By Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler, McGraw-Hill Education, September 16, 2011, 0071771328

Crucial Conversations happen constantly in my house. This book has already helped me. I first read the book in 2014. I reread it now at the prompting of a friend, and it was worth it. In conjunction with reading Difficult Conversations and Thanks for the feedback, I feel motivated to really work on my behavior. As all these books note: I’m the only one who I can change. Sometimes I forget that!

The book is very well written, honed by years of experience and two editions. I didn’t visit the website, which contains videos and other articles.

[k250] Crucial Conversation - n. A discussion between two or more people where (1) stakes are high, (2) opinions vary, and (3) emotions run strong.

[k265] When conversations matter the most–that is, when conversations move from casual to crucial–we’re generally on our worst behavior.

[k268] Countless generations of genetic shaping drive humans to handle crucial conversations with flying fists and fleet feet, not intelligent persuasion and gentle attentiveness.

[k274] As a result, you end up facing challenging conversations with the same intellectual equipment available to a rhesus monkey. Your body is preparing to deal with an attacking saber-toothed tiger, not your boss, neighbor, or loved ones.

[k284] You’re making this up as you go along because you haven’t often seen real-life models of effective communication skills.

[k336] Twenty years of research involving more than 100,000 people reveals that the key skill of effective leaders, teammates, parents, and loved ones is the capacity to skillfully address emotionally and politically risky issues. Period.

[k367] So we studied over 2,200 projects and programs that had been rolled out at hundreds of organizations worldwide. The findings were stunning. You can predict with nearly 90 percent accuracy which projects will fail–months or years in advance. And now back to our premise. The predictor of success or failure was whether people could hold five specific crucial conversations.

[k390] That’s because the real problem never was in the process, system, or structure–it was in employee behavior. The key to real change lies not in implementing a new process, but in getting people to hold one another accountable to the process. And that requires Crucial Conversations skills.

[k394] The path to high productivity passes not through a static system, but through face-to-face conversations.

[k405] In truth, everyone argues about important issues. But not everyone splits up. It’s how you argue that matters.

[k430] We could go on for pages about how the ability to hold crucial conversations has an impact on your personal health.

[k485] The mistake most of us make in our crucial conversations is we believe that we have to choose between telling the truth and keeping a friend.

[k502] When it comes to risky, controversial, and emotional conversations, skilled people find a way to get all relevant information (from themselves and others) out into the open.

[k517] People who are skilled at dialogue do their best to make it safe for everyone to add their meaning to the shared pool–even ideas that at first glance appear controversial, wrong, or at odds with their own beliefs.

[k522] And even though many people may be involved in a choice, when people openly and freely share ideas, the increased time investment is more than offset by the quality of the decision.

[k527] In fact, why is it that nearly 200,000 hospital deaths in the United States each year stem from human error? In part because many health-care professionals are afraid to speak their minds.

[k538] Not only does a shared pool help individuals make better choices, but since the meaning is shared, people willingly act on whatever decisions they make–with both unity and conviction.

[k623] If you can’t get yourself right, you’ll have a hard time getting dialogue right.

[k641] And that’s the first problem we face in our crucial conversations. Our problem is not that our behavior degenerates. It’s that our motives do–a fact that we usually miss.

[k689] Winning. This particular dialogue killer sits at the top of many of our lists.

[k701] Punishing. Sometimes, as our anger increases, we move from wanting to win the point to wanting to harm the other person.

[k706] Keeping the peace.

[k708] Rather than add to the pool of meaning, and possibly make waves along the way, we go to silence.

[k788] That’s why those who are skilled at crucial conversations present their brain with a more complex question. They routinely ask: “What do I want for myself, the other person, and the relationship?”

[k797] The best at dialogue refuse Fool’s Choices by setting up new choices.

[k799] First, clarify what you really want.

[k802] Second, clarify what you really don’t want.

[k806] Third, present your brain with a more complex problem. Finally, combine the two into an and question that forces you to search for more creative and productive options than silence and violence.

[k1015] You have to become a vigilant self-monitor.

[k1017] necessary. Specifically, watch to see if you’re having a good or bad impact on safety.

[k1115] To break from this insidious cycle, Learn to Look.

