Revisiting Crucial Conversations

It's inevitable. Interact with people, and you'll find a need for knowing how to have crucial conversations and/or confrontations. Since it's been awhile, I thought I might share some of my notes and a presentation I created a few years ago.

Go Crucial - Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Over time, I've realized that while these books are very helpful to me, for others, they may not be. After all, one's brain absorbs what it needs or thinks it needs, and that's true in this case.

Some of my favorite take-aways from the books, I keep written in memo pad that I carry around with me.

Whenever I believe I'll be having a crucial conversation/confrontation, or simply want to review, I revisit my notes...the following is my "cheat sheet" so I don't have to read the books over again. However, I would definitely encourage you to visit or Barnes and Noble ( and pick up copies of these powerful books, Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations.

The authors also have some other titles worth checking out, such as Influencers. I encourage you to take these books a bit at a time and practice their principles in your daily work, whether you are a manager or CEO. This stuff is gold but it's so easy to skip over it with the mistaken perception that "Oh, this is common sense or I already do this." You may think you do, but I encourage you to try "the formula" for crucial conversations.

I honestly wish I'd read these book a decade or more ago. They would have profoundly changed how I interact with others. Ah well, we get wiser as we get older if we're fortunate.

In the meantime, here are my notes from the books...any mistakes are my own.

Crucial Conversations
--What do I really want? For myself? For others?
--How would I behave if I really wanted those results?

1) Clarify what you really want
2) Clarify what you really don't want.
3) Present your brain with a more complex problem.

Masking - understating/selectively showing our true opinions...Sarcasm, sugarcoating, couching.

Avoiding - Steering completely away from sensitive subjects. Don't address real issues.

Withdrawing - Pull-out of conversation completely.

Any verbal strategy that attempts to convince, control or compel others.

Controlling -  Coercing others to your way of thinking. Cutting others off, overstating your facts, speaking in absolutes, changing subjects, asking directive question.

Labelling - Putting a label on people or ideas so we can dismiss them under a general stereotype or category.

Attacking - Being belittling and threatening.

When you look around, evaluate conditions and realize that it doesn't feel safe, take these steps:
• Step Out.
•Make it safe then step back into the flow of conversation.

One way to accomplish that:

"Can we change gears for a minute? It would be good if we could both share what's working and what isn't. My goal isn't to make you feel guilty, and I certainly don't want to become defensive. What I'd really love is for us to come up with a solution."

Conditions of Safety
1) Mutual Purpose: 
  • Do others believe I care about their goals in this conversation?
  • Do they trust my motives?

2) Mutual Respect:
  • Do others believe I respect them?
  • What are ways in which we are similar?

To rebuild mutual purpose or mutual respect, use 3 skills:

• Apologize - When you've made a mistake thhat has hurt others, start with a sincere apology.
• Contrast - Contrasting is a don't/do statement that:

1. Addresses others' concerns that you don't respect them or that you have a malicious purpose.
2. Confirms your respect or clarifies your real purpose.
"Let me put this in perspective. I don't want you to think I'm not satisfied with the quality of your work. I really do think you're doing a good job. This punctuality issue is important to me, and I'd just like you to work on that. If you will be more attentive to that, there are no other issues."
• Create a mutual purpose: Use the following 4 skills to create mutual purpose:
1. Commit to seek mutual purpose.
2. Recognize purpose behind strategy.
3. Invent a mutual purpose
4. Brainstorm new strategies.

Four approaches:
1) Make a unilateral public commitment to stay in the conversation until you come up with something that serves everyone.
2) Ask people why they want what they're pushing for.
3) If after clarifying everyone's purpose, you are still at odds, see if you can't invent a higher or longer-term purpose that is more motivating than the ones that keep you in conflict.
4) With a clear mutual purpose, you can join forces in searching for a solution that serves everyone.
Retrace Your Path to Action
1) Act - Notice your behavior. Am I in some form of silence or violence?
2) Feel - What emotions are encouraging me to act this way?
3) Tell Story - What story is creating these emotions?
4) See/Hear - What evidence do I have to support this story?

Types of Stories
• Victim - Not my fault
• Villain - All your fault
• Helpless - Nothing else I can do.

Flip the Clever Story:
• Am I pretending not to notice my role in the problem?
• Why would a reasonable, rational decent person do what this person is doing?
• What do I really want? For me? For others? For the relationship?
• What would I do right now if I really wanted these results?

Contrasting Statements
"I know this is difficult and I don't want to upset you; I just want to make sure we consider everything we area dealing with."

Tentative Statements
"I'm beginning to feel that you are an upset with me. Did I do something to make you angry?"

Share your facts
Tell your story
Ask for others' paths
Talk tentatively
Encourage testing.

Talking tentatively means that we tell our story as a story rather than disguising it as a hard fact.

Perhaps you are unaware...
In my opinion....
I'm beginning to wonder if...
I'm starting to feel like you...

Invite Opposing Views
• What am I missing here? I'd really like to hear the other side of the story?

Mean It
• "I know people have been reluctant to speak up about this, but I would really love to hear from everyone."
• "I know there are at least 2 sides to this story. Could we hear differing views now? What problems could this decision cause us?"

Model Disagreeing
• "Maybe I'm wrong here. What if the opposite is true?"

Share your facts.
Tell your story
Ask for other's paths.
Talk tentatiely Encourage testing.

