Crucial Conversations

Chances are you’ve had (or avoided) a Crucial Conversation if you’ve ever had to:

* Give feedback to an employee who was underperforming
* Have a conversation with an aging parent about the (non-)safety of their driving
* Discuss a long-standing/recurring issue with your partner or child
* Complain about a product or service you’ve paid for
* Tell a friend the truth about something that you think will hurt them

Whether at work, at home, out shopping or out socially, there are likely to be conversations every day that don’t end as you’d like them to. You may avoid the topic, issue or person, have arguments over something that seems trivial, or even find yourself saying something that you wished you hadn’t said afterwards. How well do you handle those tricky conversations?

It seemed to me that a lot of the conversations I had with people felt ‘crucial’ and if they didn’t go badly they were certainly uncomfortable at best; so I was first in line when I heard about a workshop in the US a few years ago given by Ron McMillan, co-author of Crucial Conversations. Ron suggested that of all the communication we engage in with others 90% of it is commonplace, the remaining 10% is crucial – and of course, it is that important 10% that we do most badly at.

A few hours of interactive presentation with Ron introduced me to the notion that I didn’t need to expect that all important and emotionally charged discussions I had were going to end with volcanic eruptions. Not only was there a healthier, more effective alternative, but there was a really simple methodology to ensure the crucial conversations I had resulted in mutually beneficial outcomes, and it was based on decades of research with tens of thousands of individuals into organisational and personal excellence. I bought the book to take home with me.

So how do we know if a conversation we’ve just entered (or one we need to have) is crucial? The book defines a Crucial Conversation as: “A discussion between two or more people where (1) stakes are high, (2) opinions vary, and (3) emotions run strong.” But if these conversations are so important, why do we do so badly at them? This is one of the questions the book addresses, as it outlines the model for communication and the traps, pitfalls and natural design that influence how we interact.

Crammed with practical tools, techniques and even a Style Under Stress test, this book brings the methodology to life with situational examples, exercises, chapter summaries and implementation guides. Dipping in and out of it over the last few years has helped me to start and maintain many conversations on the best footing, by tackling those areas of crucial conversations that I had the most challenge with. Starting with Heart, Contrasting Statements and not giving in to the Sucker’s Choice have been key to my learning with Crucial Conversations; there is still definite room for improvement in the areas of Mutual Purpose and Mastering My Story though!

In his Foreword for the book, Stephen R. Covey (author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) reminds us that ‘to know and not to do is really not to know’, and as with all new skills we learn there are clear periods of Unconscious Incompetence and even Conscious Incompetence before we reach Conscious Competence and eventually Unconscious Competence! Learning, applying and mastering Crucial Conversations skills will take time; but written in such an easy-to-read, conversational style, the book goes a long way to plugging the gaps in our understanding of effective communication – and there will be some tools that feel easy to pick up, and others that seem difficult indeed.

In acknowledgement of this, as well as the differing intensity of topics and dynamics, there is a “Yeah, but… Advice for Tough Cases” chapter towards the end of the book. Whether you read it through cover to cover, or simply start applying a couple of the techniques and approaches mentioned at the start of chapter 2, you’ll be making strides forward in the effectiveness of your communication and ability to tackle difficult discussions. Life is all about relationship, and this book offers tools that will help bridge many of the chasms that appear in work, family or social communications.

Enjoy it, and take action!
Sam Forsberg

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