What’s a Crucial Conversation?

When people first hear the term “crucial conversation,” many conjure up images of presidents, emperors, and prime ministers seated around a massive table while they debate the future of the world. Although such a discussions have a wide-sweeping and lasting impact, they’re not the kind book talks about. The crucial conversation book refers are interaction that could have a huge impact on the quality of your life. For e.g. you’re talking with your boss about a possible promotion. She thinks you’re not ready; you think you are.

You’re in a meeting with four coworkers and you’re trying to pick a new marketing strategy.

You’re in a middle of casual conversation with your spouse and he or she brings up an “ugly incident” and the emotion start to running high.

In each case, some element of your daily routine could be altered for better or worse. Crucial conversations are about tough issues.

Whenever we face crucial conversation, we have 3 choices –

  1. 1)   We can avoid them
  2. 2)   We can face them and handle them poorly.
  3. 3)   We can face them and handle them well.

Typically when we face crucial conversation, we’re often at our worst. It happens because of the emotions. When the emotion gets involved, your kidneys starts pumping adrenaline into your bloodstream. Your brain diverts blood from activities it deem nonessential to high-priority task such as hitting and running. This causes the higher-level reasoning sections to get less blood. All these results in our handling of such crucial situation worst. Often later we wonder, “What was I thinking?”

Mastering Crucial Conversations

Free flow of information is the most important factor in the crucial conversation.

A woman checked into the hospital to have a tonsillectomy, and the surgical team erroneously removed a portion of her foot. How could this tragedy happen? In fact, why is that ninety-eight thousand hospital deaths in US stem from human error? In part because many health-care professionals are afraid to speak their minds. In this case, no less than seven people wondered why the surgeon was working on the foot, but said nothing. Meaning didn’t flow because people were afraid to speak up.

Make it save for everyone to share his or her idea. When two or more people enter into crucial conversation, we have different opinions. I believe one thing, you another. I have one history, you another. It is essential that we make it save for everyone to share his or her idea. More the ideas flow in the pool, the better the outcome will be.

Next we will see the how of dialogue.

 1. Start with Heart

When the conversations become crucial we normally resort to the forms of communication we have grown up with – debate, silent treatment, manipulation, and so on. When faced with failed conversation most of us are quick to blame others. If others would only change, then we’d all live happily ever after. If others weren’t so screwed up, we wouldn’t have to resort to silly games in the first place.

Although it’s true that there are times when we are merely bystanders in life’s never-ending stream of head-on collisions, rarely are we completely innocent. More often than not, we do something to contribute to the problems we’re experiencing. As much as others may need to change, or we may want them to change, the only person we can continually inspire, prod, and shape is the person in the mirror.

Whenever you are a part of crucial conversation –

       1)   Focus on what you really want – don’t deviate from the topic. Even when under attack, focus on what you want and act accordingly. When we ask question like ‘what we really want’, the problem solving part of our brain recognizes that we are now dealing with intricate social issues and not physical threats. This increases the blood flow to the part of our brain that help us think.

       2)   Refuse the sucker’s choice – You should not resort to either–or choice. It’s known as Sucker’s Choice. We often think that either we can be hones and attack our spouse, or we can be kind and withhold the truth. Either we can disagree with the boss to help make a better choice – and get shot for it – or we can remain quiet, starve the pool, and keep our job. Break free of these Sucker’s Choices. Think about what you really want, and then think about what you don’t want, and then think about the way to achieve what you want without causing what you don’t want to happen.

Is there a way to talk with your loved one about how you’re spending money and not get into an argument?


2. LEARN TO LOOK (How to notice When Safety is at Risk)

                 1)   Learn to Spot Crucial Conversation

Stay alert for the moment a conversation turns from a routine or harmless discussion into a crucial one. Prepare yourself that you’re about to enter the danger zone. Otherwise, you can easily get sucked into silly games before you realize what’s happened.

                 2)   Learn to Look for Safety Problems

When it’s safe, you can say anything. Nothing kills the flow of meaning like fear. When you fear that people aren’t buying into your ideas, you start pushing too hard. When you fear that you may be harmed in some way, you start withdrawing and hiding. If you make it safe enough, you can talk about almost anything and people will listen. When there is safety issues arises in the conversation people often choose either silence (withholding meaning from the pool) or violence (trying to force meaning in the pool). Look for these indications.

                  3)   Look for Your Style Under Stress

It is often that when we get involved in crucial conversation we don’t monitor our own behavior. You have to become a vigilant self-monitor. Pay close attention to what you’re doing and the impact it’s having, and then alter your strategy if necessary.



Step Out –

            When others move to silence or violence, step out of the conversation and Make It Safe. When safety is restored, go back to the issue at hand and continue the dialogue.

