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Crucial Conversations to Avoid Silence or Violence

Posted on 23/09/2016 by Jessica Holsapple

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Have you ever wanted to tell your boss that he or she is wrong and to go and take a hike? (Spoiler Alert: don’t do this, continue reading…)

If you’ve ever been confronted by an employer, your partner or John from accounting about  a time when you didn’t meet their expectations, you can probably put yourself right back in the moment and feel the discomfort churning in your stomach. Perhaps you over reacted and then felt regret, or didn’t say anything and held onto resentment that lingered for days, weeks or months.

NEWSFLASH. Having a crucial conversation is not easy for anyone. Not even the most confident and charismatic CEO. He’s not Superman, but conversations like this may be his Kryptonite.

I am passionate about empowering people with these tools because I have witnessed and felt the effects firsthand when issues either aren’t addressed in the appropriate timeframe, or were handled improperly.

Over the years I have researched methods on effective communication and recently I came across the book Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. I have adopted some of the practices mentioned in the book and found it helpful. I’ll share a summary of the authors’ recommendations with you here.

The book defines a crucial conversation as “A discussion between two or more people where: (a) stakes are high, (b) opinions vary, and (c) emotions run strong.” Examples are: ending a relationship, giving a boss feedback, critiquing a colleague’s work, giving an unfavorable performance review, etc.

As a manager, I have had to have hundreds of these conversations and once or twice in my personal relationships too. Mastering the ability to have these conversations requires practice, objectiveness and humility. Having crucial conversations is important whether you’re managing an underperforming team, or you’re responsible for deliverables that come with unreasonably high expectations.

Why are having these conversations so difficult? Well, simply put, fear. We fear that we will make matters worse if we have tough conversations. So what’s at stake if we don’t handle these conversations appropriately? Everything! Our careers, relationships and health.

According to the book, there are 7 steps to navigating a crucial conversation:

  1. Start with heart. - Begin high risk discussions with the right motives, and stay focused (no matter what happens). Questions to ask yourself before beginning: What do I want for myself? What do I want for others? What do I want for the relationship? Keep this in mind as you navigate the conversation to ensure you stay on course. Remember! The only person you can directly control is yourself.

  2. Learn to look.- Learn to look at content and conditions. Look for when things become crucial. Look for signs of your reactions under stress. Reign it in and be ready to redirect when necessary. Stay on track and don’t let emotions run amok.

  3. Make it safe.- Does the other person believe you care about their goals in this conversation? Do they believe you respect them? Make sure you’re creating a safe environment (don’t be defensive, sarcastic or condescending). If the environment feels unsafe to the other party, they will likely turn to silence (shutting down- no resolution) or violence (arguing or verbal attacks making matters worse).

  4. Master your stories.- Question your conclusions. Did you tell yourself a story without actual facts? Just after we observe what others do, we tell ourselves a story. We add meaning to the action we observed. Get back to the facts and focus. Question the stories in your mind behind the actual events that took place (facts). Why would a reasonable, rational person do this? What’s your role in this problem? You need to get the facts and hear their side of the story before you jump to conclusions.

  5. State your path. Share the events you witnessed and the story you told yourself, keeping in mind that these are your perceptions of why the event occurred. They are not the facts.

  6. Explore others’ paths. Allow the other person to share what events took place and why. Hearing their side of the story will allow you the opportunity to hear why they made decisions that resulted in an expectations gap.

  7. Move to action. Don’t allow a violated expectation to result in inaction. Make a decision on how to proceed with resolving the issue, and follow through clearly. Who will be responsible for what and by when? Make it crystal clear. Record the commitments and follow through. Hold people accountable for their promises.

I still need daily help understanding why no one can read my mind.Isn’t there an app for that yet?

What’s the worst expectations gap you’ve faced?I need to know I’m not alone. Are you a master at crucial conversations? Help! Share your stories and tips below!

For more, check out the book: Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High.