How To Improve Your Crucial Conversations

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Crucial Conversations

“Speak when you are angry – and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.” — Dr. Laurence J. Peter

A crucial conversation is any conversation where the stakes are high, emotions run strong and opinions vary.  If you can master crucial conversations, rather than fear your tough conversations, you’ll kick-start your career, strengthen your relationships, and improve your health.   How do you improve your crucial conversations? …

In Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler show you specific principles and skills to master your crucial conversations. 

Summary of Steps

 Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler, identify 7 principles for mastering your crucial conversations:

  • Step 1. Start with Heart.
  • Step 2. Learn to Look.
  • Step 3. Make it Safe.
  • Step 4. Master My Stories.
  • Step 5. STATE My Path.
  • Step 6. Explore Other’s Paths.
  • Step 7. Move to Action.

I’ve used these techniques on the job and I’ve found them to be some of the most effective techniques for keeping your brain engaged during high-stakes conversations.

Step 1. Start with Heart

In this step, the key is to stay focused on what you really want.  How do you know what you really want?  Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler suggest asking yourself:

  • What do I really want for myself?
  • What do I really want for others?
  • What do I really want for the relationship?

See Start with Heart.

Step 2. Learn to Look

In this step, the key is to recognize when safety is at risk.  How do you know when safety is at risk?  Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler suggest the following:

  • Learn to look at content and conditions.
  • Look for when things become crucial.
  • Learn to watch for safety problems.
  • Look to see if others are moving toward silence or violence.
  • Look for outbreaks of your Style Under Stress.

See Learn to Look and Six Styles Under Stress.

Step 3. Make It Safe

In this step, the key is to make it safe.  How do you make it safe to talk about almost anything?  Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler suggest the following:

  • Decide which condition of safety is at risk.  Is mutual purpose at risk?  Is mutual respect at risk?
  • Apologize when appropriate.
  • Contrast to fix misunderstanding.
  • CRIB to get to Mutual Purpose (Commit to seek Mutual Purpose, Recognize the purpose behind the strategy, Invent a Mutual Purpose, Brainstorm new strategies.)

See Make It Safe.

Step 4. Master My Stories

In this step, the key is to stay in dialogue, even when you start to go into fight-or-flight mode.  How do you stay in dialogue when you’re angry, scared or hurt?  Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler suggest the following:

Retrace your path by asking the following questions:

  • Am I in some form of silence or violence
  • What emotions are encouraging you to ask this way?
  • What story is creating these emotions?
  • What evidence do you have to support this story?
  • Watch for clever stories.

Tell the Rest of the Story

  • Are you pretending not to notice your role in the problem?
  • Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do this?
  • What do you really want?
  • What would you do right now if you really wanted these results?

See Master My Stories.

Step 5. STATE My Path

The key in this step is to stay connected and avoid escalating.  How do you speak persuasively, not abrasively?  Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler suggest the following:

  • Share your facts.  Start with the least controversial, most persuasive elements from your Path to Action.
  • Tell your story.  Explain what you’re beginning to conclude.
  • Ask for other’s paths.  Encourage others to share both their facts and their stories.
  • Talk tentatively.  State your story as a story – don’t disguise it as a fact.
  • Encourage testing.  Make it safe for others to express differing or eve opposing views.

Step 6. Explore Others’ Paths

The key in this step is to keep rapport, while listening with empathy.  How can you listen when others blow up or clam up?  Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler, suggest the following:

  • Ask.  Start by simply expressing interest in the other person’s views.
  • Mirror.  Increase safety by respectfully acknowledging the emotions people appear to be feeling.
  • Paraphrase.  As others begin to share part of their story, restate what you’ve heard.
  • Prime.  If others continue to hold back, take your best guess as what they may be thinking and feeling.
  • Agree.  Agree when you do.
  • Build.  If others leave something out, agree where you do, then build.
  • Compare.  When you do differ significantly, don’t suggest others are wrong.  Compare your views.

See Ask, Mirror, Paraphrase, and Prime and Agree, Build, and Compare.

Step 7. Move to Action

The key in this step is to identify actions.  Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler write:

“Determine who does what by when.  Make the deliverables crystal clear.  Set a follow-up time.  Record the commitments and then follow up.  Finally, hold people accountable to their promises.”

The key here is to turn crucial conversations into action and results.  

See 4 Decision Making Methods.

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