Crucial conversations are defined as discussions between two people where stakes are high, opinions vary and emotions run strong. These are day-to-day occurrences that affect everyone’s business and life. The book creates a case that we avoid or mishandle crucial conversations regularly. Our knee jerk response to a differing opinion or strong emotions often involves fists and feet not intelligence and attentiveness. The consequences of either avoiding or messing up one’s crucial conversations can be quite severe, as every aspect of people’s lives can be affected, from the personal (relationships with loved ones, friends and co-members of interest groups, our health) to the professional (careers and the communities people belong). Learning how to face crucial conversations and how to handle them well is also learning how to influence just about every aspect of people’s lives.
The key to success in conversing is being open and honest in expressing opinions, feelings and theories, willingly sharing views even when the ideas in question are controversial or unpopular. This free flow of meaning is known as dialogue. Many people engage by forms of silence or aggression. See if you can find your own misbehaviors in the chart below.
Refuses to discuss certain problems
Mastering Crucial Conversations
The key to success in conversing is being open and honest in expressing opinions, feelings and theories, willingly sharing views even when the ideas in question are controversial or unpopular. This free flow of meaning is known as dialogue. People skilled at dialogue try to make it safe for everyone conversing to bring their inputs out into the open – into a ‘shared pool’. As the ‘shared pool’ is added to, it grows. As this happens, people benefit: as they are exposed to more accurate and relevant information, they make better choices, and people also willingly act on whatever decisions they all make. The pool of shared meaning is the birthplace of synergy. These dialogue skills are quite easy to spot and moderately easy to learn.
Start with Heart. Your heart. Skilled people always start with heart.
The first step to mastering dialogue is to gain an understanding of oneself. The first principle, therefore, is “Work on me first.” If you can’t get yourself right, you’ll have a hard time getting dialogue right. One of the first steps to doing so is to understand that when faced with a failed conversation, you are far too quick to blame other people. Although in some instances you really are completely innocent of any wrongdoing, this is rarely the case; more often that not, people do something that contributes to the trouble they experience. People who are best at dialogue understand not only this simple fact, but also realize that they’re the only person they can work on anyway – the only person you can continually prod and shape (with any degree of success at any rate) is the one you see in the mirror.
Ask Three Questions
Check to see if you’re telling yourself to choose between winning and losing or peace and honesty, for example. Clarify what you don’t want, add that to what you do want, and ask yourself to start looking for healthy options to return to dialogue.
Learn to Look
Learn to look at both content and conditions. You can get so caught up in what you’re saying (content) that it can be nearly impossible to pull out of the argument to see what’s happening to you and to others (conditions).Learn to look to see if others are moving toward silence or violence.
I. Silence – purposefully withholding information from the conversation; done to avoid potential problems. Three forms:
Masking – understating or selectively showing true opinions (sarcasm and sugar-coating are examples)
Avoiding – steering away from sensitive topics
Withdrawing – pulling out of a conversation altogether
II. Violence – any verbal strategy done to convince, control or compel others to one’s point of view. Three forms:
For outbreaks of your Style under Stress – it’s imperative to watch for your own behavior and become vigilant self-monitors. Do you use silence or violence when dialogue fails? Are you a masker or avoider, for instance?
Make It Safe
When others move to silence or violence, that’s the time to step out of the conversation and ‘make it safe’. Only if and when safety is restored can you return to the issue at hand and continue the dialogue. Two conditions of safety exist:
Mutual purpose – others perceive that you are working toward a common goal in the conversation, that you care about their goals, interests and values and vice versa. When purpose is at risk, you end up in debate.
Mutual respect – the continuance condition of dialogue; if respect is taken away, that is all people can think about. When respect is at risk, people become emotional and highly charged.
How exactly we can ‘make it safe’?
There are three hard-hitting skills to employ to do this.
1. Apologize when appropriate.
2. Contrast to fix misunderstanding – when others misunderstand either your purpose or intent, use contrasting. Start with what you don’t intend or mean, and then explain what you do intend or mean.
3. Use ‘CRIB’ to get back to mutual purpose.
Commit to seek mutual purpose – make a public decision to stay in the conversation until you find something that serves everyone.
Recognize the purpose behind the strategy – ask people why they want what they want.
