Crucial Conversations – Tools for talking when the stakes are high

The root cause of many – if not most – human problems lies in how people behave when others disagree with them about high-stakes, emotional issues. We’ve become masters at avoiding tough conversations. We fear that we’ll make matters worse, so we often back away.

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

Crucial conversation – a discussion between two or more people where [1] stakes are high, [2] opinions vary, and [3] emotions run strong.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter – Martin Luther King Jr.

Dialogue – the free flow of meaning between two or more people.

The pool of shared meaning – is the birthplace of synergy. Since the meaning is shared, people will act on whatever decisions they make, or else they will still be unresolved: “He that complies against his will is of his own opinion still.” – Samuel Butler

Start with your heart – if you can’t get yourself right, you’ll have a hard time getting dialogue right. First step, stop believing that others are the source of our problems. Refocus your brain and examine your motives. Ask yourself what you really want.

What do I really want for myself? for others? for this relationship?

Don’t make fools choices – (either/or choices). Ask yourself, what do I want for myself, the other person, and the relationship? At the core of every successful conversation lies the free flow of relevant information. People who are skilled at dialogue do their best to make it safe for everyone to add their meaning to the shared pool.

Search for the elusive and – is it possible that there’s a way to accomplish both? Ask your brain to start searching for healthy options to bring you to dialogue. Ex: How can I bring up a serious issue and avoid creating bad feelings?

Learn to look (how to notice when safety is at risk)

[1] learn to spot crucial conversations (physical, emotional, behavioural cues). 

[2] learn to look for safety problems – as people begin to feel unsafe, they start down one of two unhealthy paths. They move either to silence (withholding meaning from the pool) or to violence (trying to force meaning into the pool).

[3] Look for your style under stress – become a vigilant self-monitor. Watch to see if you’re having a good or bad impact on safety.

Learn to make it safe

The best don’t play games. Period. They know that in order to solve their problem, they’ll need to talk about their problem – with no pretending, sugarcoating, or faking. So they do something completely different. They step out of the content of the conversation, make it safe, and then step back in. Once safety is restored, they can talk about nearly anything.

[1] Mutual Purpose

The first condition of safety is Mutual Purpose. Mutual purpose means that others perceive that you’re working toward a common outcome in the conversation, that you care about their goals, interests, and values. And vice versa. Mutual purpose is the entry condition of dialogue. Find a shared goal, and you have both a good reason and a healthy climate for talking. The purpose has to be truly mutual. When mutual purpose is at risk, we end up in debate.

2 crucial questions to help us determine when Mutual Purpose is at risk:

[1] Do others believe I care about their goals in this conversation?

[2] Do they trust my motives?

[2] Mutual Respect – The Continuance Condition

As soon as people perceive disrespect in a conversation, the interaction is no longer about the original purpose – it is now about defending dignity.

Can you respect people you don’t respect?  To counteract this feeling, we must look for ways we are similar. We must recognize that we all have weaknesses, and from this it’s easier to find a way to respect others.

What to do once you step out

[1] Apologize when appropriate – when you’ve made a legitimate mistake that hurt others, start with an apology. But to offer a sincere apology, this has to result in a change of motives that is communicated to the other.

[2] 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). Contrasting is not apologizing, rather it’s a way to ensure that what we said didn’t hurt more than it should have. Use contrasting to explain what you don’t mean until you’ve restored safety.

Create a Mutual Purpose

Sometimes we find ourselves in the middle of a debate b/c we clearly have different purposes. Contrasting won’t work because there’s no misunderstanding. The worst at dialogue either ignore the problem and push ahead or roll over and let others have their way. The good at dialogue move immediately toward compromise. The best at dialogue use 4 skills to create a Mutual Purpose (CRIB).

[1] Commit to seek mutual purpose – stay in the conversation until we invent a solution that serves a purpose we both share. Open your mind to the possibility that there’s a different option that your own. Learn to step out of the content of the struggle and make it safe. Simply say, “It seems like we’re both trying to force our view on each other. I commit to stay in this discussion until we have a solution that satisfies both of us.”

[2] Recognize the purpose behind the strategy – too often we confuse wants or purposes with strategies. Learn to separate strategies from purposes. Then new options become possible. For example, we want to stay at home and watch a movie, b/c we are tired of going downtown and dealing with the hassle of the city. Now you know the purpose behind the refusal to not watch a movie. You must be willing to ask someone, why they want what they are asking for.

[3] Invent a Mutual Purpose – focus on higher and longer-term goals to transcend short-term compromises.

[4] Brainstorm new strategies – think outside the box, give creativity a try.

(to be continued)…

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