Book of the Quarter: Crucial Conversations

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler; Copyright © 2012 by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, and Ron McMillan; published by McGraw Hill; New York; Kindle ISBN: 978-0-07-177132-0

My take-away from this book is when you are initiating a difficult conversation, make it easy for the other person(s) to tell the truth — to say what is on their mind. Eliminate threats. Keep your power under control (meekness). Listen. Ask questions. Listen

Here are “mustard seeds” I highlighted:

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. —GEORGE BERNARD SHAW (page 1, Kindle Edition).

Despite the importance of crucial conversations, we often back away from them because we fear we’ll make matters worse. We’ve become masters at avoiding tough conversations. Coworkers send e-mail to each other when they should walk down the hall and talk turkey. Bosses leave voice mail in lieu of meeting with their direct reports. Family members change the subject when an issue gets too risky (page 3, Kindle Edition).

Crucial Conversation kroo shel kän´ vrusa´ shen) n A discussion between two or more people where (1) stakes are high, (2) opinions vary, and (3) emotions run strong (page 3,4, Kindle Edition).

In truth, when we face crucial conversations, we can do one of three things:

  • We can avoid them.
  • We can face them and handle them poorly.
  • We can face them and handle them well (page 4, Kindle Edition).

The key to real change lies not in implementing a new process, but in getting people to hold one another accountable to the process. And that requires Crucial Conversations skills (page 13, Kindle Edition).

When stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions start to run strong, casual conversations transform into crucial ones. Ironically, the more crucial the conversation, the less likely we are to handle it well. The consequences of either avoiding or fouling up crucial conversations can be severe. When we fail a crucial conversation, every aspect of our lives can be affected—from our careers, to our communities, to our relationships, to our personal health.

And now for the good news. As we learn how to step up to crucial conversations—and handle them well—with one set of high-leverage skills we can influence virtually every domain of our lives (page 18, Kindle Edition).

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. —MARTIN LUTHER KING JR (page 19, Kindle Edition).

But everyone besides Kevin believed they had to make a choice between two bad alternatives.

  • Option 1: Speak up and turn the most powerful person in the company into their sworn enemy.
  • Option 2: Suffer in silence and make a bad decision that might ruin the company.

The mistake most of us make in our crucial conversations is we believe that we have to choose between telling the truth and keeping a friend (page 21, 22, Kindle Edition).

When it comes to risky, controversial, and emotional conversations, skilled people find a way to get all relevant information (from themselves and others) out into the open (page 23, Kindle Edition).

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 (page 24, Kindle Edition).

On the other hand, we’ve all seen what happens when the shared pool is dangerously shallow. When people purposefully withhold meaning from one another, individually smart people can do collectively stupid things (page 24, Kindle Edition).

Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret. —AMBROSE BIERCE (page 33, Kindle Edition).

Although it’s true that there are times when we are merely bystanders in life’s never ending stream of head-on collisions, rarely are we completely innocent. More often than not, we do something to contribute to the problems we’re experiencing.

People who are best at dialogue understand this simple fact and turn it into the principle “Work on me first, us second” (page 35, Kindle Edition).

When under attack, our heart can take a similarly sudden and unconscious turn. When faced with pressure and strong opinions, we often stop worrying about the goal of adding to the pool of meaning and start looking for ways to win, punish, or keep the peace (page 38, Kindle Edition).

You can ask these questions either when you find yourself slipping out of dialogue or as reminders when you prepare to step up to a crucial conversation. Here are some great ones:

What do I really want for myself?

What do I really want for others?

What do I really want for the relationship?

Once you’ve asked yourself what you want, add one more equally telling question:

How would I behave if I really wanted these results? (page 43, Kindle Edition).

I have known a thousand scamps; but I never met one who considered himself so. Self-knowledge isn’t so common. —OUIDA (page 51, Kindle Edition).

This is a pretty remarkable claim. Think about it. We’re suggesting that people rarely become defensive simply because of what you’re saying. They only become defensive when they no longer feel safe. The problem is not the content of your message, but the condition of the conversation (page 55, 56, Kindle Edition).

People were always talking about how mean this guy was who lived on our block. But I decided to go see for myself. I went to his door, but he said he wasn’t the mean guy, the mean guy lived in that house over there. “No, you stupid idiot,” I said, “that’s my house” — Jack Handy (page 62, Kindle Edition).

