Crucial Conversations—Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, Switzer
Crucial conversation: A discussion between two or more people where (1) stakes are high, (2) opinions vary, and (3) emotions run strong.
The results of a crucial conversation could have a huge impact on the quality of your life.
Master your crucial conversations and you’ll kick-start your career, strengthen your relationships, and improve your health. For instance, high performers know how to stand up to the boss without committing career suicide.
In the best companies, everyone holds everyone else accountable—regardless of level of position. The path to high productivity passes not through a static system, but through face-to-face conversations at all levels.
Everyone argues about important issues. But not everyone splits up. It’s how you argue that matters.
“Give me a lever long enough and I shall move the world.” Archimedes
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.
Dialogue: The free flow of meaning between two or more people.
“He that complies against his will is of his own opinion still.” Samuel Butler
In order to move to our best in a crucial conversation, we have to find a way to explain what is in each of our personal pools of meaning.
People who are best at dialogue understand this simple fact and turn it into principle “Work on me first.” They realize that not only are they likely to benefit by improving their own approach, but also that they’re the only person they can work on anyway. As much as other may need to change, or we may want them to change, the only person we can continually inspire, prod, and shape—with any degree of success—is the person in the mirror.
There’s a certain irony embedded in this fact. People who believe they need to start with themselves do just that. As they work on themselves, they also become the most skilled at dialogue. So here’s the irony. It’s the most talented, not the least talented, who are continually trying to improve their dialogue skills. As is often the case, the rich get richer.
Our motives usually change without any conscious thought on our part. When adrenaline does our thinking for us, our motives flow with the chemical tide.
Great questions to pinpoint motives:
What do I really want for myself?
What do I really want for others?
What do I really want for the relationship?
How would I behave if I really wanted these results?
Asking questions about what we really want serves two important purposes. First, it reminds us of our goal. Second, it juices up our brain in a way that helps us keep focused.
Sometimes we choose personal safety over dialogue. Rather than add to the pool of meaning, and possibly make waves along the way, we go to silence. We’re so uncomfortable with the immediate conflict that we accept the certainty of bad results to avoid the possibility of uncomfortable conversation. We choose (at least in our minds) peace over conflict.
Sucker’s choice: telling ourselves and others that there are only two options: choosing between fight (violence) or flight (silence).
What makes these “Sucker’s” Choices is that they’re always set up as the only two options available. It’s the worst of either/or thinking. The person making the choice never suggests there’s a third option that doesn’t call for unhealthy behavior.
If you are put in this situation ask: Are you saying there isn’t anyone you know who is able to hold a high-risk conversation in a way that solves problems and builds relationships?
“I have know a thousand scamps; but I never met one who considered himself so. Self-knowledge isn’t so common.” Ouida
Many times we are so caught up in the content of the conversation that we are blind to the conditions.
Most of us do have trouble dual-processing (watching for content and conditions). When both stakes and emotions are high, we get so caught up in what we’re saying that it can be nearly impossible to pull ourselves out of the argument in order to see what’s happening to ourselves and to others.
As people begin to feel unsafe, they start down one of two unhealthy paths. They move either to silence (withholding meaning from the pool) or to violence (trying to force meaning in the pool).
The 3 most common forms of silence:
Masking: consists of understating or selectively showing true opinions. Sarcasm, sugarcoating, and couching are some of the more popular forms.
Avoiding: involves steering completely away from sensitive subjects.
Withdrawing: means pulling out of conversation altogether.
The 3 most common forms of violence:
Controlling: consists of coercing others to your way of thinking. It’s done through either forcing your views on others or dominating the conversation.
Labeling: putting a label on people or ideas so we can dismiss them under a general stereotype or category.
Attacking: speaks for itself. You’ve moved from winning the argument to making the person suffer.
The truth is, we all have trouble monitoring our own behavior at times. We usually lose any semblance of social sensitivity when we become so consumed with ideas and causes that we lose track of what we’re doing. We speak when we shouldn’t. We do things that don’t work—all in the name of a cause.
Become a vigilant self-monitor: pay close attention to what you’re doing and the impact it’s having, and then alter your strategy if necessary.
The key is to step out of the content of the conversation. Don’t stay stuck in what’s being said. Instead ask the question: What do I really want? Then ask: Can we change gears for a minute?
Mutual purpose: means that others perceive that we are working toward a common outcome in the conversation, that we care about their goals, interests, and values. And vice versa. We believe they care about ours. Consequently, Mutual Purpose is the entry condition of dialogue. Find a shared goal and you have both a good reason and a healthy climate for talking.
Key questions to determine mutual purpose:
Do others believe I care about their goals in this conversation?
Do they trust my motives?
Respect is like air. If you take it away, it’s all people can think about. The instant people perceive disrespect in a conversation, the interaction is no longer about the original purpose—it is now about defending dignity.
Lord, help me forgive those who sin differently than I. When we recognize that we all have weaknesses, it’s easier to find a way to respect others. When we do this, we feel a kinship, a sense of mutuality between ourselves and even the thorniest of people.
Contrasting technique: Contrasting is a don’t/do statement that:
Addresses others’ concerns that you don’t respect them or that you have a malicious purpose (the don’t part).
Confirms your respect or clarifies your real purpose (the do part).
Example: “The last thing I wanted to do was communicate that I don’t value the work you put in or that I didn’t want to share it with the VP. I think your work has been nothing short of spectacular.”