Invent a mutual purpose – see if you can invent a longer-term or higher purpose more motivating than what is keeping you in conflict.
Brainstorm for new strategies to search for a solution for everyone.
Master My Stories: This is the work that goes on Inside you
This chapter shows how to gain control of crucial conversations by learning how to take charge of your emotions.
If strong emotions are keeping you stuck in silence or violence, try doing the following:
Retrace your pathA story is created when you add meaning to an action you observe. Emotions then enter afterwards.
Try to notice your behavior. Finding yourself moving away from dialogue? Ask yourself what you’re really doing. (“Am I in some form of silence or violence?”)
Get in touch with your feelings. Learn to accurately identify the emotions behind your story. (“What emotions are encouraging me to act this way?”)
Analyze your stories. Question your conclusions; look for other possible explanations behind your story. (“What story is creating these emotions?”)
Get back to the facts. Abandon absolute certainty by distinguishing between hard facts and your made-up story. (“What evidence do I have to support this story?”)
Watch out for clever stories: Victim (“It’s not my fault”), Villain (“It’s all your fault”) and Helpless (“There’s nothing else I can do”) stories. These stories are always incomplete: they leave out crucial information about what really happened.
Tell the rest of the story. It’s important that you do what it takes to tell a useful story – one that creates emotions leading to healthy action, such as dialogue.
You must turn victims into actors, and not pretend not to notice your role in the problem.
You must turn villains into humans, and see them as reasonable, decent and rational.
You must turn the helpless into the able, and ask yourselves what you really want – and, moreover, what you would do right now if you really wanted these results.
This is the Work You need to Share Out Loud.
So it’s come time to open your mouth and share your pool of meaning. When you have a tough message to share, or when you’re so sure you’re right that you may end up pushing too hard, make sure you do the following:
Share your facts. Start with the least controversial, most persuasive elements from your Path to Action – facts, which are by far the least controversial and the most persuasive.
Tell your story. Explain what you’re beginning to conclude based on the facts you shared.
Ask for others’ paths. Encourage others to do what you’ve just done by sharing both their facts and their stories.
Talk tentatively. State your story for what it is, a story – don’t disguise it as a fact.
Encourage testing. Make it safe for others to express differing or opposing views by making it clear that you want to hear these views – and mean it.
Explore Others’ Paths. After telling others what you want to tell them, it’s quid pro quo time – time for you to listen to what they have to say in return. Encourage the free flow of meaning and help others leave silence and/or violence behind.
It’s always best to start with curiosity and patience to help restore safety. Then you can use the four powerful listening skills to help trace the other person’s Path to Action to its origins.
Ask. Begin by expressing interest in the other person’s view or views.
Mirror. Increase safety by acknowledging the emotions that people appear to be feeling. (Do this out of respect for them.)
Paraphrase. As the other party or parties begin to share part of their story, restate what they’re telling you, to show not only that you understand but that it’s safe for them to share what they’re thinking and feeling.
Prime. If the other party or parties are holding back, prime them by taking your best guess at what they may be thinking and feeling and act accordingly.
After this it’ll be your turn to talk.
As your share your views, remember the ABCs:
Move to Action
Now that you know how to have successful crucial conversations, transform them into great decisions. Separate dialogue from decision-making (just because everyone is allowed to share their meaning doesn’t mean that all are guaranteed part in making decisions) and avoid inaction.
Four methods of decision-making:
1. Command – decisions are made without involving others and their inputs.
2. Consult – input is gathered from the group, and a subset of the group makes the decision.
3. Vote – an agreed-upon number sways the decision.
4. Consensus – all the members of the group come to an agreement and support the final decision.
Tips to help you finish clearly:
Given these challenges, can people actually change? The answer is, yes people can! Here are four principles for turning ideas into action.
First, master the content. Learn to generate new scripts of your own.
Second, master the skills. Enact these new scripts in a way that is consistent with the supporting principles. It’s not at all enough to simply understand a concept; you have to ‘walk the talk’.
Third, enhance your motive. You must want to change; you have to care enough about your crucial conversation skills to actually want to do something.
Fourth, watch for cues. To overcome surprise, emotion and old scripts, you have to recognize the call to action. Failure to do so is usually people’s biggest obstacle to change.
I so hope that some of these tools will help you to diffuse any rough spots and let your light shine.