Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High
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Crucial Conversation kr shel kän´ vr sa´ shen) n A discussion between two or more people where (1) stakes are high, (2) opinions vary, and (3) emotions run strong.
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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.
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When he 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?”
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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.
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People who are skilled at dialogue do their best to make it safe for everyone to add their meaning to the shared pool—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.
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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.
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To quote Samuel Butler, “He that complies against his will is of his own opinion still.”
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Every time we find ourselves arguing, debating, running away, or otherwise acting in an ineffective way, it’s because we don’t know how to share meaning. Instead of engaging in healthy dialogue, we play silly and costly games. For instance, sometimes we move to silence. We play Salute and Stay Mute. That is, we don’t confront people in positions of authority. Or at home we may play Freeze Your Lover. With this tortured technique, we give loved ones the cold shoulder in order to get them to treat us better (what’s the logic in that?). Sometimes we rely on hints, sarcasm, caustic humor, ...more
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Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret. —AMBROSE BIERCE
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Skilled people Start with Heart. That is, they begin high-risk discussions with the right motives, and they stay focused no matter what happens.
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When under attack, our heart can take a similarly sudden and unconscious turn. When faced with pressure and strong opinions, we often stop worrying about the goal of adding to the pool of meaning and start looking for ways to win, punish, or keep the peace.
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Stop and ask yourself some questions that return you to dialogue. You can ask these questions either when you find yourself slipping out of dialogue or as reminders when you prepare to step up to a crucial conversation. Here are some great ones: What do I really want for myself? What do I really want for others? What do I really want for the relationship? Once you’ve asked yourself what you want, add one more equally telling question: How would I behave if I really wanted these results?
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Asking questions about what we really want serves two important purposes. First, it reminds us of our goal. Second, it juices up our brain in a way that helps us keep focused.
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Emotions don’t settle upon you like a fog. They are not foisted upon you by others. No matter how comfortable it might make you feel saying it—others don’t make you mad. You make you mad. You make you scared, annoyed, or insulted. You and only you create your emotions.
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Once you’ve created your upset emotions, you have only two options: You can act on them or be acted on by them. That is, when it comes to strong emotions, you either find a way to master them or fall hostage to them.
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What is this intermediate step? Just after we observe what others do and just before we feel some emotion about it, we tell ourselves a story. We add meaning to the action we observed. We make a guess at the motive driving the behavior. Why were they doing that? We also add judgment—is that good or bad? And then, based on these thoughts or stories, our body responds with an emotion.
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We observe, we tell a story, and then we feel. Although this addition complicates the model a bit, it also gives us hope. Since we and only we are telling the story, we can take back control of our own emotions by telling a different story. We now have a point of leverage or control. If we can find a way to control the stories we tell, by rethinking or retelling them, we can master our emotions and, therefore, master our crucial conversations.
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Nothing in this world is good or bad, but thinking makes it so. —WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
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If we take control of our stories, they won’t control us. People who excel at dialogue are able to influence their emotions during crucial conversations.
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The first step to regaining emotional control is to challenge the illusion that what you’re feeling is the only right emotion under the circumstances.
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Spot the story by watching for “hot” words.
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SUMMARY—MASTER MY STORIES If strong emotions are keeping you stuck in silence or violence, try this. Retrace Your Path Notice your behavior. If you find yourself moving away from dialogue, ask yourself what you’re really doing. • Am I in some form of silence or violence? Get in touch with your feelings. Learn to accurately identify the emotions behind your story. • What emotions are encouraging me to act this way? Analyze your stories. Question your conclusions and look for other possible explanations behind your story. • What story is creating these emotions? Get back to the facts. Abandon ...more
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Once you’ve worked on yourself to create the right conditions for dialogue, you can then draw upon five distinct skills that can help you talk about even the most sensitive topics. These five tools can be easily remembered with the acronym STATE. It stands for:   • Share your facts • Tell your story • Ask for others’ paths • Talk tentatively • Encourage testing The first three skills describe what to do. The last two tell how to do it.
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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. 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.
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summary, to help remember these skills, think of your ABCs. Agree when you agree. Build when others leave out key pieces. Compare when you differ. Don’t turn differences into debates that lead to unhealthy relationships and bad results.
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There are four common ways of making decisions: command, consult, vote, and consensus.
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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. These are your candidates for involvement. Don’t involve people who don’t care. 2. Who knows? Identify who has the expertise you need to make the best decision. Encourage these people to take part. Try not to involve people who contribute no new information. 3. Who must agree? Think of those whose cooperation you might need in the form of authority or influence in any decisions you might ...more
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Remember, if you want people to feel accountable, you must give them an opportunity to account. Build an expectation for follow-up into every assignment.
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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.
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Finish Clearly Determine who does what by when. Make the deliverables crystal clear. Set a follow-up time. Record the commitments and then follow up. Finally, hold people accountable to their promises.