1) Learn to look beyond content to conditions.
2) Tone down your approach.
3) Catch Yourself.

Share Your Facts
Start with the least controversial, most persuasive elements from your path to action.

Tell Your Story
Explain what you're beginning to conclude.

Ask for other's paths.
Encourage others to share both their facts and their stories.

Talk tentatively
State your story as a story--don't disguise it as a fact.

Encourage Testing
Make it safe for others to express differing/opposing views.

Try AMPP approach
Ask, Mirror, Paraphrase, Prime.

Mirroring is most useful when another person's tone of voice or gestures are inconsistent with his or her words. Some examples:
• You say you're OK, but by the tone of your voice, you seem upset.
• You seem angry at me.
• You look nervous about confronting him. Are you sure you're willing to do it?

If you do disagree, compare your path with the other person's. Rather than suggesting that he or she is wrong, suggest that you differ. Start with a tentative but candid opening such as:
"I think I see things differently. Let me describe how."

Agree when you agree. Build when others leave out key pieces. Compare when you differ.

Ask:  Start by simply expressing interest in the other person's views.
Mirror: Increase safety by respectfully acknowledging the emotions people appear to be feeling.
Paraphrase: As others begin to share part of their story, restate what you've heard to show not just that you understand, but also that it's safe for them to share what they're thinking.
Prime: If others continue to hold back, prime. Take your best guess at what they may be thinking and feeling.

As you begin to share your views, remember to agree when you share views, build when others leave something out, agree where you share views then build. And, compare. When you do differ significantly, don't suggest others are wrong. Compare your two views.

When teams meet and generate a host of ideas, they often fail to convert the ideas into action for two reasons:
• They have unclear expectations about how decisions will be made.
• They do a poor job acting on the decisions they do make.

Four common ways to make decisions:
• Command
• Consult
• Voe
• Consensus
Suggestions for leaders:
• Make a list of some of the important decisions made. Then, discover how each decision is currently made and how each decision should be made--using the 4 question method:
1) Who cares?
2) Who knows?
3) Who must agree?
4) How many people is it worth involving?
After discussing each decision, decide how you will make decisions in the future...make sure to ask, who does what by when? How will you follow up?
Talking: "I'd like to talk about something that's getting in the way of my working with you. It's a tough issue to bring up, but I think it'll help us be better teammates if I do. Is that OK? [Describe issue then...] I'd thought I'd bring these up because they send a message that makes me uncomfortable. How do you see it?"
Learn to look for patterns, don't focus exclusively on a single event. Practice CPR:
For first incident, focus on content.
For second incident, identify the pattern.
For the third or more, talk about how repeated pattern affects relationships.

Crucial Conversations

  1. “Each of us enters conversations with our own opinions, feelings, theories, and experiences about the topic at hand. This unique combination of thoughts and feelings makes up our personal pool of meaning. This pool not only informs us but also propels our ever action.”
  2. “When two or more of us enter crucial conversations, by definition we don’t share the same pool. Our opinions differ. I believe one thing, you another. I have one history, you another.”
  3. “People who are skilled at dialogue do their best to make it safe for everyone to add their meaning to the shared pool—even ideas that at first glance appear controversial, wrong, or at odds with their own beliefs. Now, obviously they don’t agree with every idea; they simply do their best to ensure that all ideas find their way into the open. The time you spend up front establishing a shared pool of meaning is more than paid for by faster, more committed action later on.”

  • Don’t fall prey to a Sucker’s Choice. A Sucker’s Choice is a this or a that, an either / or … etc. The assumption is that you have to trade one thing for another.
  • Find an “and” solution over “either / or“. Find a way to have it both ways. Challenge yourself to seek the higher ground.
  • Know what you want and what you don’t want. Stating what you want and don’t want are powerful because they clarify your intentions. Clarifying what you don’t want can be particularly powerful because of the principle of contrast. It can can also help take away perceived threats. Clarifying intentions is an important step because it’s easy to get lost in the content and lose sight of the real intentions. Your intentions guide you through your dialogue.

  • Crucial Confrontations

    1. When problems arise, in the worst companies people will withdraw into silence. In the best companies, people will hold a crucial confrontation, face to face and in the moment. And they'll hold it well.
    2. If you find yourself having the same problem-solving discussion over and over again, it's likely there's another more important problem you need to address.
    3. CPR = 

      1. Content-what happened; 
      2. Pattern- what has been happening over time; 
      3. Relationship - What's happening to us. The issue is not that other people have disappointed you repeatedly; it's that the string of disappointments has caused you to lose trust in them. "This is starting to put a strain on how we work together. I feel like I have to nag you to keep you in line and I don't like doing that. I guess my fear is that I can't trust you to keep the agreements you make."
      1. People feel unsafe when they believe one of two things: a) You don't respect them as a human being (you lack mutual respect); b) You don't care about their goals (you lack mutual purpose).
      2. Contrasting: To deal with predictable misinterpretation when discussing a problem with another person, take these steps: 1) Imagine what others might erroneously conclude; 2) Immediately explain that this is what you don't mean; 3) Explain what you do mean.
      3. AMPP = 
        1. Ask to get the conversation rolling; 
        2. Mirror to Encourage; 
        3. Paraphrase for understanding; 
        4. Prime to make it safe for the other person to open up.
      4. WWWF = Who does WHAT by WHEN - Follow-up

      Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


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