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.