Crucial Conversations – Chapter 9 (part 17 of 18)

To do nothing is in every man’s power – Samual Johnson


Chapter 9 – Move to Action – How to Turn Crucial Conversations into Action and Results 

Up until this point we’ve suggested that getting more meaning into the pool helps with dialogue. It’s the one thingthat helps people make savvy decisions that, in turn, lead to smart, unified, and committed actions. … It’s time we add two final skills. Having more in the pool, even jointly owning it, doesn’t guarantee that we all agree on what we’re going to do with the meaning. For example, when teams or families meet and generate a host of ideas, they often fail to convert the ideas into action for two reasons:

  • They have unclear expectations about how decisions will be made.
  • They do a poor job of acting on the decisions they do make.

This can be dangerous. In fact, when people move from adding meaning to the pool to moving to action, it’s a prime time for new challenges to arise. … Let’s take a look at what it takes to solve each of these problems. First, making decisions.



The two riskiest times in crucial conversations tend to be at the beginning and at the end. The beginning is risky because you have to find a way to create safety or else things go awry. The end is dicey because if you aren’t careful about how you clarify the conclusion and decisions flowing from your Pool of Shared Meaning, you can run into violated expectations later on. This can happen in two ways.

How are decisions going to be made?First, people may not understand how decisions are going to be made.

Are we ever going to decide?The second problem with decision making occurs when no decision gets made. Either ideas slip away and dissipate, or people can’t figure out what to do with them.



Both of these problems are solved if, before making a decision, the people involved decide how to decide. … Make it clear how decisions will be made – who will be involved and why.

When the line of authority is clear. When you’re in a position of authority, you decide which method of decision making you’ll use. … Deciding what decisions to turn over and when to do it is part of their stewardship.

When the line of authority isn’t clear. When there is no clear line of authority, deciding how to decide can be quite difficult. … Use your best dialogue skills to get meaning into the pool. Jointly decide how to decide.


The Four Methods of Decision Making

There are four common ways of making decisions: command, consult, vote, and consensus. These four options represent increasing degrees of involvement. Increased involvement, of course, brings the benefit of increased commitment along with the curse of decreased decision-making efficiency.

Command. Let’s start with decisions that are made with no involvement whatsoever. This happens in one of two ways. Either outside forces place demands on us (demands that leave us no wiggle room), or we turn decisions over to others and then follow their lead.

Consult. Consulting is as process whereby decision makers invite others to influence them before they make their choice. … They gather ideas, evaluate options, make a choice, and then inform the broader population.

Vote. Voting is best suited to situations where efficiency is the highest value – and you’re selecting from a number of good options. … When facing several decent options, voting is a great time saver but should never be used when team members don’t agree to support whatever decision is made. In these cases, consensus is required.

Consensus. This method can be both a great blessing and a frustrating curse. Consensus means you talk until everyone honestly agrees to one decision. This method can produce tremendous unity and high-quality decisions. If misapplied, it can also be a horrible waste of time. It should only be used with (1) high-stakes and complex issues or (2) issues where everyone absolutely must support the final choice.



Now that we know the four methods, let’s explore which method to use at which time – along with some hints about how to avoid common blunders.


Four Important Questions 

When choosing among the four methods of decision making, consider the following questions:

  1. Who cares?Determine who genuinely wants to be involved in the decision along with those who will be affected.
  2. Who knows?Identify who has the expertise you need to make the best decision.
  3. Who must agree?Think of those whose cooperation you might need in the form of authority or influence in any decisions you might make.
  4. How many people is it work involving?Your goal should be to involve the fewest number of people while still considering the quality of the decision along with the support that people will give it.



To avoid common traps, make sure you consider the following four elements:

  • Who?
  • Does what?
  • By when?
  • How will you follow up?

Who?When it’s time to pass out assignments, remember, there is no “we.” “We,” when it comes to assignments, actually means, “no me.” It’s code. … Assign a name to every responsibility.

Does What? Be sure to spell out the exact deliverables you have in mind. The fuzzier the expectations, the higher the likelihood of disappointment.

By When?With vague or unspoken deadlines, other urgencies come up, and the assignment finds its way to the bottom of the pile, where it is soon forgotten.

How Will You Follow Up? Always agree on how often and by what method you’ll follow up on the assignment. It could be a simple e-mail confirming the completion of a project. It might be a full report in a team or family meeting. More often than not, it comes down to progress checks along the way.



Once again, a proverb comes to mind. “One dull pencil is worth six sharp minds.” Don’t leave your hard work to memory. If you’ve gone to the effort to complete a crucial conversation, don’t fritter away all the meaning you created by trusting your memories. Write down the details of conclusions, decisions, and assignments. Remember to record who does what by when. Revisit your notes at key times (usually the next meeting) and review assignments.



Turn your successful crucial conversations into great decisions and united action by avoiding the two traps of violated expectations and inaction.

Decide How to Decide

  • Command. Decisions are made without involving others.
  • Consult. Input is gathered from the group and then a subset decides.
  • Vote. An agreed-upon percentage swings the decision
  • Consensus. Everyone comes to an agreement and then supports the final decision.

Finish Clearly

Determine whodoeswhatby when. Make the deliverables crystal clear. Set a follow-uptime. Record the commitments and then follow up. Finally, hold people accountable to their promises.