  • Learn to look at content and conditions.
  • Look for when things become crucial.
  • Learn to watch for safety problems.
  • Look to see if others are moving toward silence or violence.
  • Look for outbreaks of your Style Under Stress.

[k1186] To succeed in crucial conversations, we must really care about the interests of others–not just our own. The purpose has to be truly mutual.

[k1204] Mutual Respect is the continuance condition of dialogue. As people perceive that others don’t respect them, the conversation immediately becomes unsafe and dialogue comes to a screeching halt.

[k1225] In essence, feelings of disrespect often come when we dwell on how others are different from ourselves. We can counteract these feelings by looking for ways we are similar.

[k1289] Contrasting is a don’t/do statement that:

  • Addresses > others’ concerns that you don’t respect them or that you have a malicious purpose (the don’t part).
  • Confirms your respect or clarifies your real purpose (the do part).

For example:

[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.”

[k1321] Contrasting is not apologizing.

[k1408] But you’re not always so lucky. For example, you find out that your genuine wants and goals cannot be served except at the expense of the other person’s. In this case you cannot discover a Mutual Purpose. That means you’ll have to actively invent one.

[k1422] In summary, when you sense that you and others are working at cross-purposes, here’s what you can do. First, step out of the content of the conflict.

[k1424] Commit to seek Mutual Purpose. Make a unilateral public commitment to stay in the conversation until you come up with something that serves everyone.

[k1427] Recognize the purpose behind the strategy. Ask people why they want what they’re pushing for. Separate what they’re demanding from the purpose it serves.

[k1431] Invent a Mutual Purpose. If after clarifying everyone’s purposes you are still at odds, see if you can invent a higher or longer-term purpose that is more motivating than the ones that keep you in conflict.

[k1436] Brainstorm new strategies. With a clear Mutual Purpose, you can join forces in searching for a solution that serves everyone.

[k1606] We observe, we tell a story, and then we feel. Although this addition complicates the model a bit, it also gives us hope. Since we and only we are telling the story, we can take back control of our own emotions by telling a different story.

[k1611] Nothing in this world is good or bad, but thinking makes it so. –WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

Stories provide our rationale for what’s going on.

[k1640] If you want improved results from your crucial conversations, change the stories you tell yourself–even while you’re in the middle of the fray.

[k1671] Individuals say they’re angry when, in fact, they’re feeling a mix of embarrassment and surprise.

[k1679] It’s important to get in touch with your feelings, and to do so, you may want to expand your emotional vocabulary.

[k1695] Separate fact from story by focusing on behavior. To separate fact from story, get back to the genuine source of your feelings.

[k1700] Spot the story by watching for “hot” words.

[k1719] The first of the clever stories is a Victim Story.

[k1723] Within most crucial conversations, when you tell a Victim Story, you intentionally ignore the role you have played in the problem.

[k1731] Villain Stories–“It’s All Your Fault” We create these nasty little tales by turning normal, decent human beings into villains.

[k1748] Finally come Helpless Stories. In these fabrications we make ourselves out to be powerless to do anything healthy or helpful.

[k1802] Once we’ve learned to recognize the clever stories we tell ourselves, we can move to the final Master My Stories skill.

[k1805] Clever stories omit crucial information about us, about others, and about our options.

[k2243] 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.

[k2286] This means that at the very moment when most people become furious, we need to become curious.

[k2353] We call the four skills power listening tools because they are best remembered with the acronym AMPP–Ask, Mirror, Paraphrase, and Prime.

[k2375] It is not the fact that we are acknowledging others’ emotions that creates safety. We create safety when our tone of voice says we’re okay with them feeling the way they’re feeling.

[k2547] For example, when teams or families meet and generate a host of ideas, they often fail to convert the ideas into action for two reasons:

  • They have unclear expectations about how decisions will be made.

  • They do a poor job of acting on the decisions they do make.

[k2681] Decide How to Decide

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

[k2739] When spouses stop giving each other helpful feedback, they lose out on the help of a lifelong confidant and coach. They miss out on hundreds of opportunities to help each other communicate more effectively.

[k2997] Perhaps the most common way that the language of dialogue finds itself into everyday conversation is with the expression, “I think we’ve moved away from dialogue.”