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.