able to be really clear, you may not have an answer for them on the spot. You can thank them for their honesty and tell them you need to think about it. And when this topic comes up again, you will be better prepared to discuss it logically and openly.

#2 What do I want / need?

If you are a confident person, it may surprise you to know that others don’t always know what they want or need. For doormats, who are people pleasers, their insecurity gets in the way.

Another problem is when someone is triggering us to the point where what we want isn’t as important as making sure the other person doesn’t get what they want. Let’s face it, some people are just annoying and we just don’t want to see them get what they want.

I remember working with someone who was hung up on getting things his way. He needed to win at all costs. I don’t think he was normally a difficult person. He had just become so frustrated at always being the one to concede. Once he realized he was in his dinosaur brain, he was able to let go of resentments and feelings of unfairness.

When we calmly looked at what his ideal outcome would be, what he really wanted, it turned out it wasn’t that far from what the person he considered his rival was suggesting. Solutions were closer than he thought.

So take the time and energy to reflect on what your ideal outcome would be. What is important to you and why.

There are many actions we can take to do the work in answering this question. Discuss it with a trusted person, journal, meditate or research what the possibilities might be.

Once you’ve collected that information, decide and commit to what changes you feel should happen. The clearer you are in what you want them to replace their actions or behaviors with, the more confident and influential you can be in asking for what you want.

#3 What is a deal breaker for me?

I remember an engineer who was very frustrated by his boss’ double standards compared to his colleagues. This man was a nice, single guy, hoping to meet his special someone. However his boss disregarded his private life and felt that he should entertain all out of town clients since all the other guys were married. He was also expected to travel more than anyone else.

He felt this was highly unfair and hated some of the places they expected him to bring clients, such as strip bars. Outside of work, he would never have frequented these places. Not only that but he had less energy and opportunities to date and socialize with his friends.

This had been going on for two years and he had already had many arguments with his boss.

I asked him if this was a deal breaker for him and if he was ready to walk away from his job. He had never asked himself that question.

The next time I saw him; he was all smiles and said that his boss was now having other guys take out clients and had stopped insisting that they show the clients a “really good time”. Once he realized that he was willing to walk away from this job, he decided he would set out a consequence that the company would understand.

This is what he did. The company was trying to close a large deal with a Chinese company. They had brought over a small delegation and he was instructed to “make it a night they wouldn’t forget”. He did. From the details he shared with me, I suspect the company never forgot either!

The morning of the big meeting, suffice it to say that the clients were too hungover to meet. The company had to reschedule everyone and change travel arrangements which was an organizational nightmare. Additionally, he handed them the expense report for that night. The company was quite surprised at their generosity to the clients with their very expensive night.

He told me that clarifying that last question made him realize that he had been threatening consequences but never followed through. He became clearer that this was becoming a deal breaker so he decided to push the envelope.

I am not saying that you should punish your boss. This guy knew the limits and discerned that this was not going to cause him new problems while he finally got their attention.

The point of question #3 is to gain a clearer understanding as to what consequences we are willing to follow through when we use the RISES SYSTEM. Taking the time to be clear with that empowers us to take action with confidence.

Applying the System to a Corporate Setting…


While working in Montréal for a financial services company, there were many problems at the leadership level. There were 53 employees in this office and the turnover rate in 23 months was 50%. No, those are not typos.

Nepotism was at an all-time high and even senior managers were beginning to jump ship. Our head office was in Ontario and I was a senior account representative who answered to brokers and their clients.

I established a great relationship with a few people at head office and one person in particular began to ask me what was going on. Trust was at an all-time low and the staff changes were affecting our relationships with our brokers. Some were asking me about our longevity in Quebec. Our numbers were being affected.

Morale hit rock bottom when my direct manager left for a huge competitor. Our Montréal office had lured him away from our head office and the promises that were made for him to move here were broken.

During my two years there, I had already seen 20 people leave prior to the month before my wonderful manager. After he left, I looked for another job immediately and I was gone within two months; and I wasn’t alone.

Head office panicked. The story goes that, before my manager even left, they attempted to open a dialogue with our VP who ran our office and our HR Director to find out about the high turnover rate. We all know they were not honest with head office.

After the exodus (of which I was part), consultants were sent to give employees an opportunity to tell their part of the story to try and salvage what they could. The HR Director was let go within a week of the consultant’s leaving and the VP was gone a month later.

