By: Kerry Patterson; Joseph Grenny; Ron McMillan; Al Switzler
What's a crucial convo?
- different opinions
- stakes are high
- emotions run strong
The results of a crucial conversation have high impact on quality of life
Given choices on approach, we can:
- avoid them
- face them, handle poorly
- face them, handle well
(I suspect there's actually a larger spectrum than 3 choices ;-)
Crucial conversations are frequently spontaneous, catching you off-guard
Common crucial conversations include:
- Ending a relationship
- Talking to a coworker who behaves offensively or makes suggestive comments
- Asking a friend to repay a loan
- Giving the boss feedback about her behavior
- Approaching a boss who is breaking his own safety or quality policies
- Critiquing a colleague's work
- Asking a roommate to move out
- Resolving custody or visitation issues with an ex-spouse
- Dealing with a rebellious teen
- Talking to a team member who isn't keeping commitments
- Discussing problems with sexual intimacy
- Confronting a loved one about a substance abuse problem
- Talking to a colleague who is hoarding information or resources
- Giving an unfavorable performance review
- Asking in-laws to quit interfering
- Talking to a coworker about a personal hygiene problem
"How can I be 100 percent honest with <person>, and at the same time be 100 percent respectful?"
At the core of every successful conversation lies the free flow of relevant
information. People openly and honestly express their opinions, share their
feelings, and articulate their theories. They willingly and capably share
their views, even when their ideas are controversial or unpopular.
Pool of shared meaning -> everyone should feel comfortable adding to it
Hints, sarcasm, caustic humor, innuendo, and looks of disgust are not effective
sharing of meaning.
Maintain your focus:
- What are your motives? What do you actually want?
- Don't make an either/or choice - talk until you find another option.
Killers of honest dialogue:
- trying to "win"
- keeping the peace (ie silence)
When a conversation turns crucial, ask "What do I *really* want here?"
Also, as the conversation unfolds and you find yourself starting to, say,
defer to the boss or give your spouse the cold shoulder, pay attention to
what’s happening to your objectives. Are you starting to change your goal to
save face, avoid embarrassment, win, be right, or punish others? Here's the
tricky part. Our motives usually change without any conscious thought on our
part. When adrenaline does our thinking for us, our motives flow with the
"We assume we have to choose between getting results and keeping a
relationship. In our dumbed-down condition, we don't even consider the option
of achieving both."
Know what you want *and* what you don't want, ie want to voice concerns AND not
Watch for content *and* conditions
You want to be alert for the moment a convo goes from routine to Crucial
Signs that a conversation is about to get Crucial
- physical signals (stomach gets tight, shoulders tense, hairs stand up)
- emotions (feel hurt, scared, angry)
- behaviour (raise voice, point a finger, become quiet)
Look for safety problems. Safe conversations let the things that need to be
said be said. Unsafe convos are ugly.
- masking (sarcasm, sugarcoating)
- avoiding (steering away from sensitive subjects)
- withdrawing (running away altogether)
Conversely, when people aren’t involved, when they sit back quietly during
touchy conversations, they’re rarely committed to the final decision. Since
their ideas remain in their heads and their opinions never make it into the
pool, they end up quietly criticizing and passively resisting. Worse still,
when others force their ideas into the pool, people have a harder time
accepting the information.
- controlling (coercion, using directive questions)
- labeling (stereotyping)
The best don’t play games. Period. They know that in order to solve their
problem, they’ll need to talk about their problem—with no pretending,
sugarcoating, or faking. So they do something completely different. They
step out of the content of the conversation, make it safe, and then step
back in. Once safety is restored, they can talk about nearly anything.
Remember the last time someone gave you difficult feedback and you didn’t
become defensive? Say a friend said some things to you that most people
might get upset over. In order for this person to be able to deliver the
delicate message, you must have believed he or she cared about you or about
your goals and objectives. That means you trusted his or her purposes so you
were willing to listen to some pretty tough feedback.
