Crucial Conversations – Chapter 5 section 2 (part 7 of 18)


When you see that either Mutual Respect or Purpose is at risk, we’ve suggested that you shouldn’t ignore it. We’ve also argued that you should be able to find a way to both find Mutual Purpose and enjoy Mutual Respect – even with people who are enormously different.

But how? What are you supposed to actually do? We’ve shared a few modest ideas (mostly things to avoid), so let’s get into three hard-hitting skills that the best at dialogue use:

  • Apologize
  • Contrast
  • Create a Mutual Purpose


Apologize When Appropriate 

When you’ve made a mistake that has hurt others, start with an apology. An apology is a statement that sincerely expresses your sorrow for your role in causing – or at least not preventing – pain or difficulty to others.

Now, an apology isn’t really an apology unless you experience a change in heart. To offer a sincere apology, your motives have to change.

Next, watch to see if this sincere show of respect has helped restore safety. If it has, you can now explain the details of what happened. If it hasn’t, you’ll need to use on of the more advanced skills that follow in the next few pages. In any case, first make it safe; then return to the issue.


Contrast to Fix Misunderstanding

Sometimes others feel disrespected during crucial conversations even though you haven’t done anything disrespectful. Sure, there are times when respect gets violated because you behave in clearly hurtful ways. But just as often, the insult is entirely unintended.

The same can happen with Mutual Purpose. You can start by innocently sharing your views, but the other people believe your intention is to harm them or coerce them into accepting your opinion. Clearly an apology is not appropriate in these circumstances. It would be disingenuous to admit you were wrong when you weren’t. How, then, can you rebuild Mutual Purpose or Mutual Respect in order to make it safe to get back to dialogue?

When others misinterpret either your purpose or your intent, step out of the argument and rebuild safety by using a skill called Contrasting. Contrasting is a don’t/do statement that:

  • Addresses others’ concerns that you don’t respect them or that you have a malicious purpose (the don’tpart).
  • Confirms your respect or clarifies your real purpose (the do part)

Of the two parts of Contrasting, the don’tis the more important because it deals with the misunderstanding that has put safety at risk. … So you address the misunderstanding by explaining what you don’t intend. Once you’ve done this, and safety returns to the conversation, then you can explain what you do intend. Safety first.

Contrasting is not apologizing. It’s important to understand that Contrasting is notapologizing. It is not a way of taking back something we’ve said that hurt others’ feelings. Rather, it is a ay of ensuring that what we said didn’t hurt more than it should have.

Contrasting provides context and proportion. When you’re in the middle of a touchy conversation, sometimes others experience your words as bigger or worse than you intend. For example, you talk with your assistant about his lack of punctuality. When you share your concern, he appears crushed.

At this point, you could be tempted to water down your content – “You know it’s really not that big a deal.” Don’t give into the temptation. Don’t take back what you’ve said. Instead, put your remarks in context. For instance, at this point your assistant may believe you are completely dissatisfied with his performance. He believes that your view of the issue at hand represents the totality of your respect for him. If this belief is incorrect, use Contrasting to clarify what you don’t and do believe. Start with what you don’t believe.

“Let me put this in perspective. I don’t want you to think I’m not satisfied with the quality of your work. I want us to continue working together. I really do think you’re doing a good job. This punctuality issue is important to me, and I’d just like you to work on that. If you will be more attentive to that, there are no other issues.”

Use Contrasting for prevention or first aid. Contrasting can be useful both as prevention and as first aid for safety problems. So far our examples have helped us apply first aid to a wounded conversation. Someone has taken something wrong, and we’ve intervened to clarify our true purpose or meaning.

When we’re aware that something we’re about to drop into the pool of meaning could create a splash of defensiveness, we use Contrasting to bolster safety – before we see others going to either silence or violence.

“I don’t want you to think that I don’t appreciate the time you’ve taken to keep our checkbook balanced and up to date. I do appreciate it, and I know I certainly couldn’t have done nearly as well. I do, however, have some concerns with how we’re using the new electronic banking system.”

When people misunderstand and you start arguing over the misunderstanding, stop. Use Contrasting. Explain what you don’t mean until you’ve restored safety. Then return to the conversation. Safety first.


