Communicating Through ‘Crucial Conversations’

If I had a nickel for every critical interaction in my life that, within seconds of it happening, I wanted desperately to have a ”do over.” These conversations, usually fed by some emotionally charged position from one side or another, often led to a total MIS-communication rather than any productive or effective communication. It usually turns out that only AFTER such a conversation do I realize where the whole thing went south…  And the damage was done.

In this book Crucial Conversations, authors Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzler outline key elements and patterns of what most people would call “difficult” interactions.  These can include performance reviews, conflict resolution, or other heart to heart discussions at work, and then often typical interactions at home between spouses, siblings, teachers, or even some neighbors…

The authors define a ‘crucial conversation’ as “A discussion between two or more people where (1) stakes are high, (2) opinions vary, and (3) emotions run strong” and the outcome greatly impacts their lives.”

Not surprisingly, one critical theme in the process is actively listening rather than actively telling. Finding a common ground, rather than a direct focus on the differences (only 5%-10% of the facts/stories are usually in dispute, but will dominate the conversation and fuel emotion and disruption). Achieving a common ground by asking for their views and perceptions, and then applying that to a common goal for the interaction will amplify the potential success of the interaction.

The book offers several learning techniques for the skills presented, including the STATE mnemonic for discussing sensitive subjects:

  • Share your facts
  • Tell your story
  • Ask for others’ ‘paths’
  • Talk tentatively
  • Encourage testing

Another great tool in the book is a series of outlines on how to apply the principles to very specific types of difficult personality types (i.e. deference to authority) and specific crisis moments (i.e. handling sexual harassment).

The result is an outstanding book with well delivered approaches to handling crucial conversations, likely a tool for the vast majority of us, both at home and the office.

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About Frank

Consultant to small business owner/operators who want to grow their income, improve their efficiency, and implement successful systems to maximize productivity.
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