Rarely good happens after you hear the words “Can we talk?” or “I need to talk to you about something.” At that moment, you know you’re about to have a crucial conversation.
A book that has really helped me is Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High. It discusses how to handle disagreements and important communication. When you are stuck in any situation – whether it’s at home or work – there is a crucial conversation keeping you from accomplishing the desired results.
The authors studied successful communicators over a period of 25 years and concluded that what typically set them apart from the rest of the pack was their ability to deal with crucial conversations. They possess a skill-set that is easy to learn and allows them to face any situation.
When we fail a crucial conversation, every aspect of our lives can be affected—from our careers, to our relationships, to our personal health.
Crucial Conversations teaches a process for managing these conversations:
1. How to Stay Focused on What You Really Want
If we approach the situation with the wrong emotions and mindset and enter a conversation in a place of anger, resentment and revenge (having already made up our mind about someone/something), it is unlikely to end the way we need it to. Instead, we have to start with a positive intent for the other person
It’s difficult to change another person but easier to change yourself. So the first principle of dialogue is to start with ourselves. We often see the issue to be with the other person, but we are also deserve blame. Hence it’s critical not to assume that our view is the only truth – after all, we may be wrong!
2. How to Make It Safe to Talk about Almost Anything
The key to talk about almost anything is to make the other person feel safe. To do this, there are two things the person needs to know.
First, they need to know that you care about their best interests and goals. This is called mutual purpose.
State your intent twice – once as a negative compared with its positive. For example, “The last thing I wanted to do was to say that I don’t value your work. I think your work has been excellent…”. The negative is an attempt to address the other person’s thoughts/feelings. The positive is a re-statement of the shared purpose.
Second, they need to know that you care about them. This is called mutual respect. We establish respect primarily by listening. There are 4 different ways to powerful listening: AMPP
- Ask (to get things rolling). For example, “I’d really like to hear your opinion on…”
- Mirror (to confirm feelings). For example, a person might say that everything is okay, but his facial expressions tell another story. By saying to the person that he seems uncomfortable, you are making it safe for him to engage in further conversation. For example, “You look unsure/worried…”
- Paraphrase (to acknowledge their story). The key here is to stay out of emotions and use their language as much as possible . E.g. “Let’s see if I have got this right….”.
- Prime – Use this technique when you believe that the person still has something to share, e.g. “I guess you think I’m being unfair…”, “I sense you are angry…”?
When people believe both of these things, they relax and can absorb what you’re saying; they feel safe.
3. Speak Persuasively, Not Abrasively
Five skills that help you share tough messages can be easily remembered with the acronym STATE.
- Share the facts. A hotel receipt is fact – the husband having an affair is only opinion at this stage.
- Tell your story (i.e. the meaning you are making of these facts).
- Ask for the other person’s story. Critical in this is to be open and listening actively to what they say as they may well bring new evidence that shifts your interpretation of the facts.
- Talk tentatively. For example, “Did it happen that way or did I miss something?” (i.e. we tell our story as a story, not as a fact. This does not mean we don’t have confidence in our conclusions, it just means that we don’t hammer someone over the head with our conclusions.)
- Encourage testing. (i.e. invite opposing views).
The intent is to reach a shared meaning to the facts as a solid basis on which to agree next action steps.
4. How to Turn Crucial Conversations into Action and Results
If you don’t take action, all the healthy talk in the world is for nothing and will eventually lead to disappointment and hard feelings. Always agree on when and how follow-up will occur. It could be a simple e-mail confirming action by a certain date. It could be just one report upon completion, or it could be progress checks along the way.
Effective teams and healthy relationships are supported by records of the important decisions made after difficult dialogues, and the assignments agreed upon.
As you do so, everyone benefits in two ways. First, you increase the motivation and ability of the individual to do better. Second, you develop a culture of integrity in the team or relationship—letting everyone know that keeping commitments is an important value.
Many people think the skills in this book don’t apply to the situations they care about most, but in truth, the dialogue skills discussed apply to just about any problem you can imagine. After reading this book you will find a lot of tough cases and solutions to each problem.
If you are too busy then you can also listen to the audiobook version while driving.
Question: How do you handle difficult conversations? Share your experience in the comments box below.
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