Crucial Conversations – Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High

Crucial Conversations

As part of my reading for my Personal MBA, I am documenting the key lessons I learnt from Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. It is not intended to be a summary or review, rather a reflection of how the book has influenced my thinking.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw

I expected this book to be about winning hard negotiations…about winning. It is not.

I am a conflict avoider, I don’t like (unnecessarily?) drama in my life. This is generally by choice and preference. In a lot of crucial conversations, it is more about relationship than the immediate “win”. But winning the argument and winning the situation are two different things. It is not about winning hard negotiations, it is about winning what you want.

Crucial conversations are where opinions vary, stakes are high and/or emotions run strong. Where results have an impact on our quality of life. Our options are to avoid them, handle them poorly or handle them well.

My default is to avoid conflict, in certain instances this does not improve my situation. The build up is often more traumatic than the reality. Few things end up as bad as we envisage they could. Think how often we say, “Well that actually went a lot better than expected.

A distinction between seeking and avoiding conflict probably needs to be made. I know of people who seem to like and consequently find drama everywhere, it gives them a sense of importance, at a great cost.

In the end, nobody wins an argument. Typically everyone ends up feeling that they are right or embarrassed for being wrong. Neither works out well. A discussion works better, building towards something, away from your perspective, away from their perspective.

We often feel we have to choose between the truth and the relationship. My litmus test is, “Is it helpful?”

Everyone has a different history, so a different perspective. So, people who do their best to make it safe for everyone to add their meaning to the shared pool of ideas do well, even if the ideas at first glance appear controversial or wrong. More information in the shared pool leads to better choices, quality, alignment and ownership.

The ambition is to create the conditions that not only enable dialogue, but make it the path of least resistance. To not get caught up in winning, in being right and then not getting what we want in the first place.

So what’s the problem?  – Obviously they are.

What to do about it? – Change yourself.

When under attack, we get defensive. We stop worrying about our goal. We focus on winning or punishing and have already lost. When we focus on what we really want we realise that an antagonistic conversation won’t help.

Firstly we need to clarify what we want and don’t want. Pay attention to the content and conditions. Stress can build up and normal conversations can rapidly turn crucial. Make sure there is mutual purpose and respect. When these are at risk, apologize if need be, contrast your intention with how it is coming across.

A few practical guidelines from the book:

STATE your path:

  • Share your facts
  • Tell your story
  • Ask for others paths
  • Talk tentatively – don’t disguise interpretation for fact
  • Encourage testing
    First 3 what, second two how.

It needs to be clear, how the decision is going to be made:

  • Command – Externally or internally driven
  • Consult
  • Vote
  • Consensus

Determined by:

  • Who cares
  • Who knows
  • Who must agree
  • How many people it is worth involving

Often people don’t mind if it is an executive decision, that is accepted, it is the farce to pretend that it isn’t, that is frustrating.

Always finish clearly, who does what by when.

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