| October 2nd, 2006

Crucial Conversations

Consider these scenarios:

  • You are talking to your boss about a promotion you deserve but she thinks you are not ready yet.
  • You notice that your husband is not throwing the trash as he is supposed to, you bring that up (in a not-so-pleasant way) and before you know you two end up in a heated debate on how less each of you care for the other.
  • Your neighbor is building a fence, you think that is within your boundary, you tell him about this and the next thing you remember is he threatens you to see in the courtroom.

Image Courtesy:seasite.niu.eduAll these above conversations have the characteristics of a crucial conversation. What makes them crucial and not just unpleasant – is that the results could have a huge impact on the quality of your life.

By definition, a crucial conversation is a discussion between two or more people where
1. Stakes are high
2. Opinion vary
3. Emotions run strong.

Sometimes the stakes could be fairly low at the beginning (the trash being inside the house in the second example) but with time and growing emotions, the relationship eventually turned sour and quality of life suffers.

By definition crucial conversations are about tough issues. Unfortunately its human nature to back away from discussions we fear will hurt us or make things worse. Most of the time we handle it poorly, either we go violent or silent – we yell, we withdraw, we say things we later regret.

Why is that?

We’re designed wrong. When conversations turn from routine to crucial we’re often in trouble. Emotions don’t exactly prepare us to converse effectively. Countless generations of genetic shaping drive humans to handle crucial conversation with flying fists and fleet feet, not with intelligent persuasion and gentle effectiveness. When someone tells you something that you disagree with about a topic that matters a great deal to you, there is the series of things happen to your body – the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, two tiny organs seated on top of your kidney pump adrenaline to your bloodstream. Your brain then diverts the blood from activities it deems non essential to high priority tasks such as hitting and running. Unfortunately as the large muscles of the arms and legs get more blood, the higher level reasoning sections of your brain get less. As a result you end up facing challenging conversations with the same equipment available to a rhesus monkey!

What do you have to work with? The issue at hand, the other person, and a brain that is preparing to fight or take flight. It’s little wonder that we often say and do things that make perfect sense to us in that moment, but later on seems, well, stupid. Even if you are mentally prepared for a crucial conversation and you have kept yourself calm before you begin, you don’t know how you are going to end (the conversation). You have seen the negative behaviors you want to avoid but if you don’t know what to follow then most probably you will fail.

Good news is handling crucial conversation is a skill you can learn and practice. People with this skill have made success in their career and in their relationships. Researches have shows couples who have solved their issues with effective conversations have better health than who do not. Organizations where the employees have this skill have been more productive and been industry leaders. Now a days we have the resources to master this skill. This will surely change our lives for better.

Note: This is from the book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High. I am planning to write a second part focusing on the techniques suggested by the authors.

 

2 Responses to “Crucial Conversations”

  1. sonia says:

    Great – look forward to hearing more about the techniques – this is something we all battle with!

  2. Muhit says:

    I have a slightly different take on the three scenarios: They are a lot easier to handle if they were not “crucial conversations” in the first place. The hard work [or play, in the 2nd instance] comes before – waaay before! In each of the three examples cited, once the issue is framed in the manner cited, you are in trouble. The key is planning ahead so that the same issues never get to the point used in the example. And the key? Communications!

    If you manage to have open and regular communications with your boss and are able to build a rapport and mutual respect, you and your boss will have discussed your career goals and what you need to do to further them long before there is an opportunity for a promotion. In fact, this is a conversation (about your next promotion) that should begin when you get the previous promotion (or appointment). If you and your boss regularly speak about how you are doing in meeting goals that you have mutually set for yourself – over the occasional lunch or coffee, then you are less likely to find yourselves too far apart in your assessment of your abilities at the ‘crucial’ time.

    The same thing applies to your relationship with your spouse (note: I am male). If you have a great working relationship in other aspects of your life, your spouse is likely to listen to you the first time when you mention the trash (thereby making it unnecessary for you to bring it up in a not-so-nice manner). Discuss things such as this – small things – when they are not an issue. It is always more difficult to deal with ‘issues’ once they become an ‘issue’. The most important thing is to set aside a bit of time on a regular basis to talk to each other – go out on a date once a week. If you can’t manage that, then do so once a month. But don’t leave it to random opportunity. Plan for it – schedule it – so you and everyone else knows that on the 2nd Friday of each month, it is date night and you’re not to be disturbed! And if for some reason, date night gets pre-empted, make sure that you schedule a make-up date night on the very next night that it is possible to do so. If you can’t go out, rent a movie and have a date night at home! And last, but most definitely not least, (this is something that is somewhat unidirectional) if a man is happy in the bedroom, he’ll do ANYthing you want – even ignore the occasional not-so-nice words! (And beleive me, the converse is doubly true!) But primarily, if you spend time together regularly, you’ll be better communicators and it is less likely that small things are going to turn into big issues.

    By now, you can expect what I’ll tell you about the neighbor. That’s right, if you have invited each other over a few times for a hot dog or some biryani, he is likely to have discussed the fence (or any other alterations) he is planning before he starts it. Heck, if you have a good enough relationship, the fence becomes entirely unnecesary! 🙂

    Prevention, as the old saying goes, is the best cure!

    Hey Sharmin – told you I’d visit!

    Muhit

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