Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High

Crucial Conversations

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan, and Switzer, (New York: McGraw Hill, 2011).

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Crucial Conversations Synopsis

In the book, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, authors equip readers with the tools for handling tough discussions, such as disagreements and high-stakes communications. Based on 25 years of research, this book provides insights into what makes a successful communicator.

Learning how to navigate these conversations is an important for anyone who is ambitious and goal driven. When crucial conversations are not being had, they prevent people from achieving their goals or reaching a desired result. Being able to speak up in these key moments will enable you to reach your desired results. Additionally, there are three typical responses to crucial conversations. People either avoid the conversation, face them and handle them poorly, or face them and handle them well. Because of the value of crucial conversations, it is important for people to cultivate the skills to face these conversations and handle them well.

Key idea #1 – The pool of shared meaning

Organizations that are able to share ideas, theories, and feelings openly amass a pool of shared meaning. This pool contains lots of information, which enables better and faster decision making. By being able to make better decisions, organizations can drive better results.

While there are other ways to fill the pool with information, none are nearly as fast and effective. Structured methods of eliciting information from individuals will take time. Moreover, having to resort to such a method does not create a candid culture. This means that there maybe some valuable information that is not being presented.

Key idea #2 – Silence and Violence

When crucial conversations go wrong or are avoided, this can breed silence and violence. This does not mean physical violence. Instead, it refers to the mental attacks we make on others’ ideas. For example, we may opt to hold everything inside rather than having a crucial conversation. Over time, the things we hold in bundle up until we can no longer hold our silence. As a result, we begin to irrationally attack the others’ ideas or worse we behave in ways that are counter productive.

To address silence and violence, one must change their own behavior first. Analyze and understand your own role in the problem. Also, be objective and honest by asking yourself, “What do I really want?” In situations where all options are poor, replace either or thinking with and think.

Key idea #3 – Create safety

The best way to approach a crucial conversation is to create safety for yourself and others. Make it safe to talk about almost anything. One of the pitfalls of a crucial conversation is water down or skirt around the actual problem or topic because we assume the content will be the issue. However, if one focuses on demonstrating their intent and making it safe to discuss anything, this will lead to better conversations. To make a person feel safe, you must reach mutual purpose. This means letting the person know that you care about their best interest and what they want to achieve. Additionally, they need to know that you respect them. This is done by demonstrating that you care about them. By having both mutual purpose and respect, the other party can feel that your intentions are pure. Thus, despite the content being more candid, they will understand that it comes from the right place.

Key idea #4 – Speak persuasively

When sharing your idea, it can be easy to isolate and or offend an individual. This is more so the case if your opinion contradicts theirs. To help maintain openness, one should learn how to speak persuasively and avoid abrasiveness. This means finding a way to be open and express your opinions while avoiding offending the other party. To do this, speak with confidence, be humble, and sincerely invite others to share their opinion. The authors use the acronym, STATE, for helping individuals remember how to share their messages.

Share your facts

Tell your story

Ask for others’ paths

Talk tentatively

Encourage testing

Key idea #5 – Help other parties focus on facts

In addition to creating a safe space for open dialogue, it is important for individuals to be able to spot when safety is at risk. Being able to keep crucial conversations open is key to reaching effectiveness. When one party begins to waiver from safety, they may begin to exercise silence and violence. If the party enters too far into this, it will be difficult to regain their trust and reopen the dialogue. This becomes very costly and will thwart all existing progress.

If you notice someone beginning to clam up or move into silence, bring them back. Encourage them to share their Path to Action. Ask them to explain their emotions. By asking these questions, you can help the other individual focus on the facts and move away from knee-jerk reactions and defensiveness. If you find yourself moving into silence, lead with curiosity. Ask yourself what would a rational person see of this situation.

Key idea #6 – Action and results are key

The objective of a crucial conversation is to have both parties move forward. This requires action from both parties. Having a crucial conversation is the first step. However, the follow up is just as important. Once the parties have had a crucial conversation, agree on the outstanding actions and a time to follow-up. Document the discussion and outstanding action items. And most importantly, actually follow up with one another.

Following up is as crucial as the conversation as it demonstrates and develops accountability between the parties. Accountability cannot occur if there are no opportunities to account for action. Thus, by creating items to follow up with, we allow for the parties to demonstrate their commitment. Even a simple check-in after a few weeks is sufficient.

Key takeaways

  • Creating a safe space is important for facilitating crucial conversations.
  • When sharing your story, ensure that you are speaking confidently and humbly; use STATE to encourage an open dialogue.
  • Actions through follow up are as key as the crucial conversation itself.

Crucial Conversations Authors

Kerry Patterson is the cofounder of corporate training and leadership development firm, VitalSmarts. He is a prolific author with multiple best-selling titles, such as Crucial Conversations and Crucial Accountability. In addition to his abundant busines career, Patterson also taught at Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Management.

Joseph Grenny is a business social scientist who has spent over 30 years researching organizations, their leaders, and high performance. He has coauthored four New York Times bestsellers and is recognized globally as a keynote speaker. Grenny is also recognized as the protégé of famous American-Canadian psychologist, Albert Bandura. Grenny’s work includes helping millions of individuals at Fortune 500 companies reach higher performance through human behavior.

Ron McMillan is the coauthor and keynote speaker. He has worked with many prestigious companies like Nike, AT&T, and Lockheed Martin. He is also a co-founder of VitalSmarts.

Al Switzler is the fourth co-author of Crucial Conversations. He has also penned multiple New York Times bestsellers in addition to co-founding VitalSmarts.

Related readings for Crucial Conversations

Professional Leadership Institute (PLI) is an educational website providing professionals from all types of businesses with practical education in human resources and leadership. To keep evolving your leadership toolkit, additional PLI resources below will be useful:

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