Crucial conversations are when opinions vary, stakes are high, and emotions run strong.
Such conversations have results that can have a huge impact on your quality of life.
When we face crucial conversations, we can avoid them, or we can face them and handle them poorly, or we can face them and handle them well.
Countless generations of genetic shaping drive us to handle crucial conversations with flying fists and fleet feet, not intelligent persuasion and gentle attentiveness.
Such conversations are extraordinarily difficult also because they are spontaneous, are difficult to rehearse for, and cause us to act in self-defeating ways.
The Law of Crucial Conversations says that the key skill of effective leaders, teammates, parents, and loved ones is the capacity to skillfully address emotionally and politically risky issues.
In the workplace, the individuals who are the most influential, or who can get things done and at the same time build on relationships, are those who master their crucial conversations.
Most leaders think organizational productivity and performance are simply about policies, processes, structures, or systems. But really it’s about employee behavior, where crucial conversations beget accountability.
In every relationship, the partners argue about important issues; but not everyone breaks up. It’s how you argue that matters.
People fall into three categories: Those who digress into threats and name-calling, those who revert to silent fuming, and those who speak openly, honestly, and effectively.
The negative feelings we hold in, the emotional pain we suffer, and the constant battering we endure as we stumble our way through unhealthy conversations slowly eat away at our health.
Those who master crucial conversations avoid the Fool’s Choice, where we think we must choose between telling the truth and keeping a friend, or between candor and kindness.
When it comes to risky, controversial, and emotional conversations, skilled people find a way to get all relevant information out into the open. We call this free flow of meaning dialogue.
Our opinions, feelings, theories, and experiences of a topic fill our personal pool of meaning. People who are skilled at dialogue do their best to make it safe for everyone to add their meaning to the shared pool.
As the pool of shared meaning grows, it exposes individuals to more accurate and relevant information, and so they make better choices. It is a measure of the group’s intelligence.
The pool of shared meaning is also the birthplace of synergy. From a free flow of meaning, we can create a whole that is truly greater than the sum of its original parts.
Because the meaning is shared, and everyone takes part in the free flow of meaning, people act on whatever decisions they make with both unity and conviction.
The time you spend up front establishing a shared pool of meaning is more than paid for by faster, more unified, and more committed action later on.
Whenever we find ourselves arguing, debating, running away, or otherwise acting in an ineffective way, it’s because we don’t know how to share meaning.
We have trouble watching both content and conditions in a crucial conversation: We are so caught up in what we’re trying to say that we don’t see what’s happening to ourselves and others.
In a conversation, look for the moment when it turns crucial, signs that people don’t feel safe (silence or violence), and your own Style under Stress.
To spot when a conversation turns crucial, look to yourself for a physical signal, a change in emotions, or a behavioral cue.
People who are gifted at dialogue keep a constant vigil on safety. They pay attention to the content and they watch for signs that people are becoming fearful.
Dialogue calls for the free flow of meaning, and nothing stops the flow of meaning like fear. Fear can cause you to both push too hard and to withdraw.
People rarely become defensive because of what you’re saying, but moreso because they no longer feel safe. The problem is not the content of your message, but the condition of the conversation.
Watching for safety violations allows you to restore the peripheral vision that narrows when you feel genuinely threatened, and to reengage your brain and its centers of higher reasoning.
Do not allow the actions of those who feel unsafe to beget fight or flight. Instead, recode the signs of violence or silence that people feel unsafe, and do something to create safety.
Silence is characterized by masking (such as sarcasm, sugarcoating, or couching), avoiding sensitive subjects, or withdrawing from the conversation altogether.
Violence consists of controlling (such as cutting others off, overstating facts, speaking in absolutes, etc.), labeling to dismiss others under a stereotype or category, or attacking through belittling or threatening.
You must also self-monitor. Pay close attention to what you’re doing and the impact it’s having, and then alter your strategy if necessary. Check whether you’re having a good or bad impact on safety.
The good fix safety issues by sugarcoating their message, but this avoids the real problem. The best don’t play games; they step out of the content of the conversation, make it safe, and then step back in.
Crucial conversations often go awry not because others dislike the content of the message, but because they believe the content suggests a malicious intent, thereby subverting safety.
Mutual Purpose is required to begin dialogue: Where others perceive that you’re working toward a common outcome, and that you care about their goals, interests, and values. And vice versa.
