(by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler)
Chapter 1: What is a Crucial Conversation?
- 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.
Chapter 2: Mastering Crucial Conversations
- 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.
Chapter 3: Start with Heart
- The first step of achieving the results that we really want is to fix the problem of believing that others are the source of all that ails us.
- People who are best at dialogue realize that the only person we can continually inspire, prod, and shape with any degree of success is the person in the mirror.
- Skilled people Start with Heart; that is, they begin high-risk discussions with the right motives, and they stay focused no matter what happens.
- These people maintain focus by: sticking with their goals and what they want; and not making Fool's Choices, and so they believe that dialogue is an option regardless of the circumstances.
- 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.
- Our motives usually change without any conscious thought on our part. To move back to motives that allow for dialogue, we must step away from the interaction and look at ourself.
- Ask what you want for yourself, what you want for others, and what you want for the relationship. Then ask how you would behave if you really wanted those results.
- These questions remind us of our goal and original purpose, and also affect our physiology by sending blood to the brain which in turn keeps us focused.
- Restructure the Fool's Choice: Clarify what you don't want, add it to it what you do want, and then begin searching for healthy options to bring you to dialogue.
Chapter 4: Learn to Look
- 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.
Chapter 5: Make It Safe
- 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.
Chapter 6: Master My Stories
- 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.
Chapter 7: STATE My Path
- The best at dialogue speak their minds completely and do it in a way that makes it safe for others to hear what they have to say and respond to it as well.
- To maintain safety in dialogue, be confident in what you say and your ability to say it without causing offense, and be humble to encourage others' input.
- Rely on STATE to discuss sensitive topics: State your facts, Tell your story, Ask for others' paths, Talk tentatively, and Encourage testing.
- Starting with facts shows that you are reasonable and rational; starting with a story could easily surprise and insult others, thereby killing safety and muting the facts.
- Lead others down your Path to Action, starting with the facts and then moving to your story. The story conveys the severity of the implications.
- Encourage others to share their facts, stories, and feelings, and be willing to abandon or shape your story as more information pours into the pool of shared meaning.
- Speaking in absolute and overstated terms decreases your influence, while the more tentatively you speak, the more open people become to your opinions.
- When you begin your story with a complete disclaimer and do use a tone that suggests you're consumed with doubt, you do the message a disservice.
- Invite opposing views. If no one speaks up, play devil's advocate and model disagreeing by disagreeing with your own view.
- You can argue as vigorously as you want for your point of view, provided you are even more vigorous at encouraging, or even pleading with, others to disprove it.
- When you find yourself being forceful in your views, stop and think about what you really want for yourself, others, and the relationship, and ask if your behavior is congruent with that.
Chapter 8: Explore Others' Paths
- When someone retreats to the security of silence or violence, you can't force others to dialogue, but you can take steps to make it safer for them to do so.
- The cure to silence or violence is to get at the underlying source; this calls for genuine curiosity at a time when you're likely feeling frustrated or angry.
- To avoid overreacting to others' stories, ask yourself "Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person say this?"
- When others are in silence or violence, we're joining their Path to Action already in progress. We must encourage them to share not their conclusions, but their observations.
- Helping others retrace their Path to Action helps us curb or emotion, and returns us to the facts and story behind the emotion, where feelings can be resolved.
- To encourage others to share, we must listen. We must employ the power listening tools of AMPP: Ask, Mirror, Paraphrase, and Prime.
- Ask: Stop filling the pool with your meaning, step back, and invite the other person to talk about his or her view.
- Mirror: Describe how the other person looks or acts, creating safety by using a tone that says that you're okay with them feeling how they're feeling.
- Paraphrase: Once you get a clue as to why the person is feeling the way he or she does, you can paraphrase to build additional safety.
- Instead of pushing too hard, ask what the other person wants to see happen. This moves his or her brain to problem solving and away from attacking or avoiding.
- Prime: When there is still no safety, offer your best guess as to what the other person is thinking or feeling. Only do this as a last resort.
- Remember that you are trying to understand the other person's point of view; not necessarily agree with it or support it.
- If you completely agree with the other person's path, say so and move on; don't turn an agreement into an argument.
- If you agree with what has been said but the information is incomplete build. Point out areas of agreement, and then add elements that were left out of the discussion.
- If you disagree, do not suggest that he or she is wrong, but suggest that you differ. Then share your path using the STATE skills.
Chapter 9: Move to Action
- The end of a crucial conversation is risky because if you aren't careful about how you classify the conclusion and decisions, you can violate expectations.
- This manifests by people not understanding how decisions are going to be made, or by no decision ever being made.
- When the line of authority for making decisions is clear, it is that authority who decides what method of decision-making to employ.
- When the line of authority for making decisions is unclear, use your best dialogue skills to get meaning into the pool. Jointly decide how to decide.
- Make decisions by command, consult, vote, and consensus. These represent increased involvement, which increases commitment but decreases efficiency.