Crucial Conversations – Chapter 5 section 1 (part 6 of 18)

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in baskets of silver. – Proverbs 25:11


Chapter 5 – Make It Safe. How to Make It Safe to Talk About Almost Anything.

The last chapter contained a promise: If you spot safety risks as they happen, you can step out of the conversation, build safety, and then find a way to talk about just about anything. In this chapter, we’ll fulfill that promise by teaching what it takes to restore safety.



What do you do when you don’t feel like it’s safe to share what’s on your mind? … The key is to step out of the content of the conversation. Don’t stay stuck in what’s being said.

First things first – Start with Heart. The first question is: “What do I really want?” … If you really want to have a healthy conversation about a topic that will make or break your relationship, then for a moment or two you may have to set aside confronting the current issue.

In these circumstances, the worst at dialogue say whatever is on their minds – with no regard for how it will be received. … The good realize that safety is at risk, but they fix it in exactly the wrong way. They try to make the subject more palatable by sugarcoating their message. … They try to make things safer by watering down or dressing up their content. This strategy, of course, avoids the real problem, and it never gets fixed.

The bestdon’t play games. Period. They know that in order to solve their problem, they’ll need to talk about their problem – with no pretending, sugarcoating, or faking. So they do something completely different. They step out of the content of the conversation, make it safe, and then step back in. Once safety is restored, they can talk about nearly anything.



Mutual Purpose – the Entrance Condition

The first condition of safety is Mutual Purpose. Mutual Purpose means that others perceive that you’re working toward a common outcome in the conversation, that you care about their goals, interests, and values. And vice versa. You believe they care about yours. Consequently, Mutual Purpose is the entry condition of dialogue. Find a shared goal, and you have both a great reason and a healthy climate for talking.

Watch for signs that Mutual Purpose is at risk. How do we know when the safety problem we’re seeing is due to a lack of Mutual Purpose? It’s actually fairly easy to spot. Frist, when mutual purpose is at risk, we end up in debate. When others start forcing their opinions into the pool of meaning, it’s often because they figure that we’re trying to win and they need to do the same. Other signs that purpose is at risk include defensiveness, hidden agendas (the silence form of fouled-up purpose), accusations, and circling back to the same topic. Here are two crucial questions to help us determine when Mutual Purpose is at risk:

  • Do others believe I care about their goals in this conversation?
  • Do they trust my motives?

Remember the Mutualin Mutual Purpose. Just a word to the wise. Mutual Purpose in not a technique. To succeed in crucial conversations, we must really care about the interests of others – not just our own. The purpose has to be truly mutual. If our goal is to get out way or manipulate others, it will quickly become apparent, safety will be destroyed, and we’ll be back to our silence and violence in no time. Before you begin, examine your motives. Ask yourself to the Start with Heart questions:

  • What do I want for me?
  • What do I want for others?
  • What do I want for the relationship?


Mutual Respect – the Continuance Conditions

Will we be able to remain in dialogue? While it’s true that there’s no reason to enter a crucial conversation if you don’t have Mutual Purpose, it’s equally true that you can’t stay in the conversation if you don’t maintain Mutual Respect. Mutual Respect is the continuance condition of dialogue. As people perceive that others don’t respect them, the conversation immediately becomes unsafe and dialogue comes to a screeching halt.

Why? Because respect is like air. As long as it’s present, nobody thinks about it. But if you take it away, it’s allthat people can think about. The instant people perceive disrespect in a conversation, the interaction is no longer about the original purpose – it is now about definding dignity.

Telltale signs. To spot when respect is violated and safety takes a turn south, watch for signs that people are defending their dignity. Emotions are the key. When people feel disrespected, they become highly charged. Their emotions turn from fear to anger. Then they resort to pouting, name-calling, yelling, and making threats. Ask the following question to determine when Mutual Respect is at risk:

  • Do others believe I respect them?

Can you respect people you don’t respect? Some people fear they’ll never be able to maintain Mutual Purpose or Mutual Respect with certain individuals or in certain circumstances. How, they wonder, can they share the same purpose with people who come from completely different backgrounds or whose morals or values differ from theirs? What do you do, for example, if you’re upset because another person has let you down? And if this has repeatedly happened, how can you respect a person who is so poorly motivated and selfish?

