Many ‘defining’ moments in life come from having crucial conversations (as these create significant shifts in attitude and behaviour). There are three factors that tend to define a crucial conversation: 1) opinions differ 2) the stakes are high and 3) emotions are high. If handled properly they create breakthroughs. If handled poorly they can lead to breakdowns. Quite often the health of a relationship depends on how well these are dealt with. The reality is that many people do not deal with them well – or at all. They live in either a sub-optimal state or hope the situation will resolve itself.
‘Crucial Conversations’ by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler focuses on techniques on how to hold such conversations in a positive space when surrounded by highly charged emotions. Their findings are based on 25 years of research with 20,000 people.
Their model has essentially 7 steps:
1) Start with the heart (i.e empathy and positive intent) – we have to start with a positive intent and good-will for the other person. We cannot change others, but we can change ourselves so rather than bringing a negative attitude to the conversation, we should enter it with an open mind. It is critical to see our view as just one version of the truth. It is also important to maintain mutual respect.
2) Stay in dialogue – two-way flow of communication is how to best get relevant information out in the open.
3) Make it safe – people are more likely to open up if they feel safe. When fearful they will either close down or fight back. This can be by masking (pretending to agree/be listening), avoiding (distraction techniques) and withdrawing. In order to keep the conversation going, you must be aware of the bigger picture, focusing on both your own feelings as well as cues from the other person (change in body language, energy and tone). When you sense that the situation is becoming unsafe, stepping out of the conversation to refocus on the end goal might be best. For example “Can we just switch gears for a minute? My goal here is not to make you feel guilty. My intent is purely to help us both find a way through this together”. You can re-establish safety primarily by listening.
4) Don’t get hooked by emotion (or hook them) – sometimes when we approach an emotionally charged situation with positive intent, the other person is not in the same space. Try to identify what you want and what you don’t want to happen as a consequence of raising that issue.
5) Agree a mutual purpose – we need to spend time to find an objective we both agree on. If one does not become readily apparent, brainstorm new strategies until one emerges.
6) Separate facts from story – separate facts from opinion. Both parties can agree on facts as a start to the conversation. Then both can spell out the ‘story’ they have created from the same facts. It is critical to let both sides put forward their story and to be open and actively listen.
7) Agree on a clear action plan – once consensus is reached, you can explore options for improving the situation. Once a decision is made, you need to establish a plan of action. Clearly define how you will follow up to keep all parties accountable by giving a time and place for follow up.
Mastering the ability to have crucial conversations can help you resolve disagreements in a respectful way and prepare you to face arguments and misunderstandings head-on. Seeking the assistance of a coach can help to guide you in your pursuit of this valuable skill. Contact us to learn more.