Crucial conversations often go awry not because others dislike the content
of the conversation, but because they believe the content (even if it’s
delivered in a gentle way) suggests that you have a malicious intent. How
can others feel safe when they believe you’re out to harm them? Soon, every
word out of your mouth is suspect. You can’t utter a harmless “good morning”
without others interpreting it in a negative way.
Consequently, the first condition of safety is Mutual Purpose. Mutual
Purpose means that others perceive that you’re working toward a common
outcome in the conversation, that you care about their goals, interests, and
values. And vice versa. You believe they care about yours. Consequently,
Mutual Purpose is the entry condition of dialogue. Find a shared goal, and
you have both a good reason and a healthy climate for talking.
Here are two crucial questions to help us determine when Mutual Purpose is at risk:
- Do others believe I care about their goals in this conversation?
- Do they trust my motives?
If your only reason for approaching the boss is to get what you want, the
boss will hear you as critical and selfish—which is what you are. In
contrast, if you try to see the other person’s point of view, you can often
find a way to draw the other person willingly into even very sensitive
conversations. For example, if the boss’s behavior is causing you to miss
deadlines he cares about, or incur costs he frets over, or lose productivity
that he worries about, then you’re onto a possible Mutual Purpose.
Imagine raising the topic this way: “I’ve got some ideas for how I can be
much more reliable and even reduce costs by a few thousand dollars in
preparing the report each month. It’s going to be a bit of a sensitive
conversation—but I think it will help a great deal if we can talk about it.”
The instant people perceive disrespect in a conversation, the interaction is
no longer about the original purpose—it is now about defending dignity.
Telltale signs. To spot when respect is violated and safety takes a turn
south, watch for signs that people are defending their dignity. Emotions are
the key. When people feel disrespected, they become highly charged. Their
emotions turn from fear to anger. Then they resort to pouting, name-calling,
yelling, and making threats. Ask the following question to determine when
Mutual Respect is at risk: Do others believe I respect them?
Three good skills that the best dialogues use:
- create a mutual purpose
contrasting provides context, proportion, and can fix misunderstandings of scope or severity
Agree to agree. Focus on your purpose, and be open to alternatives. Find the
higher objective which you agree on.
- Commit to seek Mutual Purpose
- Recognize the purpose behind the strategy
- Invent a Mutual Purpose
- Brainstorm New Strategies
Don't treat your emotions as if they are the only valid response.
See + Hear -> Tell a Story -> Feel -> Act
If we can find a way to control the stories we tell, by rethinking or
retelling them, we can master our emotions and, therefore, master our
"Any set of facts can be used to tell an infinite number of stories."
Expand your emotional vocabulary
Question your feelings and stories - is it the right feeling?
Don't confuse stories with facts
- victim stories (exaggeration of own innocence)
- villain stories (overemphasize other's guilt/stupidity)
- helpless ('there's nothing I could do')
watch for double standard with victim/villain
clever stories can:
- match reality (it does sometimes happen)
- get us off the hook (still partially responsible)
- keep us from acknowledging our own sellouts
- You believe you should help someone, but don’t.
- You believe you should apologize, but don’t.
- You believe you should stay late to finish up on a commitment, but go home instead.
- You say yes when you know you should say no, then hope no one follows up to see if you keep your commitment.
- You believe you should talk to someone about concerns you have with him or her, but don’t.
- You do less than your share and think you should acknowledge it, but say nothing knowing no one else will bring it up either.
- You believe you should listen respectfully to feedback, but become defensive instead.
- You see problems with a plan someone presents and think you should speak up, but don’t.
- You fail to complete an assignment on time and believe you should let others know, but don’t.
- You know you have information a coworker could use, but keep it to yourself.