- With command decisions, either outside forces place demands on us, or we turn decisions over to others and then follow their lead.
- In the case of external forces, it's not our job to decide what to do; it's our job to decide how to make it work.
- Consulting is where decision makers invite others to influence before they make a choice. It permits gaining ideas and support without bogging down the decision-making process.
- Voting is best suited to situations where efficiency is the highest value, and you're selecting from a number of good options.
- Consensus can either produce tremendous unity and high-quality decisions, or can be a horrible waste of time.
- Reserve consensus for high-stakes and complex issues, or issues where everyone must absolutely support the final choice.
- Don't involve people who don't care, omit people who contribute no new information, but involve those whose authority or influence you need.
- Create assignments by specifying who, does what, by when, and how will you follow up?
- When passing out assignments, "we" can lead someone to believe that others are taking on the responsibility. Assign a name to every responsibility.
- To help clarify deliverables, use Contrasting to explain what you don't want. Or make things concrete by pointing to a prototype or sample.
- Assignments without deadlines are far better at producing guilt than stimulating action.
- If you want people to feel accountable, then you must give them opportunity to account. Build expectation for follow-up into every assignment.
Chapter 10: Yeah, But
- With sexual or other harassment, own up to tolerating the behavior for too long, and then establish Mutual Purpose and then STATE your path.
- With a sensitive spouse, use contrasting, tentatively explain consequences, and use testing. Look for signs that safety is at risk, then make it safe.
- When a teammate fails to live up to agreements, speak up and hold each other accountable.
- When experiencing deference to authority, either you are creating fear or you are living with the ghosts of past bosses, or both.
- If you are the problem, solicit peer feedback. If it stems from ghosts, go public and reward risk-takers, encourage testing, and thank people for contrary opinions.
- With lack of trust, bring up your concerns, and STATE what you see happening. Do not tell a Villain Story that exaggerates others' untrustworthiness.
- With someone who won't talk about anything serious, Make It Safe, use tentative language, Explore Others' Paths, and be patient.
- When you see signs of improvement, invite talking about how you talk or don't talk about important issues, building safety by establishing Mutual Purpose.
- When faced with subtle and unacceptable actions, retrace your Path to Action to its source, and if the behaviors are worthy of dialogue STATE Your Path.
- With someone shows no initiative, establish new and higher expectations. Deal with the overall pattern, not a specific instance.
- With a problem shows a pattern, STATE Your Path. Talk about the pattern; talking about any one instance will make your concern seem trivial.
- When you need to calm down, suggest that you need some time alone and that you'd like to pick up the conversation later.
- Suggesting someone else needs to calm down is patronizing. To get back to the source of their anger, retrace their Path to Action.
- When faced with endless excuses, gain commitment to solving the overall problem, not simply the stated cause.
- Insubordination catches most leaders by surprise. They buy time to figure out what to do, which lets the person get away with it.
- When you catch insubordination, speak up immediately but respectfully. Change topics from the issue at hand to how the person is currently acting.
- Stories left unattended don't get better with time, they ferment. Then when we can't take it anymore, we say something that we regret.
- Use your STATE skills before a story turns too ugly, or if you've let the problem build, use your STATE skills and tell the most simple and least offensive story.
- With touchy and personal issues, use contrasting, establish Mutual Purpose to show honorable intentions, and tentatively describe the problem.
- When faced with word games, STATE the pattern of playing games, discuss both behaviors and outcomes, and then hold them accountable to results.
- With someone who delivers surprises, clarify that one needs to complete the assignment as planned or immediately inform you if they run into a problem.
- With someone who violates all the dialogue principles, choose your targets carefully: Focus on what bothers you the most, and what is easiest to work on.
Chapter 11: Putting It All Together
- The first lever for getting to dialogue is asking whether you're playing games or in dialogue. If you've moved away, don't be afraid to express that sentiment.
- The second lever is making it safe. Asking a question, showing interest, an appropriate touch, an apology, a smile, or a request for a "time out" all build safety.
- For "Start with Heart", focus on what you really want, and refuse the Sucker's Choice.
- For "Learn to Look," look for when the conversation becomes crucial, and look for safety problems.
- For "Make It Safe," apologize when appropriate, contrast to fix misunderstanding, and CRIB to get Mutual Purpose.
- For "Master My Stories," retrace your path to action, separate fact from story, and watch for the Three Clever Stories.
- For "STATE My Path," Share your facts, Tell your story, Ask for others' paths, Talk tentatively, and Encourage testing.
- For "Explore Others' Paths," use AMPP, or Ask, Mirror, Paraphrase, and Prime, and then Agree, Build, and Compare.
- For "Move to Action," decide how you will decide, and then document decisions and follow up.
- The current quality of your leadership and your life is fundamentally a function of how you are presently handling crucial conversations.
Last modified 02 June 2023