Before you can agree on a Mutual Purpose, you must know what people’s real purposes are. So step out of the content of the conversation—which is generally focused on strategies—and explore the purposes behind them.
C.R.I.B. to get Mutual Purpose: When you are at cross-purposes, use four skills to get back to Mutual Purpose:
Commit to seek Mutual Purpose.
Recognize the purpose behind the strategy. (Ask why?)
Invent a Mutual Purpose.
Brainstorm new strategies.
“It’s not how you play the game, it’s how the game plays you.
Emotions don’t just happen: Emotions don’t settle upon you like a fog. Others don’t make you mad. You make you mad. You and only you create your emotions.
Once you’ve created your emotions, you have only two options: You can act on them or be acted on by them. That is, when it comes to strong emotions, you either find a way to master them or fall hostage to them.
The best at dialogue do something completely different. They aren’t held hostage by their emotions, nor do they try to hide or suppress them. Instead, they act on their emotions. That is, when they have strong feelings, they influence (and often change) their emotions by thinking them out.
How do you rethink yourself from an emotional and dangerous state into one that puts you back in control?
There is an intermediate step between what others do and how we feel. What is this intermediate step? Just after we observe what others do and just before we feel some emotion about it, we tell ourselves a story. That is, we add meaning to the action we observed. To the simple behavior we add motive. Why were they doing that? We also add judgment—is that good or bad? And then, based on these thoughts or stories, our body responds with the emotion.
If we can find a way to control the stories we tell ourselves, by rethinking or retelling them, we can master our emotions and, therefore, master our crucial conversations.
Storytelling typically happens blindingly fast. When we believe we’re at risk, we tell ourselves a story so quickly that we don’t even know we’re doing it. If you don’t believe this is true, ask yourself whether you always become angry when someone laughs at you. If sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t then your response isn’t hardwired. That means something goes on between others laughing and you feeling. In truth, you tell a story.
We can tell different stories and break the loop. In fact, until we tell different stories, we cannot break the loop. If you want improved results from your crucial conversations, change the stories you tell yourself—even while you’re in the middle of the fray.
Questions for changing the story we tell ourselves:
Am I in some form of silence or violence?
What emotions are encouraging me to act this way?
What story is creating these emotions?
What evidence do I have to support this story?
Separate fact from story by focusing on behavior. Can you see or hear this thing you’re calling a fact? Was it an actual behavior?
Watch for 3 Clever Stories:
Victim stories: It’s not my fault
Villain stories: It’s all your fault
Helpless stories: There’s nothing else I can do
Clever stories keep us from acknowledging our own sellouts. Like it or not, we usually don’t begin telling stories that justify our actions until we have done something that we feel a need to justify.
Useful story: creates emotions that lead to healthy action—such as dialogue.
What transforms a clever story into a useful one? The rest of the story. That’s because clever stories have on characteristic in common: They’re incomplete.
Questions to determine the rest of the story:
Am I pretending not to notice my role in the problem?
Why would a reasonable, rational, and 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?
People who are “good” at dialogue say some of what’s on their minds but understate their views out of fear of hurting others. They talk, but they sugarcoat their message. 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. They are both totally frank and completely respectful.
Why soften the message? Because we’re trying to add meaning to the pool, not force it down other people’s throats. If we’re too forceful, the information won’t make it into the pool. Besides, with both facts and stories, we’re not absolutely certain they’re true. Our observations could be faulty. Our stories—well, they’re educated guesses.
One of the best ways to persuade others is with your ears—by listening to them.
To avoid overreacting to others’ stories, stay curious. Give your brain a problem to stay focused on. Ask: “Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person say this?
When others are in either silence or violence, we’re actually joining their Path to Action already in progress. Consequently, we’ve already missed the foundation of the story and we’re confused. If we’re no careful, we can become defensive. After all, no only are we joining late, but we’re also joining at a time when the other person is starting to act offensively.
Most arguments consist of battles over the 5-10 percent of the facts and stories that people disagree over. And while it’s true that people eventually need to work through differences, you shouldn’t start there. Start with an area of agreement.
Four methods of decision making in a crucial conversation:
The 2 key levers to leverage in this book:
Learn to look: Are we playing games or are we in dialogue?
Make it safe: dialogue consists of the free flow of meaning and the number one flow stopper is a lack of safety.
How to apply this info: Discuss the material. When you first learn something, your knowledge is “preverbal”. That is, you might recognize the concepts if you see them, but you’re not able to discuss them with ease. You haven’t talked about them enough to make them part of your functional vocabulary.
Teach the material. If you really want to master a concept, teach it to someone else.
Remember the costs; focus on the reward. Perhaps the most predictive piece of social science research ever conducted was completed with small children and marshmallows. A child was put in a room and then told that he or she could have either one marshmallow now or two if he or she was willing to wait until the adult returned in a few minutes. The adult would then place one marshmallow in front of the child and exit. Some of the children delayed gratification. Others at the marshmallow right away. Researchers continued studying these children. Over the next several decades, the children who had delayed gratification ended up doing far better in life than those who hadn’t. They had stronger marriages, made more money, and were healthier. This willingness to do without now in order to achieve more later turns out to be an all-purpose tool for success.
How did the children who were able to delay gratification fight off their short-term wishes? First, they looked away from the scrumptious marshmallow that sat in front of them. No use torturing themselves with the vision of what they couldn’t have. Second, they kept telling themselves that if they waited, they would get two, not one. What could be simpler?