However, we can stay in dialogue by finding a way to honor and regard another person’s basic humanity. In essence, feelings of disrespect often come when we dwell on how others are differentfrom ourselves. We can counteract these feelings by looking for ways we are similar. Without excusing others’ behavior, we try to sympathize, even empathize, with them.


Crucial Conversations – Chapter 4 (part 5 of 18)

I have known a thousand scamps; but I never met one who considered himself so. Self-knowledge isn’t so common. – Ouida


Chapter 4 – Learn to Look. How to Notice When Safety Is at Risk.


In truth, most of us do have trouble dual-processing (simultaneously watching for content andconditions) – especially when both stakes and emotions are high. We get so caught up in what we’re saying that it can be nearly impossible to pull ourselves out of the argument in order to see what’s happening to ourselves and others.

How could that be? How could we be smack-dab in the middle of a heated debate and not really see what’s going on? A metaphor might help. It’s akin to fly fishing for the first time with an experienced angler. Your buddy keeps telling you to cast your fly six feet upstream from that brown trout “just out there.” Only you can’t see a brown trout “just out there.” He can. That’s because he knows what to look for. You think you do. You think you need to look for a brown trout. In reality, you need to look for the distorted image of a brown trout that’s underwater while the sun is reflecting in your eyes. … It takes both knowledge and practice to know what to look for and then actually see it.

So what do you look for when caught in the middle of a crucial conversation? What do you need to see in order to catch the problems before they become too severe? Actually, it helps to watch for three different conditions: the moment a conversations turns crucial, signs that people don’t feel safe (silence or violence), and your own Style Under Stress. Let’s consider each of these conversation killers in turn.


Learn to Spot Crucial Conversations 

First, stay alert for the moment a conversation turns from a routine or harmless discussion into a crucial one. In a similar vein, as you anticipate entering a tough conversations, pay heed to the fact that you’re about to enter the danger zone.

To help catch problems early, reprogram your mind to pay attention to the signs that suggest you’re in a crucial conversation. Some people first notice physicalsignals – their stomach gets tight or their eyes get dry. Thank about what happens to your body when conversations get tough. Everyone is a bit different. What are your cues? Whatever they are, learn to look at them as signs to step back, slow down, and Start with Heart before things get out of hand.

Others notice their emotionsbefore they notice signs in their body. … Some people’s first cue is behavioral. For them it’s like an out-of-body experience. They see themselves raising their voice, pointing their finger like a loaded weapon, or becoming very quiet. It’s only then that they realize how they’re feeling.

So take a moment to think about some of your toughest conversations. What cues can you use to recognize that your brain is beginning to disengage and you’re at risk of moving away from healthy dialogue?


Learn to Look for Safety Problems 

If you can catch signs that the conversation is starting to turn crucial – before you get sucked so far into the actual argument that you can never withdraw from the content – then you can start dual-processing immediately. And what exactly should you watch for? People who are gifted at dialogue keep a constant vigil on safety. They pay attention to the content – that’s a given – and they watch for signs that people are becoming fearful. When friends, loved ones, or colleagues move away from healthy dialogue (freely adding to the pool of meaning) – either forcing their opinions into the pool or purposefully keeping their ideas out of the pool – they immediately turn their attention to whether or not others feel safe.

When it’s safe, you can say anything. Here’s why gifted communicators keep a close eye on safety. Dialogue calls for the free flow of meaning – period. And nothing kills the flow of meaning like fear. … This is a pretty remarkable claim. Think about it. We’re suggesting that people rarely become defensive simply because of what you’re saying. They only become defensive when they no longer feel safe. The problem is not the contentof your message, but the conditionof the conversation. … That means the first challenge is to simply seeand understandthat safety is at risk.

On the other hand, if you don’t feel safe, you can’t take any feedback. It’s as if the pool of meaning has a lid on it. … When it’s unsafe, you start to go blind. By carefully watching for safety violations, not only can you see when dialogue is in danger, but you can also reengage your brain.

