Crucial Conversations

  • Crucial conversations differ from plain vanilla ones because: 1) opinions vary; 2) stakes are high; and 3) emotions run strong
  • Examples: ending a relationship, talking to a coworker who behaves offensively, asking a friend to repay a loan, giving your boss feedback about behavior, critiquing a colleague’s work, dealing with a rebellious teen, giving an unfavorable performance review, etc.

Start with Yourself and Control Your Emotions

  • Start with your own heart: “What do I really want here?” Going in, ask yourself what your motivations are.
  • Clarify what you really don’t want: What are you afraid will happen to you if you back away from your current strategy? What will happen if you stop trying to create the dialogue? What is the horrible outcome of this?
  • Use “AND”: Is there a way to tell your peer your real concerns and not insult or offend him? Is there a way to talk with your loved one about how you’re spending money and not get into an argument?
  • Observation: Observe when conversations become crucial, if others are moving toward silence or violence, when you emotionally start to break

Make It Safe for Dialogue

  • What is the other person’s purpose? Is there a mutual purpose (goals, interests, values)? Can they trust my motives?
  • Is there mutual respect? Can others believe I respect them?
  • If mutual purpose or respect are at risk, rebuild the dialogue by 1) apologizing when appropriate, 2) contrasting (don’t / do statement), or 3) create the mutual purpose
  • Contrasting example: “I don’t want… I do want…” [The don’t part that deals with the misunderstanding] “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.” [The do part to reestablish safety] “I think your work has been nothing short of spectacular.”
  • Provide context and proportion
  • With the other person, seek to create a mutual purpose by inventing a higher or longer-term purpose that is more motivating than the ones that keep you in conflict. With a clear mutual purpose, search / brainstorm for a solution that serves everyone

Watch Out for Our Own Storytelling

  • After we observe what others do and before we feel some emotion, we tell ourselves a story. We add meaning to the action we observed. We make a guess at the motive driving the behavior. We add judgment. And then, based on these thoughts or stories, our body responds with an emotion
  • What is my story? Take control of our stories, so that the don’t control us. Question your feelings and stories. Don’t confuse stories with facts — clever stories match reality and keep us from acknowledging our own sellouts. They turn victims into actors (or villains into humans or the helpless into the able)
  • Get back to the facts. 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? If it was a behavior, what was the outcome? Stick with the pattern of behavior as an example, and hold the other person accountable to results
  • Introspection: Am I pretending not to notice my role in the problem? What would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do? What do I really want? What would I do right now if I really wanted these results?

Speak Persuasively, Not Abrasively

  • Share your facts: facts are the least controversial, most persuasive, and least insulting
  • Tell your story: give context, look for safety problems, use contrasting. Am I talking about the real issue?
  • Ask for others’ paths: invite others to share their POV, listen, be willing to reshape or abandon your story
  • Talk tentatively: soften the message since we may not be certain that our opinions represent absolute truth or that our understanding of the facts is complete and perfect. Balance humility and confidence in delivery. Am I confidently expressing my own views?
  • Encourage testing: invite opposing views, play devil’s advocate, make it safe for others to express differing or opposing views

Explore Others’ Paths

  • Apply listening tools by asking, mirroring (reflect back their tone of voice or gestures, acknowledge the emotions they appear to be feeling), paraphrasing, or priming (offer your best guess at what the other person is thinking or feeling if he continues to hold back)
  • Agree when you agree. Build when others leave out key pieces. Compare when you differ. Don’t turn differences into debates that lead to unhealthy relationships and bad results

Move to Action and a Decision

  • Dialogue is not decision making
  • Decide how you’ll decide. How will we make decisions? Who will do what and by when? How will we follow up?




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Emily Tian

Emily Tian

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