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Champions Have The Crucial Conversations

The most influential people are capable of handling crucial conversations. Are you? According to Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler, authors of Crucial Conversations and owners of VitalSmarts, 25 years of research has revealed that the individuals who are the most influential are those who have the communication skills necessary to successfully handle crucial conversations. A crucial conversation is one about tough issues in which opinions vary, stakes are high and emotions run strong  - isn’t that almost every business conversation and personal-relationship conversation?

We handle such conversations in one of three ways: we avoid them (which is what a lot of us do), we have the conversation but handle it poorly (which is what almost all of the rest of us do), or we have the conversation and handle it well (which only a handful of us do).

Crucial Conversations instructs us how to handle a high-stakes conversation for success. Which begs the question, why does it matter? The authors point to many long-terms benefits of being able to successfully negotiate a crucial conversation, but my favorite is the improvement to personal health. Many health-related studies showed that those who routinely failed at crucial conversations had weaker immune systems. One specific study, on people suffering with malignant melanoma, showed big benefits from having effective communication skills. The participants in the study were divided into two groups. One group received treatment and were sent on their way while the second group received treatment and specific communication skills training. The group that received the communication skills training had a higher survival rate: only 9% succumbed to the disease as opposed to 30% in the group without training.  According to the authors, the implications of this study are huge, “just a modest improvement in ability to talk and connect with others corresponded to a two-thirds decrease in the death rate.” That convinced me – the time to learn how to have successful crucial conversations is now! If only for my continuing good health!

While reading Crucial Conversations or attending a VitalSmarts workshop are the most beneficial ways to improve your skills, for those of you that don’t have that kind of time, I offer you some of the best pointers from the book:

·       Most people believe in the sucker’s choice: you must choose between candor and your career (and as the book points out, that isn’t true). Another way of saying this is “I can suffer in silence or open my mouth and be a jacka$$.” Not much of a choice.

·       When it comes to risky, controversial, and emotional conversations, skilled people find a way to get all relevant information into the conversation (it is a free flow of relevant information because when people purposefully withhold meaning from one another, individually smart people can do collectively stupid things).

·       People skilled in crucial conversations start with the heart. That is they begin high-risk discussions with the right motives, and they stay focused on what they want from the conversation and they don’t make the sucker’s choice.

·       Where most crucial conversations go sideways is when we shift focus from what we want out of the conversation to winning the conversation, seeking revenge, or trying to stay safe.  Can you hear thoughts like this: “Here is my chance to hurt you because you hurt me last month.”

·       When people feel like a conversation is a threat to personal safety, they will resort either to silence or violence (physical or verbal).

·       There are usually three conditions that impact how a crucial conversation will turn out: the moment a conversation turns crucial (often when the emotions start to rise); when people start to feel unsafe (silence or violence); your own style when under pressure.

·       To have a successful crucial conversation, you must make it safe for the other person.

·       To have a successful crucial conversation, you must create mutual purpose (creating a common goal as the benefit to the conversation).

·       To have a successful crucial conversation, you must maintain mutual respect.

·       The true key to mastering crucial conversations is to be able to manage your own emotions. If you can step out of your own emotions and remember the goal of the conversation is the mutual purpose you have established (and not winning the argument, getting revenge, or taking away the other person’s safety), you probably have just overcome the biggest obstacle to successful crucial conversations.

·       There are three clever stories that impact our ability to manage our emotions: victim stories that show up as “it’s not my fault”; villain stories that show up as “it’s all your fault”; and helpless stories that show up as “there is nothing else I can do.”

At the end of the day, “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.” There is a lot more to crucial conversations then I have shared here. However, there is enough information to get you thinking and reflecting on your own communication skills. If you want to have a deeper conversation with yourself on this topic, then purchasing the book or attending a VitalSmarts workshop is a logical next step.

Busy making sure clever stories aren’t running my conversations,

Dr. Tomi