Don’t let safety problems lead you astray. Let’s add a note of caution. When others begin to feel unsafe, they start acting in annoying ways. Now, since they’re feeling unsafe, you should be thinking to yourself: “Hey, they’re feeling unsafe. I need to do something – maybe make it safer.” That’s what you should be thinking. Unfortunately, since others feel unsafe, they may be trying to make fun of you, insult you, or bowl you over with their arguments.  This kind of aggressive behavior doesn’t exactly bring out the diplomat in you. So instead of taking their attack as a sign that safety is at risk, you take it at its face – as an attack. “I’m under attack!” you think. Then the dumb part of your brain kicks in and you respond in kind. Or maybe you try to escape. Either way, you’re not duel-processing and then pulling out a skill to restore safety. Instead, you’re becoming part of the problem as you get pulled into the fight.

Imagine the magnitude of what we’re suggesting here. We’re asking you to recode silence and violence as signs that people are feeling unsafe. We’re asking you to fight your natural tendency to respond in kind. .. and then what? Do something to make it safe.

Obviously, this can be a very difficult undertaking. But it’s worth it. This skill is the pivot point for everything that follows.

In the next chapter we’ll explore how. For now, simply learn to look for safety, and then be curious, not angry or frightened.


Silence and Violence

As people begin to feel unsafe, they start down one of two unhealthy paths. They move either to silence (withholding meaning from the pool) or to violence (trying to force meaning in the pool). That part we know. But let’s add a little more detail. Just as a little knowledge of what to look for can turn blurry water into a brown trout, knowing a few of the common forms of silence and violence helps you see safety problems when they first start to happen. That way you can step out, restore safety, and return to dialogue – before the damage is too great.

Silence consists of any act to purposefully withhold information from the pool of meaning. It’s almost always done as a means of avoiding potential problems, and it always restricts the flow of meaning. Methods range from playing verbal games to avoiding a person entirely. The three most common forms of silence are masking, avoiding, and withdrawing.

  • Maskingconsists of understating or selectively showing our true opinions. Sarcasm, sugarcoating, and couching are some of the more popular forms.
  • Avoidinginvolves steering completely away from sensitive subjects. We talk, but without addressing the real issues.
  • Withdrawingmeans pulling out of a conversation altogether. We either exit the conversation or exit the room.

Violence consists of any verbal strategy that attempts to convince, control, or compel others to your point of view. It violates safety by trying to force meaning into the pool. Methods range from name-calling and monologuing to making threats. The three most common forms are controlling, labeling, and attacking.

  • Controllingconsists of coercing others to your way of thinking. It’s done through either forcing your views on others or dominating the conversation. Methods include cutting others off, overstating your facts, speaking in absolutes, changing the subjects, or using directive questions to control the conversation.
  • Labeling is putting a label on people or ideas so we can dismiss them under a general stereotype or category.
  • Attackingspeaks for itself. You’ve moved from winning the argument to making the person suffer. Tactics include belittling and threatening.


Look for Your Style Under Stress 

Let’s say you’ve been watching for both content and conditions. You’re paying special attention to when a conversation turns crucial. To catch this important moment, you’re looking for signs that safety is at risk. As safety is violated, you even know to watch for various forms of silence and violence. So are you now fully armed? Have you seen all there is to see? Actually, no. Perhaps the most difficult element to watch closely as you’re madly dual-processing is your own behavior.

Become a vigilant self-monitor. What does it take to be able to step out of an argument and watch for process – including what you yourself are doing and the impact you’re having? You have to become a vigilant self-monitor. That is, pay close attention to what you’re doing and the impact it’s having, and then alter your strategy if necessary. Specifically, watch to see if you’re having a good or bad impact on safety.


Your Style Under Stress Test

 What kind of self-monitor are you? One good way to increase your self-awareness is to explore your Style Under Stress. What do you do when talking turns tough? To find out, fill out the survey at It’ll help you see what tactics you typically revert to when caught in the midst of a crucial conversation. It’ll also help you determine which parts of this book can be most helpful to you.

What your score means.Since these score represent how you typically behaveduring stressful or crucial conversations, they can change. Your score doesn’t represent an inalterable character trait or a genetic propensity. It’s merely a measure of your behavior – and you can change that. In fact, people who take this book seriously will practice the skills contained in each chapter and eventually they will change. And when they do, so will their lives.

What’s next?Now that you’ve identified your own Style Under Stress, you have a tool that can help you Learn to Look. That is, as you enter a touchy conversation, you can make a special effort to avoid some of your silence or violence habits. Also, when you’re in the middle of a crucial conversation, you can be more conscious of what to watch for.