Unfortunately, this was a case of too little too late. Within a year, the office was moved to Ontario leaving behind a skeleton crew to continue local customer service.

Courageous conversations have to happen before our best talent is gone.

Here’s how this could have played out differently when they noticed the high turnover a few months before we left.

They could have spoken to my direct manager to find out how he was doing. Apparently, they thought he had not been there long enough to be up to speed as well as not wanting to turn him into a snitch.

They missed a wonderful opportunity. He was a very honest and transparent person and would have answered any questions with integrity. They hated losing him to Montréal and, although they were hurt that he left, he was their natural ally.

Let’s pretend that they had figured out sooner that the VP and HR Director were problematic and sent the consultant ahead of time to open a dialogue with them. Here is my fantasy of how this would have played out using all of the five steps of the S-RISE SYSTEM.


(Seek to Understand) When the turnover rate exceeded the average of the other branches, the consultant would have been sent, at that time, to privately collect data from the employees and assess the communication and morale.

Although I remember not trusting the VP and HR Director, this was their bread-and-butter and part of their identity. I know they did not expect to have their office close, lose their jobs and have their reputations sullied. They could have been motivated to change.

(Review the Behaviors) After all the data collecting would have been completed, the results would have been transparently shared with the whole management team; not just the VP and HR Director.

(Identify Feelings) A discussion of employee morale and the fears of head office losing money would have been part of the discussion.

(Specify Desired Behaviors) The consultants would have outlined what outcomes were required from the management team and the timeframe needed to accomplish these.

(Explore Consequences)

Positive: Highlight that this used to be one of the strongest offices in the company and that it was possible to return to their glory days with a bit of hard work. Express that they believed they could.

Negative: Indicate that if upper management did not cooperate with improving communication and morale while retaining key staff, they would be thanked for their services and let go.

The consultants would also have helped create an action plan based on what the directors envisioned for the future using a SMART – Specific – Measurable – Achievable – Realistic – Time Specific – goal setting system. Head office would have held their feet to the fire by empowering managers (like mine) who were the strength of this particular office.

(Seek to Understand) In order to increase employee engagement and retention, the consultants would have shared the action plan and desired outcomes with all management and staff. This takes courage and it elevates trust, productivity and profit.

The beauty of the S-RISE SYSTEM is that it can be scaled from a simple conversation to being implemented in a large consulting and facilitating package.

Quick Review of the Complete S-RISE SYSTEM


Diving into courageous conversations

Diving into courageous conversations

  • Seek to understand
    • What do they want/need?
    • What do I want/need?
    • What is a deal breaker for me where I need to walk away?

Original 4 step script : RISE

  • Review their behavior (When you…)
  • Identify the impact or your emotion around their behavior (I feel…)
  • Specify the desired behavior (I want…I need…)
  • Explore the consequences of their behaviors (positive / negative)
    • If you do, this will happen
    • If you don’t, this will happen

The original four step RISE Script is very short. It only takes a minute or two at most. It is not a soliloquy or an opportunity to drag up every behavior from the past. Ideally we are addressing one thing per conversation.

In order to engage someone in altering their behaviors, the two-way dialogue is the foundation of mutual change and improvement.

At some point during the conversation, for the dialogue to move forward, we need to become interested and curious in what the other person is thinking or feeling.

Simply asking them “what do you need from me?” will give you a lot of information so that you can move forward.

When going into the fourth step, I always encourage people to start with the positive consequence by telling them what pleasure this will give them. It’s always important to understand them enough to know what is desirable to them.

When I ask my clients what is stopping them from speaking up, they will usually tell me that they are afraid to sound mean. The reality is that keeping information others need is meaner than being direct.

 “Give people the information they need to be in good relationship with you”.


Think of someone that you know is annoyed with you. They don’t tell you what they need, they expect you to guess. Don’t be that person.

Start with something small and build up this muscle. Obviously, being aware of our tone of voice and body language is something to work on as we experiment. Even if you say it imperfectly and it upsets them, you can catch your breath, return and continue the dialogue.

Let’s face it, healthy relationships are messier than some of us like. But great relationships at work (and at home) are worthwhile work!

Whether you want to ask someone at home to put the garbage out before it smells or redirect a subordinate’s unprofessional behavior, this system works!

If you have any questions about the “5 Steps of my S-RISE SYSTEM”, I’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, I’ve created an infographic of all 5 steps for you.

5 Steps Infographic

If you click on the image, you can download a printable PDF of this infographic. Enjoy!