Book Reviews

Crucial Conversations: Tools For Talking When Stakes Are High

Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillian and Al Switzer

Forward by Stephen Covey

  • This is a breakthrough book
  • There are a few defining moments in our life that make all the difference. Many of these moments come from “crucial conversations” with important people in emotionally charged situations
  • Crucial conversations (CC’s) transform people and relationships, but because these situations are emotionally charged we are often at our worst when it is most important to be at our best.
  • If these CC’s are to benefit all involved they must produce what Buddhist call “the middle way”. Not a compromise between two opposites on a straight line continuum, but a higher middle way like the apex of a triangle.
  • Because two or more people have created something new from genuine dialogue, bonding takes place – a very powerful form of bonding.

Outline of Book

  • Understanding power of dialogue
  • Clarifying what you want to happen and focusing on what is happening
  • Creating conditions of safety
  • Using self-awareness and knowledge
  • The authors show how to blend and use both IQ and EQ to enable crucial conversations

Chapter 1: What is a Crucial Conversation

  • Crucial conversations (CC’s): opinions vary and stakes are high and emotions run high
  • By nature, we are designed to handle CC’s poorly – by fight and flight – because we are under stress
  • Research shows that strong relationships, careers, organizations and communities all draw from the same source of power – the ability to talk openly about high-stakes emotional controversial topics – from the ability to have effective crucial conversations
  • We are designed wrong – generations of genetic shaping drives humans to handle cc’s with flying fists and fleet feet, not intelligent persuasion and gentle assertiveness – blood flows under stress to our mussels and not to our higher level reasoning sections of our brain
  • The authors claim – master cc’s and enhance your career, relationships, your health, your life, [your business]
  • Failed CC’s never makes us happier, healthier or better off

Chapter 2: Mastering CC’s – the Power of Dialogue

  • The one thing when it comes to risky, controversial and emotional conversations (CC’s) skilled people find a way to get all relevant information (from themselves and others) out into the open. That’s it!!!! At the core of successful conversations [organizations] lies the free flow of relevant information!
  • It is called dialogue: the free flow of meaning between two or more people.
  • When we first enter CC’s by definition we don’t share the same pool. Our opinions differ. People skilled at dialogue make sure it is SAFE for everyone to add meaning to the shared pool – even ideas that at first glance appear controversial, wrong or at odds with their own beliefs.
  • The pool of shared meaning is a measure of a group’s IQ. The larger the shared pool, the smarter the decisions.
  • In every instance where bosses are smart, well paid, confident and outspoken [ie. most of the world] people tend to hold back their opinions rather than risk angering someone in a position of power.
  • The pool of shared meaning is a birthplace of synergy.
  • The time you spend up front establishing a shared pool of meaning is more than paid for by faster, more committed [more effective] actions later on.

Chapter 3: Start With Your Own Heart

  • Get yourself right.
  • When things go awry focus on what you can do to get back on track. The most talented at dialogue are the ones continually working to improve their skills. Those skilled at dialogue also:
    • Steely-eyed smart when it comes to knowing what they want
    • Don’t make ‘sucker’s choices’ (either or choices)
  • High stakes conversations are the ones where often less healthy motives supplant the original more healthy, more noble motives. Common deviations – wanting to win, wanting revenge, wanting to kiss ass…The key is to stop and ask yourself “what do I really want?”

Chapter 4: Learn to Look – How to Notice When Safety is at Risk

  • Look for content and conditions
  • Look for what and why
  • Look for the moment the conversation turns ugly
  • Most of us focus on content but when conversations turn crucial we must stress “conditions” – look for:
    • Moment conversation turn crucial
    • Signs people don’t feel safe (silence or violence)
    • Your own style is under stress
  • Silence: masking, avoiding, withdrawing
  • Violence: controlling, labeling and attacking
  • Our own behavior is the most difficult (and most important) to observe

Chapter 5: Make it Safe

  • When conversations turn the key is to step out of content and turn to conditions and make it safe
  • The first condition of safety is “mutual purpose” – that we are working toward the same goal and have the same interest
  • Mutual purpose is the entry condition for dialogue, this is not a technique it has to be genuine
  • Mutual respect is like air – If you take it away, it is all people can think about
  • The instant people perceive disrespect in a conversation, the interaction is no longer about the original purpose – it is about defending dignity

Chapter 6: Master My Stories How to Stay in Dialogue Even if You’re Angry, Scared or Hurt

  • You either master your emotions (stories) or they master you
  • Emotions don’t just happen – you create your own emotions
  • There is an intermediate step between what others do and how we feel – the intermediate step is that we tell a story, we add judgment.

  • The leverage point is where we tell the story. Change the story. Change how we feel. Change how we act.
  • There are three clever stories that often lead us astray:
    • Victim stories – “It is not my fault”
    • Villain stories – “It is all your fault”
    • Helpless stories – “There is nothing else I could do”