When caught up in a crucial conversation, it’s difficult to see exactly what’s going on and why. When a discussion starts to become stressful, we often end up doing the exact opposite of what works. We turn to the less healthy components of our Style Under Stress. 

To break from this insidious cycle, Learn to Look.

  • Learn to look at content and
  • Look for when things become crucial.
  • Learn to watch for safety problems.
  • Look to see if others are moving towards silence or violence.
  • Look for outbreaks of your Style Under Stress.

Crucial Conversations – Chapter 3 (part 4 of 18)

Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret. – Ambrose Bierce


Chapter 3 – Start with Heart. How to Stay Focused on What You Really Want.

It’s time to turn to the howof dialogue. How do you encourage the flow of meaning in the face of differing opinions and strong emotions? Given the average person’s track record, it can’t be all that easy. In fact, given that most people’s style is based on long-standing habits, it’ll probably require a lot of effort. The truth is, people can change. … But it requires work. You can’t simply drink a magic potion and walk away changed. Instead, you’ll need to take a long, hard look at yourself.

In fact, this is the first principle of dialogue – Start with Heart. That is, your ownheart. If you can’t get yourself right, you’ll have a hard time getting dialogue right. When conversations become crucial, you’ll resort to the forms of communication that you’ve grown up with – debate, silent treatment, manipulation, and so on.



Here’s how people who are skilled at dialogue stay focused on their goals – particularly when the going gets tough.

Work on Me First, Us Second

  • Remember that the only person you can directly control is yourself.

Focus on What You ReallyWant

  • When you find yourself moving towards silence or violence, stop and pay attention to your motives.
  • Ask yourself: “What does my behavior tell me about what my motives are?”
  • Then, clarify what you really Ask yourself: “What do I want for myself? For others? For the relationship?”
  • And finally ask: “How would I behave if this were what I really wanted?”

Refuse the Fool’s Choice

  • As you consider what you want, notice when you start talking yourself into a Fool’s Choice.
  • Watch to see if you’re telling yourself that you must choose between peace and honesty, between winning and losing, and so on.
  • Break free of these Fool’s Choices by searching for the and.
  • Clarify what you don’t want, add it to what you do want, and ask your brain to start searching for healthy options to bring you to dialogue.

Crucial Conversations – Chapter 2 (part 3 of 18)

Our live begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter – Martin Luther King Jr.


Chapter 2 – Mastering Crucial Conversations. The Power of Dialogue. 

We didn’t always spend our time noodling over crucial conversations. In fact, we started our research by studying a slightly different topic. We figured that if we could learn why certain people were more effective than others, then we could learn exactly what they did, clone it, and pass it on to others. … We wanted to find those who were not just influential, but who were far moreinfluential than the rest.


The Startling Discovery

What typically set them apart from the rest of the pack was their ability to avoid what we came to call the Fool’s Choice.

You see, Kevin’s contribution was not his insight. Almost everyone could see what was happening. They knew they were allowing themselves to be steamrolled into making a bad decision. But everyone besides Kevin believed they had to make a choice between two bad alternatives.

  • Option 1: Speak up and turn the most powerful person in the company into their sworn enemy.
  • Option 2: Suffer in silence and make a bad decision that might ruin the company.

The mistake most of us make in our crucial conversations is we believe that we have to choose between telling the truth and keeping a friend.

Beyond the fool’s choice. And from that day forward, we find plenty of those moments – with bosses, colleagues, loved ones, and line cutters. And the consequences can be disastrous. … We discovered a cadre of human beings who refuse to make the Fool’s Choice. Their goal is different from your average person’s. … When [Kevin] took a breath and opened his mouth, his overriding question was, “How can I be 100 percent honest with Chris, and at the same time be 100 percent respectful?”



When it comes to risky, controversial, and emotional conversations, skilled people find a way to get all relevant information (from themselves and others) out into the open. … That’s it. At the core of every successful conversation lies the free flow of relevant information. … They willingly and capably share their views, even when their ideas are controversial or unpopular.

Now, to put a label on this spectacular talent – it’s called dialogue. The free flow of meaning between two or more people.

