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.
HOW DO WE TYPICALLY HANDLE CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS?
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.
OUR AUDACIOUS CLAIM
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?