Crucial Conversations, Kerry Patterson et al (10/10)

Crucial Conversations

Great book on handling difficult / “crucial” conversations. Whether in relationships or at the workplace.

If you don’t do well in confrontation or “crucial conversations” – either because you don’t like conflict, or it gets too heated to achieve what you want – this is a great book to read.

(Check out the book on Amazon here.)

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What is a Crucial Conversation?

A “crucial conversation” is one with three characteristics.

  • Opinions vary
  • Stakes are high
  • Emotions run strong

In such conversations, it’s important to keep the dialogue going. The dialogue is a way to expand the “shared pool of meaning”. Need to encourage everyone to share their context, so everyone has the same information and the best decisions are made.

There are 7 steps to handle a crucial conversation successfully.

Step 1: Start with heart

Stay focused on what you really want from the conversation.

  • In crucial conversations, always keep the end goal in mind. Refocus on it, instead of on winning the argument.
  • Then ask “how would I behave if I really wanted these results?”. “How can I get what I want and ensure I avoid what I don’t want?”.
  • Reject the fool’s choice – it’s not a zero sum game. Ask “how can we both win”.

Step 2: Learn to look

Identify when Psychological Safety is at risk.

  • Psychological safety is key to a healthy dialogue (free flow of information).
  • If safety reduces, people start fighting (forcing meaning into the pool) or keeping quiet (withholding meaning from the pool). It’s then time to restore safety, not respond in kind.
  • Learn to identify when conversations turn crucial or you move away from healthy dialogue (i.e., when safety is at risk).
  • Step back from the content and notice the conditions of the argument.
    • Giving the brain this complex problem has added advantage of reducing stress response.
  • Notice physical, emotional, or behavioral signs a conversation has turned crucial.
    • Notice physical (stomach gets tight, eyes get dry), emotional (are you reacting angrily or suppressing your feelings), or behavioral (raising your voice, pointing a finger, becoming unusually quiet) signs a conversation has turned crucial.
      • Silence / withholding meaning from the pool: masking (sarcasm, sugar coating), avoiding, withdrawing.
      • Violence / forcing meaning into the pool: controlling, labelling, attacking.

Step 3: Make it safe

Step out of the content to restore psychological safety, when you see a conversation becoming unsafe.

  • For a conversation to be safe, need to ensure Mutual Purpose (the Entrance condition – do you both feel that you want the same thing) and Mutual Respect (the Continuation condition – focus on the similarity between you rather than differences, to ensure that you respect the counterpart).
  • Create a Mutual Purpose if none exists, using CRIB – Commit, Recognize, Invent, Brainstorm.
    • Commit to finding a mutual purpose
    • Recognize the purpose behind both parties’ strategies
    • Invent a mutual purpose if it doesn’t exist
    • Brainstorm strategies to meet the mutual purpose
  • Create Mutual Respect
    • Use Don’t / Do statements to highlight what you don’t want, and what you do want from the conversation. These help clarify what your objective is from the conversation, and more importantly, what it is not. It adds more meaning and context to the conversation, helping get on the same page.
    • Apologize if you made a mistake.

Step 4: Master my stories

How to stay in dialogue even when angry, scared, hurt.

  • Realize: When you notice something and you act, between the two, you are telling yourself a story and feeling the resulting emotions.
    • 4-step implicit process: See & Hear → Tell a story → Feel emotions → Act.
  • When see yourself reacting with silence or violence, pause and ask:
    • Am I reacting with silence or violence? Why – What emotions are leading me to this?
    • What story is leading me to these emotions?
    • Do I have evidence to support this story?
  • Avoid the three clever stories:
    • Victim story – Remember: you are not blameless. You are contributing to the problem in some way. Make yourself an actor – “What role have I played in this problem that I am ignoring?”.
    • Villain story – The opposite person is not evil. Make them a human, and push yourself to take the Most Respectful Interpretation – “Why would a decent, rational and reasonable person feel this way in this situation?”.
    • Helpless story – You’re also not helpless. Make yourself able – “what do I want in this situation? If I really want these results, what would I do right now? Why would a reasonable, rational and decent person do this?

Sidebar: Jerry Colonna suggests a few great questions, to shake yourself out of the Victim story. (Source: Tim Ferris’ Podcast with Jerry Colonna).

1. How am I complicit in creating these conditions that I say I do not want?

2. What am I not saying that needs to be said?

3. What am I saying that’s not being heard (and why am I not making it heard)?

4. What’s being said that I am not hearing?

Step 5: STATE my path

How to speak persuasively, not abrasively.

To maintain safety, you need confidence, humility, and skill.

Five skills to talk about the most delicate topics – STATE.

  • (S)hare your facts.
    • Facts are the least controversial, the most persuasive (without shrinking the pool of meaning), and least insulting.
  • (T)ell your story.
    • If you see safety deteriorating, step out of the conversation and build safety by contrasting.
    • Don’t apologize / water down your message.
    • use Don’t / Do statements – “This is what I want. This is what I don’t want.”
  • (A)sk for others’ paths.
  • (T)alk tentatively.
  • (E)ncourage testing – invite opposing views.

Step 6: Explore others’ paths

How to listen when others clam up or blow up.

  • Restore safety through sincerity, curiosity and patience.
    • Ask: “Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do this?”
  • Improve your listening skills – keep AMPP in mind.
    • Ask – Express interest in understanding the person’s views.
    • Mirror – respectfully acknowledge the emotions they seem to be feeling (not just their words).
    • Paraphrase – restate what you’ve heard, to show it’s safe to continue speaking, and that you understand.
    • Prime – if AMP don’t work, take best guess at what they may be thinking and feeling.
  • When sharing views in return, follow ABC: Agree, Build, Compare.
    • Agree – on the things you share. No need to argue about things you agree on.
    • Build – on what they have said, by adding what they may have left out.
    • Compare – don’t push view in; compare and discuss differences in views.

Step 7: Move to action

How to turn successful crucial conversations into decisions and united actions (and avoid violated expectations / inaction).

  • Finish clearly – determine who does what by when.
  • Decide how to decide – command vs. consult vs. vote vs. consensus.

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