Clever stories omit crucial information about us, about others
Broaching uncomfortable topics requires:
- Share your facts
- Tell your story
- Ask for others' paths
- Talk tentatively
- Encourage testing
Facts are the least controversial, and they are the most persuasive
When we start with shocking or offensive conclusions (“Quit groping me with
your eyes!” or “I think we should declare bankruptcy”), we actually
encourage others to tell Villain Stories about us. Since we’ve given them no
facts to support our conclusion, they make up reasons we’re saying these
things. They’re likely to believe we’re either stupid or evil.
So if your goal is to help others see how a reasonable, rational, and decent
person could think what you’re thinking, start with your facts.
And if you aren’t sure what your facts are (your story is absolutely filling
your brain), take the time to think them through before you enter the
crucial conversation. Take the time to sort out facts from conclusions.
Gathering the facts is the homework required for crucial conversations.
Always start with facts. "Facts lay the groundwork for all delicate conversations."
"be willing to abandon or reshape your story as more information pours into the Pool of Shared Meaning."
Soften the message, be tentative (not wimpy).
Invite opposing views, and mean it.
Don't launch into monologues. Avoid harsh, conclusive language.
Hold to your belief, but be nice about it.
Look for opportunities to be curious about others
When others are acting out their feelings and opinions through silence or
violence, it’s a good bet they’re starting to feel the effects of
adrenaline. Even if we do our best to safely and effectively respond to the
other person’s verbal attack, we still have to face up to the fact that it’s
going to take a little while for him or her to settle down. Say, for
example, that a friend dumps out an ugly story and you treat it with respect
and continue on with the conversation. Even if the two of you now share a
similar view, it may seem like your friend is still pushing too hard. While
it’s natural to move quickly from one thought to the next, strong emotions
take a while to subside. Once the chemicals that fuel emotions are released,
they hang around in the bloodstream for a time—in some cases, long after
thoughts have changed.
Every sentence has a history - find out what's lead to this
Break the cycle, encourage other person to step away from their harsh feelings, anger
Ask to get things rolling -> Mirror to confirm feelings -> Paraphrase to acknowledge the story -> Prime when you're getting nowhere
To keep ourselves from feeling nervous while exploring others’ paths—no
matter how different or wrong they seem—remember we’re trying to understand
their point of view, not necessarily agree with it or support it.
Understanding doesn’t equate with agreement. Sensitivity does equate to
acquiescence. By taking steps to understand another person’s Path to Action,
we are promising that we’ll accept their point of view.
Agree -> Build -> Compare
Most arguments consist of battles over the 5 to 10 percent of the facts and
stories that people disagree over. And while it’s true that people
eventually need to work through differences, you shouldn’t start there.
Start with an area of agreement.
So here’s the take-away. If you completely agree with the other person’s
path, say so and move on. Agree when you agree. Don’t turn an agreement into
Don't get caught up in trivial differences, making a mole hill into a mountain.
Say "I agree," and then build.
If you agree with what has been said but the information is incomplete,
build. Point out areas of agreement, and then add elements that were left
out of the discussion.
Compare your path with the other person, determine what they're trying to accomplish
Dialogue is not decision making
Before making a decision, decide how to decide
Decision Making styles
- Command (outside forces)
- Consult (1 person decides, fills pool)
- Vote (consensus with 2 or more options)
- Consensus (talk until everyone honestly agrees to one decision)
Before making decisions: Who cares? Who knows? Who must agree? How many people is it worth involving?
When making decisions: Who? Does what? By when? How will you follow up?
If multiple people share a task, who's responsible?
Spell out exact deliverables, no fuzziness. Use contrasting. Prototypes/examples are good.
Write down the details of conclusions, decisions, and assignments.
Don't get pulled into any one instance or your concern will seem trivial. Talk about overall pattern.
"Look for those areas that are most grievous to you and might not be all that
hard to talk about. Pick one element and work on it. Establish Mutual Purpose.
Frame the conversation in a way that the other person will care about."
What is your Style under Stress? Your family? Coworkers?
Trust is not binary, there are degrees of trust
Have a clear 'no surprises' rule, that folks should let you know of snags ASAP.