How many times a day do you think you have a crucial conversation? That is, a conversation with strong emotions, opposing opinions, and high stakes? Do they occur at work? At home? Probably both. How do you respond? Do you clam up and become silent? Or do you lash out, becoming violent? What are the facts? What are your motives? Do you feel safe?
These are the questions that started my Wednesday morning last week at my company training, Crucial Conversations, taught by our energetic Director of Organizational Development, Eric. Gathered in groups in a conference room, fifteen of us spent the day thinking about our most awkward, difficult and frustrating conversations occurring at home or in the office.
More like, FINALLY!
Everyone wants to become better at communicating effectively, but we often just don’t know where to start. That’s where this crucial conversations training comes into play. This was an 8 hour training, so I won’t get into all the dirty details, but I do want to share my Top 6 Takeaways.
1. Know your Style Under Stress.
Eric asked us to think back to our childhood. How did we act when we wanted to get our way? What did we do? Personally, I would ask my dad and if (when) he said no, I’d ask my mom, and she’d usually say yes. Ah, manipulation as a twee child, no shame.
Through this training I found out that manipulation is a form of violence in communication, along with snide/snarky remarks, harsh tone of voice, and general aggression. I tend to use this method in my personal life (as do most of us) (I think) (Or maybe I’m just a b****)
Silence, on the other hand, is my preferred method for conflict resolution at work. I’m not going to talk back to my boss, after all. Silence can range from shutting down to “closed doors” conversations to avoiding people you don’t want to talk to & letting things go too easily.
Okay, that’s great, but how does that help communication?
Knowing your “Style Under Stress,” as they call it, can help you to identify how to avoid going into that state during a crucial conversation. It will help you stay in the dialogue phase and communicate in a neutral, effective way.
2. Know your motives.
When entering into a crucial conversation, it’s important to remember why you’re getting into the conversation in the first place. What do you really want?
To win? To be right? To be spiteful? If that’s true, you may want to step out of the conversation and reexamine your motive.
Do you want to help others? Reach a mutual understanding? Accomplish a project for the good of the group? Then you have your motives in check.
Just remember: Before pressing on with a crucial conversation, ask yourself “What do I really want…
- …for myself?”
- …for my partner/the other person?”
- …for our relationship?”
- …for my organization?”
3. Master your story.
How many times have you avoided a crucial conversation with someone because you think you already know how it will end? I know I have, a lot.
The path of crucial conversations often goes like this:
- We see/hear something
- We tell a story
- We feel a certain way based on that story
- We act out based on how we feel
For example, the other day I heard my husband say on the phone with someone, “Sure, I’ll be to the bar at 8.” I told myself (the story) “Oh great, he’s going out with the guys again, I hope he doesn’t expect me to pick him up late at night,” which made me feel angry and annoyed. As soon as he hung up the phone, I said “So I suppose you expect me to drive you home from the bar at 2AM, huh? That’s just great, another late night!”
As it turns out, he was actually going to a baseball team meeting starting at 8PM that just happened to take place at the small town’s only large-enough facility, the local bar. He would be home by 9:30, and didn’t need a driver. However, the whole interaction left him annoyed with me for jumping to conclusions, and me feeling like a big dummy.
I should not have told myself a story without knowing ALL the facts…
4. Separate the facts from the story.
In the scenario above, I could have avoided a whole world of conflict if I’d remembered to separate the story from the facts before I let myself feel or act a certain way. In the story above, the facts are:
- My husband was on the phone
- He agreed to meet at the bar at 8PM
The story I made up assumed he was going out for a night with the guys and would need a ride home from me late at night. But that wasn’t a fact.
Before we jump to conclusions, it’s important to think about what we know for sure and what we’re fabricating based on judgement, opinion, experience etc. Because really, you can’t argue with the facts.
5. STATE your path.
When getting into a crucial conversation, it’s important to remember to STATE your path so that you and the other person are on the same page.
- Share your facts
- Tell your story
- Ask for others’ paths
- Talk tentatively
- Encourage testing
I’m going to focus on the first three points most.
Before you approach another person for a crucial conversation, take a second to separate the facts from the story. Then lead with the facts. Because like I said, you can’t argue with the facts.
After you’ve stated the facts, you can then share your story – your interpretation of what the facts mean. Once you’ve done so, don’t forget to ask if your story is true, or if the other person has a story of their own to share with you.
While all of this is taking place, remember to talk in a tentative tone, and encourage the other person to test your story.
To share an example, here is how I should have responded to my husbands phone conversation.
“So, I overheard you talking on the phone. I heard you say you will meet at the bar at 8PM. (facts) I believe that means you’re going out with your friends (story), right? (asking) And you want me to drive you home late tonight (story), is that correct? (asking)” He then could have responded with his story, and all confusion and conflict would have then been avoided.
6. Find mutual purpose.
A lot of the time, your goal and the goal of the person you’re having the crucial conversation with is the same. It’s a mutual purpose. But through our own storytelling and forgetting to find the facts, we can often lose sight of that.
Finding a mutual purpose in a crucial conversation can provide common ground for you and the other person to start from.
For example. maybe your goal (purpose) is to accomplish a project on time, but your boss is not getting you the personnel you need. You think it’s because he doesn’t want to spend the money (story), but in actuality he doesn’t want to hire people for fear of having to let them go right away. He does also want to accomplish the project on time, though. If you realize that your mutual purpose is to finish the project, despite roadblocks, you can work together to come up with a solution.
Sometimes, though, you won’t find a mutual purpose between you and the other person. When that is the case, you mustn’t forget the beauty of the “&” sign. Combining purposes to invent a mutual purpose can be just as effective.
Now go forth and converse!
As you realize these crucial conversations in your own life, don’t forget to always make the other person feel safe and comfortable with you. When hostility, anger and frustration are apparent, take a step back from the conversation to clear the air, and remember to find a mutual purpose, and stick with the facts.
While you can’t always guarantee everyone will react favorably, you can be at peace knowing you handled the situation in a calm manner.
For more information, please consider purchasing the Crucial Conversations book (Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by
Thank you for listening to what Emily Faye Says!