We’re still left with two questions. First, how does this free flow of meaning lead to success? Second, what can you do to encourage meaning to flow freely?

We’ll explain the relationship between the free flow of meaning and success right here and now. The second question – what you must do in order to achieve dialogue rather than make the Fool’s Choice, no matter the circumstances – will take the rest of the book to answer.


Filling the Pool of Shared Meaning 

Each of us enters conversations with our own opinions, feelings, theories, and experiences about the topic at hand. This unique combination of thoughts and feelings makes up our personal pool of meaning. This pool not only informs us, but also propels our every action.

When two or more of us enter crucialconversations, by definition we don’t share the same pool. Our opinions differ. I believe one thing; you another. I have one history; you another.

People who are skilled at dialogue do their best to make it safe for everyone to add their meaning to the sharedpool – even ideas that at first glance appear controversial, wrong, or at odds with their own beliefs. Now, obviously, they don’t agree with every idea; they simply do their best to ensure that all ideas find their way into the open.

The Pool of Shared Meaning is the birthplace of synergy.

Not only does a shared pool help individuals make better choices, but since the meaning is shared, people willingly act on whatever decisions they make – with both unity and conviction.

The time you spend up front establishing a shared pool of meaning is more than paid for by faster, more unified, and more committed action later on.

Now, don’t get us wrong. We’re not suggesting that every decision be made by a consensus or that the boss shouldn’t take part in or even make the final choice. We’re simply suggesting that whatever the decision-making method, the greater the shared meaning in the pool, the better the choice, the more the unity, and the stronger the conviction – whoever makes the choice.

Now, here’s how the various elements fit together. When stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong, we’re often at our worst. In order to move to our best, we have to find a way to explain what is in each of our personal pools of meaning – especially our high-stakes, sensitive, and controversial opinions, feelings, and ideas – and to get others to share their pools. We have to develop the tools that make it safe for us to discuss these issues and to come to a sharedpool of meaning. And when we do, our lives changes.



And now for the reallygood news. The skills required to master high-stakes interactions are quite easy to spot and moderately easy to learn. First consider the fact that a well-handled crucial conversation all but leaps out at you. … your natural reaction is to step back in awe. … What starts as a doomed discussion ends up with a healthy resolution. It can take your breath away. … More important, not only are dialogue skills easy to spot, but they’re also fairly easy to learn. That’s where we’re going next.

Crucial Conversations – Chapter 1 (part 2 of 18)

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


Chapter 1 – What’s a Crucial Conversation? And Who Cares?

When people first hear the term “crucial conversation,” many conjure up images of presidents, emperors, and prime ministers seated around a massive table while they debate the future. Although it’s true that such discussions have wide-sweeping impact, they’re not the kind we have in mind. The crucial conversations we’re referring to are interactions that happen to everyone. They’re the day-to-day conversations that affect your life.

Now, what makes one of your conversations crucial as opposed to plain vanilla? First, opinions vary. … Second, stakes are high. … Third, emotions run strong. … What makes each of these conversations crucial – and not simply challenging, frustrating, frightening, or annoying – is that the results could have a huge impact on the quality of your life.

Despite the importance of crucial conversations, we often back away from them because we fear we’ll make matters worse. We’ve become masters at avoiding tough conversations. … But it doesn’t have to be this way. If you know how to handle crucial conversations, you can effectively hold tough conversations about virtually any topic.



Just because we’re in the middle of crucial conversation (or maybe thinking about stepping up to one) doesn’t mean that we’re in trouble or that we won’t fare well. In truth, when we face crucial conversations, we can do one of three things:

  • We can avoid them.
  • We can face them and handle them poorly.
  • We can face them and handle them well.


When It Matters Most, We Do Our Worst

But do we handle them well? When talking turns tough, do we pause, take a deep breath, announce to our innerselves, “Uh-oh, this discussion is crucial. I’d better pay close attention” and then trot our best behavior? Or when we’re anticipating a potentially dangerous discussion, do we step up to it rather than scamper away? Sometimes. Sometimes we boldly step up to hot topics, monitor our behavior, and offer up our best work. We mind our Ps and Qs. Sometimes we’re just flat-out good.