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A rather clever person once hinted how to do this in the form of a prayer—“Lord, help me forgive those who sin differently than I” (page 80, Kindle Edition).

Remember, when your behavior has given someone cause to doubt your respect or commitment to Mutual Purpose, your conversation is likely to end up in silly game playing and frustrating misunderstandings until you offer a sincere apology (page 84, Kindle Edition).

Analyze Your Stories
Question your feelings and stories. Once you’ve identified what you’re feeling, you have to stop and ask, given the circumstances, is it the right feeling? Meaning, of course, are you telling the right story? After all, feelings come from stories, and stories are our own invention (page 114, Kindle Edition).

It’s the second kind of story that routinely gets us into trouble. For example, we move to silence or violence, and then we come up with a perfectly plausible reason for why it’s okay. “Of course I yelled at him. Did you see what he did? He deserved it.” “Hey, don’t be giving me the evil eye. I had no other choice.” We call these imaginative and self-serving concoctions “clever stories.” They’re clever because they allow us to feel good about behaving badly. Better yet, they allow us to feel good about behaving badly even while achieving abysmal results (page 116, Kindle Edition).

Not only do Villain Stories help us blame others for bad results, but they also set us up to then do whatever we want to the “villains.” After all, we can feel okay insulting or abusing a bonehead—whereas we might have to be more careful with a living, breathing person. Then when we fail to get the results we really want, we stay stuck in our ineffective behavior because, after all, look who we’re dealing with! (page 118, Kindle Edition).

We sell out when we consciously act against our own sense of what’s right. And after we’ve sold out, we have only two choices: own up to our sellout, or try to justify it. And if we don’t admit to our errors, we inevitably look for ways to justify them. That’s when we begin to tell clever stories (page 120, Kindle Edition).

When we don’t admit to our own mistakes, we obsess about others’ faults, our innocence, and our powerlessness to do anything other than what we’re already doing. We tell a clever story when we want self-justification more than results. Of course, self-justification is not what we really want, but we certainly act as if it is (page 122, Kindle Edition).

And what transforms a clever story into a useful one? The rest of the story. That’s because clever stories have one characteristic in common: They’re incomplete. Clever stories omit crucial information about us, about others, and about our options. Only by including all of these essential details can clever stories be transformed into useful ones (page 123, Kindle Edition).

People who are skilled at dialogue have the confidence to say what needs to be said to the person who needs to hear it. They are confident that their opinions deserve to be placed in the pool of meaning. They are also confident that they can speak openly without brutalizing others or causing undue offence (page 133, Kindle Edition).

One of the best ways to persuade others is with your ears—by listening to them. —DEAN RUSK (page 155, Kindle Edition).

Be curious. When you do want to hear from others (and you should because it adds to the pool of meaning), the best way to get at the truth is by making it safe for them to express the stories that are moving them to either silence or violence. This means that at the very moment when most people become furious, we need to become curious (page 157, Kindle Edition).

To do nothing is in every man’s power. —SAMUEL JOHNSON (page 177, Kindle Edition).

The two riskiest times in crucial conversations tend to be at the beginning and at the end. The beginning is risky because you have to find a way to create safety or else things go awry. The end is dicey because if you aren’t careful about how you clarify the conclusion and decisions flowing from your Pool of Shared Meaning, you can run into violated expectations later on (page 178, Kindle Edition).

I can win an argument on any topic, against any opponent. People know this, and steer clear of me at parties. Often, as a sign of their great respect, they don’t even invite me. —DAVE BARRY (page 211, Kindle Edition).

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Jerrie Barber
Servant of Jesus, husband to Gail, father to Jerrie Wayne Barber, II and Christi Parsons, grandfather, great-grandfather, Interim Preacher, Shepherd coach, Ventriloquist, barefoot runner, ride a cruiser bicycle

2 Responses to “Book of the Quarter: Crucial Conversations

  • I find this truth to be sadly ubiquitous: “we’ve become masters at avoiding difficult conversations.”
    Also, the quote of Ambrose Bierce about a “speech” made when angry isa gem.
    Thank you for sharing your mustard seeds!

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