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Crucial Conversations

Crucial Conversations


By: Kerry Patterson; Joseph Grenny; Ron McMillan; Al Switzler

What’s a crucial convo?

The results of a crucial conversation have high impact on quality of life

Given choices on approach, we can:

(I suspect there’s actually a larger spectrum than 3 choices ;-)

Crucial conversations are frequently spontaneous, catching you off-guard

Common crucial conversations include:

“How can I be 100 percent honest with , and at the same time be 100 percent respectful?"

At the core of every successful conversation lies the free flow of relevant information. People openly and honestly express their opinions, share their feelings, and articulate their theories. They willingly and capably share their views, even when their ideas are controversial or unpopular.

Pool of shared meaning -> everyone should feel comfortable adding to it

Hints, sarcasm, caustic humor, innuendo, and looks of disgust are not effective sharing of meaning.

Maintain your focus:

Killers of honest dialogue:

When a conversation turns crucial, ask “What do I really want here?”

Also, as the conversation unfolds and you find yourself starting to, say, defer to the boss or give your spouse the cold shoulder, pay attention to what’s happening to your objectives. Are you starting to change your goal to save face, avoid embarrassment, win, be right, or punish others? Here’s the tricky part. Our motives usually change without any conscious thought on our part. When adrenaline does our thinking for us, our motives flow with the chemical tide.

“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.”

Know what you want and what you don’t want, ie want to voice concerns AND not hurt feelings.

Watch for content and conditions

You want to be alert for the moment a convo goes from routine to Crucial

Signs that a conversation is about to get Crucial

Look for safety problems. Safe conversations let the things that need to be said be said. Unsafe convos are ugly.



Here are two crucial questions to help us determine when Mutual Purpose is at risk:

Three good skills that the best dialogues use:

contrasting provides context, proportion, and can fix misunderstandings of scope or severity

Agree to agree. Focus on your purpose, and be open to alternatives. Find the higher objective which you agree on.


Don’t treat your emotions as if they are the only valid response.

See + Hear -> Tell a Story -> Feel -> Act

If we can find a way to control the stories we tell, by rethinking or retelling them, we can master our emotions and, therefore, master our crucial conversations.

“Any set of facts can be used to tell an infinite number of stories.”

Expand your emotional vocabulary

Question your feelings and stories - is it the right feeling?

Don’t confuse stories with facts

Clever stories:

watch for double standard with victim/villain

clever stories can:


Clever stories omit crucial information about us, about others

Broaching uncomfortable topics requires:


Facts are the least controversial, and they are the most persuasive

When we start with shocking or offensive conclusions (“Quit groping me with your eyes!” or “I think we should declare bankruptcy”), we actually encourage others to tell Villain Stories about us. Since we’ve given them no facts to support our conclusion, they make up reasons we’re saying these things. They’re likely to believe we’re either stupid or evil.

So if your goal is to help others see how a reasonable, rational, and decent person could think what you’re thinking, start with your facts.

And if you aren’t sure what your facts are (your story is absolutely filling your brain), take the time to think them through before you enter the crucial conversation. Take the time to sort out facts from conclusions. Gathering the facts is the homework required for crucial conversations.

Always start with facts. “Facts lay the groundwork for all delicate conversations.”

“be willing to abandon or reshape your story as more information pours into the Pool of Shared Meaning.”

Soften the message, be tentative (not wimpy).

Invite opposing views, and mean it.

Don’t launch into monologues. Avoid harsh, conclusive language.

Hold to your belief, but be nice about it.

Look for opportunities to be curious about others

When others are acting out their feelings and opinions through silence or violence, it’s a good bet they’re starting to feel the effects of adrenaline. Even if we do our best to safely and effectively respond to the other person’s verbal attack, we still have to face up to the fact that it’s going to take a little while for him or her to settle down. Say, for example, that a friend dumps out an ugly story and you treat it with respect and continue on with the conversation. Even if the two of you now share a similar view, it may seem like your friend is still pushing too hard. While it’s natural to move quickly from one thought to the next, strong emotions take a while to subside. Once the chemicals that fuel emotions are released, they hang around in the bloodstream for a time—in some cases, long after thoughts have changed.

Every sentence has a history - find out what’s lead to this


Break the cycle, encourage other person to step away from their harsh feelings, anger

Ask to get things rolling -> Mirror to confirm feelings -> Paraphrase to acknowledge the story -> Prime when you’re getting nowhere

To keep ourselves from feeling nervous while exploring others’ paths—no matter how different or wrong they seem—remember we’re trying to understand their point of view, not necessarily agree with it or support it. Understanding doesn’t equate with agreement. Sensitivity does equate to acquiescence. By taking steps to understand another person’s Path to Action, we are promising that we’ll accept their point of view.

Agree -> Build -> Compare

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.

So here’s the take-away. If you completely agree with the other person’s path, say so and move on. Agree when you agree. Don’t turn an agreement into an argument.

Don’t get caught up in trivial differences, making a mole hill into a mountain. Say “I agree,” and then build.

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.

Compare your path with the other person, determine what they’re trying to accomplish

Decision making

Dialogue is not decision making

Before making a decision, decide how to decide

Decision Making styles

Before making decisions: Who cares? Who knows? Who must agree? How many people is it worth involving? When making decisions: Who? Does what? By when? How will you follow up? If multiple people share a task, who’s responsible? Spell out exact deliverables, no fuzziness. Use contrasting. Prototypes/examples are good. Write down the details of conclusions, decisions, and assignments.

Don’t get pulled into any one instance or your concern will seem trivial. Talk about overall pattern.

“Look for those areas that are most grievous to you and might not be all that hard to talk about. Pick one element and work on it. Establish Mutual Purpose. Frame the conversation in a way that the other person will care about.”


What is your Style under Stress? Your family? Coworkers?


Trust is not binary, there are degrees of trust

Have a clear ‘no surprises’ rule, that folks should let you know of snags ASAP.