And then we have the rest of our lives. These are the moments when, for whatever reason, we’re at our absolute worst. … Why is that? … We’re design wrong. … Countless generations of genetic shaping drive humans to handle crucial conversations with flying fists and fleet feet, not intelligent persuasion and gentle attentiveness.

We’re under pressure. … Crucial conversations are frequently spontaneous. More often than not, they come out of nowhere. … What doyou have to work with? The issue at hand, the other person, and a brain that’s drunk on adrenaline and almost incapable of rational thought. It’s little wonder that we often say and do things that make perfect sense in the moment, but later on seem, well, stupid.

We’re stumped. Now let’s throw in one more complication. You don’t know where to start. You’re making this up as you go along because you haven’t seen real-life models of effective communication skills. … We act in self-defeating ways. In our doped-up, dumbed-down state, the strategies we choose for dealing with our crucial conversations are perfectly designed to keep us from what we actually want. We’re our own worst enemies – and we don’t even realize it.



The Law of Crucial Conversations

At the heart of almost all chronic problems in our organizations, our teams, and our relationships lie crucial conversations – ones that we’re either not holding or not holding well. Twenty years of research involving more than 100,000 people reveals that thekey skill of effective leaders, teammates, parents, and loved ones is the capacity to skillfully address emotionally and politically risky issues. Period. Here are just a few examples of these fascinating findings.


Kick-Start Your Career

Could the ability to master crucial conversations help your career? Absolutely. Twenty-five years of research in seventeen different organizations has taught us that individuals who are the most influential – who can get things done and at the same timebuild on relationships – are those who master their crucial conversations.


Improve Your Organization 

Is it possible that an organization’s performance could hang on something as soft and gushy as how individuals deal with crucial conversations? … Study after study suggests that the answer is yes.


Improve Your Relationships 

Consider the impact crucial conversations can have on your relationships. Could failed crucial conversations lead to failed relationships? As it turns out, when you ask the average person what causes couples to break up, he or she usually suggests that it’s due to differences of opinion. You know, people have different theories about how to manage their finances, spice up their love lives, or rear their children. In truth, everyoneargues about important issues. But not everyone splits up. It’s howyou argue that matters.


Improve Your Personal Health 

If the evidence so far isn’t compelling enough to focus your attention on crucial conversations, what would you say if we told you that the ability to master high-stakes discussions is a key to a healthier and longer life? … The long answer suggests that the negative feelings we hold in, the emotional pain we suffer, and the constant battering we endure as we stumble our way through unhealthy conversations slowly eat away at our health. In some cases the impact of failed conversations leads to minor problems. In others it results in disaster. In all cases, failed conversations never make us happier, healthier, or better off.



When stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions start to run strong, casual conversations transform into crucial ones. Ironically, the more crucial the conversation, the less likely we are to handle it well. The consequences of either avoiding or fouling up crucial conversations can be severe. When we fail a crucial conversation, every aspect of our lives can be affected – from our careers, to our communities, to our relationships, to our personal health.

And now for the good news. As we learn how to step up to crucial conversations – and handle them well – with one set of high-leverage skills we can influence virtually every domain of our lives.

What is this all-important skill set? What do people who sail through crucial conversations actually do? More important, can we do it too?

Crucial Conversations (part 1 of 18)

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High

by: Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, Switzler (2012)

[pigeonhole] Practical Rule Book

[premise] A guide book, with tactics and techniques, of how to conduct a difficult conversation as a means to improving your career and/or relationships


PREFACE – xiii

  1. What’s a Crucial Conversation? And Who Cares? – 1-18
  2. Mastering Crucial Conversations. The Power of Dialogue. 19-32
  3. Start with Heart. How to Stay Focused on What You Really Want. 33-50
  4. Learn to Look. How to Notice When Safety Is at Risk. 51-72
  5. Make It Safe. How to Make it Safe to Talk About Almost Anything. 73-102
  6. Master My Stories. How to stay in Dialogue When You’re Angry, Scared, or Hurt. 103-130
  7. STATE My Path. How to Speak Persuasively, Not Abrasively. 131 – 154
  8. Explore Others’ Paths. How to Listen When Others Blow Up or Clam Up. 155-176
  9. Move to Action. How to Turn Crucial Conversations into Actions and Results. 177-188
  10. Yeah, But. Advice for Tough Cases. 189-210
  11. Putting It All Together. Tools for Preparing and Learning. 211-222
  12. Afterword. What I’ve Learned About Crucial Conversations in the Past Ten Years. 223-230

INDEX – 233


The Challenger Customer: Chapter 10, section 3 (part 10 of 10)

Opportunity Planning

The best advice that we can lend is to use a method and use it consistently. … That being said, there are some important implications that today’s consensus purchase highlights, which we think you should consider incorporating into your opportunity planning approach. … Done well, it should be hard for your sales team to distinguish between the process and the plan.

