Prepare for tough conversations with the DESC framework.

A big part of job satisfaction is getting along with your colleagues—and if teammates are wrapped up in personal conflicts, it can interfere with communication and even create an unsafe situation for patients. When you’re gearing up for a difficult conversation, it’s important to be prepared. The DESC framework can help you approach these situations in a way that’s positive and productive. Begin your discussion by describing the situation, expressing concerns, suggesting alternatives and stating the consequences of the situation as it stands.

What is DESC?

See It In Action

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Keep this in mind when using DESC to de-escalate a situation.

The best thing you can do when preparing for a difficult conversation is to be as prepared as possible.

  • Give yourself time to plan and find a calm headspace, rather than rushing through the process.
  • Write out or practice aloud what you’re going to say. Make sure you frame it using "I" statements.
  • Anticipate possible reactions and prepare how you’d respond in each scenario.
Question 1 of 3
“Why do you always feel the need to shut me down in front of patients?”

What's the best way to rephrase this into an "I" statement?

"I can’t believe you would speak to me so rudely in front of a patient.”

Not quite. While this statement does begin with “I,” it still places the blame on the other person.

“I feel disrespected when you say things like that to me in front of patients.”

Nicely done! This “I” statement is less accusatory and focuses instead on the impact of the other person’s behavior.

Question 2 of 3
“If you showed up to the morning briefs like you’re supposed to, miscommunications like this wouldn’t happen.”

What's the best way to rephrase this into an "I" statement?

“I think our workday would go a little easier if we had the chance to touch base during the morning brief.”

That’s right! This “I” statement focuses on a solution to the problem rather than criticizing the other person.

“I think the problem is that you don’t ever show up to briefs in the morning.”

Not exactly. This statement still places blame on the other person and might put them on the defensive.

Question 3 of 3
“If you don’t like my recommendations, just talk to me about it. Don’t go around complaining to everyone else.”

What's the best way to rephrase this into an "I" statement?

“I wish you would talk to me about your concerns instead of complaining about me to other people.”

Not quite. This “I” statement still strikes an accusatory tone.

“I understand that you may not always agree with my recommendations, but know that I’m always open to hearing your insights.”

Great job! This statement acknowledges the other person’s perspective while looking forward to how things can improve in the future.

Put It Into Practice
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Practice the proper use of the DESC framework with Nate and Marcus.

What are areas of improvement that Marcus should consider the next time he uses DESC?

Use "I" statements, such as "I feel stressed out when I have to cover for you in meetings because I'm not prepared" rather than "You're not really pulling your weight."

You're on the right track! "I" statements are a good way to take responsibility for your own emotions and show the other person the impact of their behavior without putting them immediately on the defensive. But how else can this DESC be improved?

Make sure the DESC happens somewhere he won't be interrupted.

You're on the right track! Being interrupted by potential eavesdroppers is not only uncomfortable for the person on the receiving end of the DESC, but distracting for the person giving it. But how else can this DESC be improved?

Prepare what he's going to say ahead of time.

You're on the right track! Preparation is key when using DESC. Preparing more ahead of time will help Marcus formulate his words and anticipate possible reactions. But how else can this DESC be improved?

All of the above.

That's right! Using "I" statements to show the impact of the other person's behavior, ensuring the conversation can occur without interruptions and preparing what to say in advance are all areas of improvement Marcus could keep in mind when he uses DESC.


Use DESC to address interpersonal conflicts, not conflicts of information.

Utilize CUS in the moment when there is a difference in information. DESC can be used best when interpersonal conflicts arise and should be used to help frame your conversation.


Use DESC to highlight a breakdown in communication.

Let's say a nurse speaks to a physician about a concern about a patient, and the physician dismisses her concern. Later on, the nurse could use DESC to talk to the physician about how the exchange was problematic from a patient safety standpoint.


Use DESC to communicate what's bothering you.

If a colleague shuts you down in front of a group of peers, DESC can be a useful way to approach the colleague and explain how the exchange made you feel.


Make sure it's a good time to use DESC.

Ask the other person, "Is now a good time to talk?" Consider what they're doing and the environment around them so you have the best shot at having an effective conversation without distractions.


DESC can help you navigate interpersonal conflict in a way that promotes a healthy work environment.

DESC Module - Describe the Situation | Express Concerns | Suggest Alternatives | Consequences are Started

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