Crucial Conversations – Tools for Talking when the Stakes are High


I finished reading Crucial Conversations – Tools for Talking when the Stakes are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Swizler. This book should be read by every leader, manager and people who make decisions under high stress. Even for the general audience, the crucial conversation is a good skill to learn for life.

A conversation among two or more people may be marked as crucial if the opinions differ and the stakes are high, which in turn results in highly charged emotions. You may consider these as high-risk conversations as well. If handled properly, they create breakthroughs. But if mishandled they can lead to breakdowns. The authors researched for 25 years with 20,000 people to come up with some recommendations on how to identify and handle crucial conversations better.

1) Start with an open conversation in a positive mindset – How we discuss something is often the real issue rather than what we are discussing. How we discuss something is often the real issue rather than what we are discussing.

2) Stay in dialogue – If the lines of communication go down, then there is no hope for a resolution.

3) Establish safety primarily by listening – Listen from an authentic place of compassion, curiosity, and encouragement. Make the conversation safe so that others don’t mask, avoid, or withdraw. There are four paths to powerful listening: AMPP – 

  • A = Ask (to get things rolling)
  • M = Mirror (to confirm feelings)
  • P = Paraphrase (to acknowledge their story)
  • P = Prime (when we are getting no-where) 

4) Control your emotion – To speak honestly without offending requires a mix of confidence, humility, and skill. Use the following 5 tools: STATE –

  • S = Share the facts
  • T = Tell your story (i.e the meaning you are making of these facts)
  • A = Ask for the other person’s path/story
  • T = Talk tentatively
  • E = Encourage testing – The intent is to reach a shared meaning to the facts as a solid basis on which to agree on the next action steps.

5) Agree on a mutual purpose – Use the key steps for developing a mutual purpose: CRIB  – 

  • C =  Commit to seek a Mutual Purpose 
  • R = Recognize the purpose behind the strategy
  • I = Invent a mutual purpose
  • B = Brainstorm new strategies

6) Separate Facts from Story – There are three stories we need to listen out to deconstruct how a person is viewing the situation.

  • Victim stories (It’s not my fault).
  • Villain stories (it’s all your fault)
  • Helpless stories (There’s nothing else I can do).

The key is to get both parties to construct a bigger shared story. It is only when we have a shared meaning can we start to devise an action plan. If we find there is still disagreement then use the ABC

  • A = Agree
  • B = Build
  • C = Compare

7) Agree on a clear action plan – Use the 4 methods of decision making to agree on a clear action plan.

  • Command – who are empowered to make the decision
  • Consult – consult before making the decision
  • Vote – the most vote wins
  • Consensus – where one seeks a position that everyone can sign up to

Ask the following questions – 

  • Who cares? – don’t involve people who don’t care
  • Who knows? – who has the relevant expertise
  • Who must agree? – who are the people who could block the implementation later on
  • How many people must be involved? – try to involve the fewest people possible.

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