So what then isthe difference between the two? Why have an opportunity plan at all? The answer is quite simple, though frequently overlooked: if the sales process captures the what, the opportunity plan captures the how. A sales process inherently is meant to capture what happened – particularly if it’s based on customer-verified outcomes to track progress. As we just discussed, those are hugely important milestones that inform deal progress, forecasting, and resourcing, among other things. The opportunity plan, however, helps prompt sellers to critically assess how. How will they get to that next customer verifier and continue deal progression?

That brings us to the third principle of good opportunity planning, which is to base the plan on a series of such questions about the customer organization, the dynamics within the organization, the Mobilizer, and commercial opportunity itself.

LEARN STAGE: What need shouldthis customer be learning about? What should be keeping this customer up at night?Here, sellers are encouraged to understand how the customer is currently mismanaging their business. In this stage, it’s also important to understand whether or not the customer is aware of this need – that likely informs whether or not they’ve already conduced their own research. Will the seller have to initially shape or reshape the customer’s demand? The thought process here encourages sellers to truly prepare for the initial sales calls with the customer.

UNDERSTAND NEEDS STAGE: How shouldthe customer respond to this need? This is the stage where a disruptive insight challenges the customer’s thinking – it’s critical for sellers to plan for that conversation. Here, sellers are encouraged to consider a variety of ways to position their insight and tailor it for customer consumption. What might go wrong in the initial sales conversation? What reactions might the customer have? Good sales planning is just as much planning for the ideal as it is planning for the unexpected. Sellers also need to consider what the customer’s reaction to the Commercial Insight meant and consider the next steps based upon that initial sales call. Was healthy skepticism observed? Did potential Mobilizers reveal themselves? Did a potential Blocker tip her hand? If so, what does that mean as the sale progresses?  This is key – it’s not just that the customer responded, but is asking “What do I take from that? What should my next step be?”

DEFINE PURCHASE CRITERIA STAGE: How shouldthe customer define the purchase criteria? Here, the opportunity planning heavily factors in the Mobilizer. Naturally, your Commercial Insight will have significant bearing on how the customer views the purchase criteria, but the Mobilizer will need to ensure that the nuanced details of the purchase criteria truly reflect that insight. Thinking through the best course of action for the Mobilizer’s support here is critical. Sellers should be reflecting upon the purchase criteria that the competition will likely advocate and how the Mobilizer can then explain how that view is flawed or insufficient.

EVALUATE OPTIONS STAGE: How shouldthe customer evaluate and reach consensus? Here, planning for Commercial Coaching interactions with your Mobilizer is the primary focus. Sellers should be considering what they’ll commercially coach their Mobilizer on, how to tailor that coaching guidance, and how to arm the Mobilizer. This phase is all about considering how to get a “Collective Yes” from the customer stakeholders.

VALIDATE AND SELECT STAGE: How shouldthe customer reach a final decision?  Here, you’ll want to consider how to arm the Mobilizer for any final objections he or she may encounter. In this final stage, as we already discussed, planning for the negotiable and non-negotiable aspects of the purchase must happen. Taking stock of how to achieve the ideal customer reaction is important, but almost always there will be a late objection or challenges in the negotiation. So taking stock of the negotiable aspects of the purchase well in advance matter tremendously.

Notice the key theme throughout these questions: how shouldthe customer make their purchase. Each phase of planning encourages sellers to think through the ideal customer interactions, while realistically planning for the unexpected. These questions force sellers to think one step ahead. In this way, each customer interaction moves the deal forward – it’s not merely an “information-gathering” interaction. Even in the face of limited information, the point is to critically assess what should happen and how to best make that action happen.