Decide which condition of Safety is at Risk

          a)    Mutual Purpose: Do others believe you care about their goals in this conversation? Do they trust your motives? It happens that the other person involved in conversation believe that you do not care about their goal. In that case, it is important to build trust that you care about their motives as well.

          b)   Mutual Respect: Do others believe you respect them? If mutual respect is at risk, it will become harder to come to any conclusion unless this risk is eliminated.

Apologize When Appropriate

            If you have violated the respect of other person, apologize.

Contrast to Fix Misunderstanding

When others misunderstand either your purpose or your intent, use Contrasting. Start with what you don’t intend or mean. Then explain what you do intend or mean.

For e.g.

(The don’t part) The last thing I wanted to do was communicate that I don’t value the work you put in or that I didn’t want to share it with the VP.

(The do part) I think your work has been nothing short of spectacular.

CRIB to Get to Mutual Purpose

When you are at cross-Purposes, use four skills to get back to Mutual Purpose:

  1. 1)   Commit to seek Mutual Purpose.
  2. 2)   Recognize the purpose behind the strategy.
  3. 3)   Invent a Mutual Purpose.
  4. 4)   Brainstorm new strategies.


 4. MASTER MY STORIES (How to stay in dialogue when you’re Angry, Scared, or Hurt)

Emotions don’t just happen, whenever you see/hear something you tell yourself a story. This story that you tell is what initiate the feeling.  You can change the feeling by changing the story.

Whenever you find yourself in situation where you are feeling angry, scared, or hurt, first stop what you’re currently doing. Then you have to get in touch with why you’re doing it. Understand the story behind your action.

Now after you find the story, tell the complete story. Normally we tell stories to justify our action, instead of this tell the complete story. Ask question such as below –

  1. 1)   Am I pretending not to notice my role in the problem?
  2. 2)   Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do this?
  3. 3)   What do I really want?
  4. 4)   What would I do right now if I really wanted these results?


  5. STATE MY PATH (How to Speak Persuasively, Not Abrasively)

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

  1. 1)   Share your facts: Start with the least controversial, most persuasive element from your path to Action.
  2. 2)   Tell your story: Explain what you’re beginning to conclude. Don’t leave the conclusion for interpretations. It is important to share your conclusion. Because it’s the facts plus the conclusion that call for a face-to-face discussion. In addition, if you just mention the facts, the other person may not understand the severity of the implications.
  3. 3)   Ask for others paths: Encourage others to share both their facts and their stories.
  4. 4)   Talk tentatively: State your story as a story- don’t state it as a fact. For e.g. change “The fact is” to “In my opinion”, swap “Everyone knows that” for “I’ve talked to three of our suppliers who think that”, and soften “It’s clear to me” to “I’m beginning to wonder if”. Why soften the message? Because we’re trying to add meaning to pool, if we’re too forceful, the information won’t make it into the pool. Besides, our stories are only educated guesses.
  5. 5)   Encourage testing: Make it safe for others to express differing or even opposing views. Even if you have a very strong belief and think that you’re right and others are wrong, open yourself up to the belief that others might have something to say, and better still, they might even hold a piece of the puzzle. Ask them for their views.



To encourage the free flow of meaning and help others leave silence or violence behind, explore their paths to Action. Start with an attitude of curiosity and patience. This helps restore safety.

Then, use four powerful listening skills to retrace the other person fact and story:

  1. 1)   Ask – Start by simply expressing interest in the other person’s views.
  2. 2)   Mirror – Increase safety by respectfully acknowledging the emotions people appear to be feeling.
  3. 3)   Paraphrase – As others begin to share part of their story, restate what you’ve heard to show not just that you understand, but also that it’s safe for them to share what they’re thinking.
  4. 4)   Prime – If others continue to hold back, prime. Take your best guess at what they may be thinking and feeling.

As you begin to share your views, remember to –

  1. 1)   Agree – Agree when you do.
  2. 2)   Build – If others leave something out, agree where you do, then build.
  3. 3)   Compare – When you do differ significantly, don’t suggest others are wrong. Compare your two views. Instead of saying something like “Wrong” say something like “I think I see things differently. Let me describe how.”



Having more meaning in the pool, even jointly owning it, doesn’t guarantee that we all agree on what we’re going to do with the meaning. The two riskiest times in crucial conversations tend to be at the beginning and at the end. The beginning is risky because you have to find a way to create safety or else things go awry. The end id dicey because if you aren’t careful about how you clarify the conclusion and decisions flowing from your pool of shared meaning, you can run into violated expectations later on. This can happen in two ways.

  1. First, People may not understand how decisions are going to be made.
  2. The second problem with decision-making occurs when no decision gets made. Either idea slip away and dissipate, or people can’t figure out what to do with them.

Both of these problems are solved if, before making a decision the people involved decide how to decide. Below are different methods to decide –

  1. 1)   Command – Decisions are made without involving others.
  2. 2)   Consult – Input is gathered from the group and then a subset decides.
  3. 3)   Vote – An agreed-upon percentage swings the decision.
  4. 4)   Consensus – Everyone comes to an agreement and then supports the final decision.


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.

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