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Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, Second Edition Paperback – Animated, September 9, 2011
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About the Author
Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler are cofounders of VitalSmarts, an innovator in corporate training and organizational performance.
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Feelings get hurt in conversations, lies are told, deception, betrayal, all of these can happen in conversations.
Enter the book Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. I heard Joseph Grenny, one of the authors speak on this topic recently at the leadership summit and got a lot out of his session.
All of us know the feeling of this kind of conversation and we know that this is where life changes.
Here are 10 things I got from the book that I have found helpful in my life and leadership:
1. When we face crucial conversations, we can do one of three things: We can avoid them, We can face them and handle them poorly, or We can face them and handle them well. 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. Christians and church staffs are notorious for avoiding crucial conversations. This is why churches often split, people leave hurt and visions never move forward. Instead of doing the hard work in a conversation, they are avoided. When in reality, because of what is at stake (salvation) and because of the calling of Jesus, we should do a better job of having crucial conversations.
2. Individuals who are the most influential—who can get things done and at the same time build on relationships—are those who master their crucial conversations. We all know this to be true. If you aren't very good at dialogue, you sit back in wonder at those who are. They are able to gain more influence, get more done and people want to be on their team and a part of what they are doing. This is why raising the value of this skill and getting better at it matters so much. Things move forward or stop around conversations.
3. 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. Grenny said this at the summit and it grabbed my attention. This is one of, if not the main reason, most conversations stop and things do not move forward. Fear. Fear of a relationship ending, something stopping, getting fired or hurting someone. Yet, if we don't tell the truth, we often can't be a friend.
4. 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 content of your message, but the condition of the conversation. If you are a boss and want honest feedback and conversation, people can't fear for their jobs or that you will yell at them. Recently, there has been a lot of writing online about pastors abusing people, creating a culture of fear, yelling at staff members, elders and volunteers and it blows my mind. If you are known for that as a pastor, you should be embarrassed.
5. Be careful not to apologize for your views. This can be easy to do and it often happens as a way to soften your opinion or the blow in a conversation, but you shouldn't apologize for what you think. It is what you think. It might be hard or unpopular to say, but don't shy away from it. You may be wise to change how you phrase it, but always be willing to share what you think in a conversation.
6. One of the ironies of dialogue is that, when talking with those holding opposing opinions, the more convinced and forceful you act, the more resistant others become. I done this very easily in the past. Yet, this practice keeps people from buying in and helping to make something happen. When we do this, we don't understand why people aren't on board. The reason is the harder we push our way, the harder they push their way.
7. Speaking in absolute and overstated terms does not increase your influence, it decreases it. The converse is also true—the more tentatively you speak, the more open people become to your opinions. The more harshly we speak or the more we give the impression that there is only one way, the less likely it becomes that people will speak up. Now, on issues like vision, it must be clear and have agreement. But, in conversations, if we give the impression that something has been decided or that we aren't open to suggestions, we will kill discussion.
8. When we feel the need to push our ideas on others, it’s generally because we believe we’re right and everyone else is wrong. This is another way the previous one. If you find yourself pushing your ideas, you aren't having a good dialogue and instead are simply giving out orders. That may be your leadership style, but it won't accomplish a healthy team environment and in the end, your church or business will never reach its full potential.
9. The more you care about an issue, the less likely you are to be on your best behavior. As a leader or a person in a relationship, you must learn this well. This was an eye opening insight for me. I get very passionate about things, as most people do, and when I do, I can shut down dialogue and end up hurting people. We do this, often unintentionally because we care about something, because we believe we are right and have the only way forward.
10. The fuzzier the expectations, the higher the likelihood of disappointment. When a crucial conversation ends, there must be clear expectations and guidance moving forward. It cannot be fuzzy or gray. Otherwise, a conversation has not ended, it is simply on pause.
All in all, this was an incredibly helpful book. Some of it covered things I already knew but showed some helpful insights. I've already seen a change in some of my conversations with leaders at my church and in my family through this book. Definitely one I'd recommend.
And that is what the book is about - the authors come up with fancy names for negotiation methods which all boil down to one thing - finding a compromise, being able to understand and empathize with the other side, avoid bullying, and staying focused. Again, I cannot say I found anything novel or original in their approach.
But at least, if they were dwelling on established truths, repeating them again would surely help, right? That brings me to the other big problem with this book: the execution. Either due to too many cooks in the kitchen or for some other reason, the narration is a mess. It is confusing, jumping from one aspect of negotiation to another, constantly zooming in and out. The authors invent sophisticated terms (e.g. “withholding from the pool of shared meaning") but they are not good at describing them well - one has to piece together what they meant. Using established concepts would’ve completely eliminated this problem, but then the book couldn’t claim that it had “revolutionized the way millions of people communicate.”
Finally, the examples. Oh, those real life situations that demonstrated the power of Crucial Conversation mastery! Honestly, I found them stilted and artificial - more importantly, utterly unconvincing. They sound exactly the way those hilarious corporate training videos do and if anything, I cannot claim I saw the power of Crucial Conversation in them. And I will surely not use this technique to discuss our sexual life with my spouse (yes, one of the examples is just about that).
To summarize, there is nothing new or original that I could find in this book. Flip through it only if you want to appreciate the hilarious “examples.” If you want to improve your negotiation skills (hint: yes, you do want it!) read “Getting to Yes” by Fisher and Ury - it is much more up to the point.