When Mutual Purpose is at risk, we end up in debate. Other signs include defensiveness, hidden agendas, accusations, and circling back to the same topic.
If you enter a conversation to get what you want, you will appear critical and selfish. Instead, find the Mutual Purpose: to draw someone willingly into a crucial conversation, see their point point of view.
Mutual Respect is required to continue dialogue: If someone perceives disrespect in the conversation, it is no longer about its original purpose, but about defending dignity.
When Mutual Purpose is at risk, emotions become charged and fear turns to anger. Then people resort to name-calling, yelling, and making threats.
Recognize that we all have weaknesses; this creates a kinship and connection to others, which creates a Mutual Respect and eventually enables us to stay in dialogue with virtually anyone.
When you’ve made a mistake that hurts others, start with a sincere apology. You must give up saving face, being right, or winning in order to achieve healthy dialogue and better results.
Contrasting is a skill that first addresses others’ concerns that you don’t respect them or that you have a malicious purpose, and then confirms your respect or clarifies your real purpose.
Contrasting is not apologizing. It is not a way of taking back something we’ve said that hurt others’ feelings, but a way of ensuring that what we said didn’t hurt more than it should have.
Use contrast to provide context and proportion for your words, and to also bolster safety when you are about to drop into the pool of meaning something that could cause a splash of defensiveness.
If you are in the middle of a debate because each side has a different purpose, seek to create Mutual Purpose using the four skills in the acronym CRIB.
Commit to seek a mutual purpose: Commit to stay in the conversation until we invent a solution that serves a purpose we both share. Verbalize this even if the other person seems committed to winning.
Recognize the purpose behind the strategy: Separate strategies, or what you’re asking for, from the purpose, or what you actually want. This can create new options that can serve both of your interests.
Invent a mutual purpose: If you cannot discover a Mutual Purpose for dialogue, invent one by moving to more encompassing goals. Find an objective that is more meaningful or more rewarding.
Brainstorm new strategies: Once committed to finding something that everyone can support and surfaced what you really want, you’ll no longer be spending your time on unproductive conflict.
Before a crucial conversation begins, think about which skills will help you must. A little progress can produce a lot of benefit.
Others don’t create emotions for you; you create your own emotions. And then, when you create strong emotions, you either find a way to master them or fall hostage to them.
The worst at dialogue treat their emotions as the only valid response, falling hostage to their emotions without even realizing it.
The best at dialogue act on their emotions, influencing and often changing their emotions by thinking them out, thereby making it possible to choose behaviors that create better results.
After we observe what others do and before we feel an emotion, we tell ourselves a story, adding meaning, guessing at motive, and adding judgment before responding with emotion.
Stories are our interpretations of the facts, providing a rationale for what’s going on. We use them to explain the why, how, and what.
Any set of facts can be used to tell an infinite number of stories; by taking control of our stories, they won’t control us.
To take control, first take an honest look at your behavior. If an unhelpful story is driving you to silence or violence, stop and consider how others would see your actions.
Next, stop and think about your feelings. Most people are emotionally illiterate; expand your vocabulary to better know how you feel, and more understand what is going on and why.
Then, question your feelings, thereby allowing you to question your stories. This will allow you to develop new stories, and thereby develop new feelings.
Separate stories from facts. Test whether you can see or hear what you’re calling a “fact,” and look in stories for words that express judgments and attributions that create strong emotions.
When we feel a need to justify our ineffective behavior or disconnect ourselves in bad results, we tend to tell ourselves one of three “clever stories.”
“Victim stories” make us innocent while ignoring our own role in the problem; “villain stories” assume the worst motives or grossest incompetence for others while ignoring any possible good intentions or skills.
These stories form a double standard: When we make mistakes, we tell a victim story; when others make mistakes, we tell a villain story.
“Helpless stories” make us out to be powerless to do anything healthy or helpful, thereby justifying the action we’re about to take.
Villain stories and victim stories look back to explain the situation we’re in, while helpless stories look forward to explain why we can’t do anything to change our situation.
We often tell clever stories to excuse ourselves of any responsibility, or to justify our actions when we consciously act against our own sense of what’s right.
Clever stories are incomplete and omit information about us, others, and our options. To add details, turn victims into actors, villains into humans, and the helpless into the able.
These details create a useful story, which creates emotions that lead to healthy action, such as dialogue.
When humanizing “villains,” we relax our absolute certainty long enough to allow for dialogue, which is the only reliable way to discover others’ genuine emotions.