My Favorite 8 Nuggets from “Crucial Conversations,” the Life-Changing Book on Difficult Dialogue

Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret. -Ambrose Bierce

Few books literally change your life as soon as you read them. Crucial Conversations is a famous book among many circles — for good reason. I finally read it in its entirety recently and was blown away by the practicality and impact of its philosophy. It actually changed my approach to and success in the most charged conversations and potentially damaging confrontations I faced.

If you want to improve your handling of tough conversations in work or life, I highly recommend you read Crucial Conversations for yourself.

In the meantime, here are my favorite quotes, to whet your appetite:

What do you want?

The first problem we face in our crucial conversations is not that our behavior degenerates. It’s that our motives do — a fact that we usually miss.

Look for the win-win

Under the influence of adrenaline we start to see our options as unnecessarily limited. We assume we have to choose between getting results and keeping a relationship. In our dumbed-down condition, we don’t even consider the option of achieving both.

We need safety to communicate in high-stake situations

The first condition of safety is Mutual Purpose. Mutual Purpose means that others perceive that you’re working toward a common outcome in the conversation, that you care about their goals, interests, and values.

Be respectful to be constructive

Respect is like air. As long as it’s present, nobody thinks about it. But if you take it away, it’s all that people can think about. The instant people perceive disrespect in a conversation, the interaction is no longer about the original purpose — it is now about defending dignity.

Control your emotions by engaging your brain

The best at dialogue do something completely different. They aren’t held hostage by their emotions, nor do they try to hide or suppress them. Instead, they act on their emotions. That is, when they have strong feelings, they influence (and often change) their emotions by thinking them out. As a result, they choose their emotions, and by so doing, make it possible to choose behaviors that create better results.

The Crucial Conversations model

Watch for how you create stories to explain facts

This is my favorite lesson from Crucial Conversations. It has helped me multiple times tease apart the actual facts from the negative story I might be telling myself.

Any set of facts can be used to tell an infinite number of stories. Stories are just that, stories. These explanations could be told in any of thousands of different ways. To slow down the lightning-quick storytelling process and the subsequent flow of adrenaline, retrace your Path to Action — one element at a time. This calls for a bit of mental gymnastics.

First you have to stop what you’re currently doing.

Then you have to get in touch with why you’re doing it.

Here’s how to retrace your path:

• [Act] Notice your behavior. Ask: Am I in some form of silence or violence?

• [Feel] Get in touch with your feelings. What emotions are encouraging me to act this way?

• [Tell story] Analyze your stories. What story is creating these emotions?

• [See/hear] Get back to the facts. What evidence do I have to support this story?
Spot the story by watching for “hot” words.

How to return to the collaborative path from your counterproductive stories

If you want to persuade others, don’t start with your stories. Start with your observations.

When you have a tough message to share, or when you are so convinced of your own rightness that you may push too hard, remember to STATE your path:

Share your facts. Start with the least controversial, most persuasive elements from your Path to Action.

Tell your story. Explain what you’re beginning to conclude.

Ask for others’ paths. Encourage others to share both their facts and their stories.

Talk tentatively. State your story as a story — don’t disguise it as a fact.

Encourage testing. Make it safe for others to express differing or even opposing views.

Every sentence has a history.

Start dialogue with shared facts and intent

Most arguments consist of battles over the 5 to 10 percent of the facts and stories that people disagree over. And while it’s true that people eventually need to work through differences, you shouldn’t start there. Start with an area of agreement.

When the other person has merely left out an element of the argument, skilled people will agree and then build. Rather than saying: “Wrong. You forgot to mention . . .,” they say: “Absolutely. In addition, I noticed that. . .” If you agree with what has been said but the information is incomplete, build. Point out areas of agreement, and then add elements that were left out of the discussion.

To help remember these skills, think of your ABCs.

Agree when you agree.

Build when others leave out key pieces.

Compare when you differ.

That’s it! I hope you enjoyed this selected wisdom from Crucial Conversations.

Get it for yourself (or someone else if you want to be passive-aggressive about it) here:

Published by Patrick

I provide coaching to entrepreneurial leaders so they can build their businesses successfully and experience unrivaled personal growth.

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