I am sure we all have heard about crucial conversations, but have we taken the time to really define them and plan for them? Probably not. I read a great book titled Crucial Conversations, by a variety of authors, who defined what a crucial conversation was and how to act when engaged in one. Let’s see what they have to say.
What Is A Crucial Conversation?
A crucial conversation is any discussion between two or more people where opinions vary, stakes are high, and emotions run strong. You are probably thinking, “Great…that is just about every conversation I have ever been in.” Well, it may not be every conversation, but I am willing to bet you have been in many. But how are you involved? What type of person are you in these conversations?
3 Types of People in Crucial Conversations
People will generally fall into three different types when involved in crucial conversations:
1. those who resort to threats and name-calling;
2. those who become silent, all the while getting angrier in their silence; and
3. those who speak openly, honestly, and effectively.
It is obvious here the type of person we should aim to be, but I am going to say it. You should be a #3 type of guy or gal. The first two types are not solving anything. They are just adding more fuel to the fire. Instead of adding fuel to the fire, put the fire out by first making the conversation safe.
Make The Conversation Safe
This can be a tough one, but we need to offer a sincere apology when it is appropriate. Our ego wants us to be right, but even more important, it doesn’t want us to be wrong. It will tell you to hold on to your story and belief to the bitter end. But this is where you have to be bigger than your ego and apologize when it is necessary.
Even if I don’t feel I am wrong, I will apologize for the disagreement. “I’m sorry we are disagreeing and I definitely don’t want to argue. Let’s figure this out together.” I don’t just say this to calm the other person down. I say this because I mean it. I don’t want to argue with anyone, so showing a little humility is not weak. It shows you value the relationship more than winning an argument.
2. Confirm Your Respect For The Other Person
Show the other person you respect them. You can do this by acknowledging what they are saying and trying to understand them. Try to identify the clear purpose of the conversation and focus on that. Once you have the clear purpose, you can try to team up to meet that purpose.
3. Create A Mutual Purpose For The Conversation
Once you identify what the real purpose of the conversation is, you can then transform that purpose into a purpose that everyone in the discussion can agree on. Once you identify that mutual purpose, it puts everyone on the same team and helps everyone to focus on that one thing. Instead of two or three people arguing over something, you are now working together to reach an end.
Be Careful With The Stories You Tell Yourself
We tend to tell ourselves all kinds of stories to help us deal with conversations. Depending on the stories we tell, we can put ourselves in a positive or negative state of mind. Here are a few types of stories we tell ourselves:
– Victim Stories – “It’s not my fault.” This makes us look like innocent sufferers in our own minds.
– Villain Stories – “It’s all your fault.” This turns decent people into villains and overemphasizes their guilt or stupidity.
– Helpless Stories – “There’s nothing else I can do.” We make ourselves out to be powerless and with no other choice.
– Useful Stories – These are stories that create positive emotions that lead to healthy action and dialogue.
Our obvious goal is to tell useful stories. The other types require more work on your part to convince yourself to abandon negative thinking. When this happens, drop those bad stories and think of something useful you can say that will move the conversation in the right direction.
Know Your ABC’s
Agree when you agree. When you find common ground, highlight it. Give it special attention so everyone involved can see that you agree on at least one thing.
Build when others leave out key pieces. When a key piece of information is left out, add it to the dialogue. Make sure it is something that is relevant and adds value. Avoid things that assign fault or blame to someone.
Compare when you differ. We are all not going to agree on everything, but we can agree to disagree without saying the other person is wrong. People want to be right, so telling them they are wrong will just attack their ego and take the conversation down the wrong path. Compare why your opinions differ and do it in a way that does not suggest the other person is wrong.
After reading this book, my key takeaways were:
1. Make the conversation safe.
2. Drop the ego and apologize. Apologizing says I care more about our relationship than I do being right or wrong.
3. Calm everyone down by finding the common ground, the common purpose everyone is trying to reach.
Crucial conversations happen all the time and can result in heated arguments. In order to avoid these types of arguments and to calm things down, consider some of the suggestions from the Crucial Conversations book and the great takeaways from it. If you want better relationships, find ways to bring a happy ending to a heated discussion rather than adding to the fire!!!
Pick up the Crucial Conversations book on Amazon: