Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High

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Overview

A PAPERBACK ORIGINAL
"Most books make promises. This one delivers. These skills have not only helped us to change the culture of our company,but have also generated new techniques for working together in ways that enabled us to win the largest contract in our industry's history. "­­Dain M. Hancock,President,Lockheed Martin Aeronautics A powerful,seven-step approach to handling difficult conversations with confidence and skill
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Overview

A PAPERBACK ORIGINAL
"Most books make promises. This one delivers. These skills have not only helped us to change the culture of our company,but have also generated new techniques for working together in ways that enabled us to win the largest contract in our industry's history. "­­Dain M. Hancock,President,Lockheed Martin Aeronautics A powerful,seven-step approach to handling difficult conversations with confidence and skill
"Crucial" conversations are interpersonal exchanges at work or at home that we dread having but know we cannot avoid. How do you say what needs to be said while avoiding an argument with a boss,child,or relationship partner? Crucial Conversations offers readers a proven seven-point strategy for achieving their goals in all those emotionally,psychologically,or legally charged situations that can arise in their professional and personal lives. Based on the authors' highly popular DialogueSmart training seminars,the techniques are geared toward getting people to lower their defenses,creating mutual respect and understanding,increasing emotional safety,and encouraging freedom of expression. Among other things,readers also learn about the four main factors that characterize crucial conversations,and they get a powerful six-minute mastery technique that prepares them to work through any highimpact situation with confidence.
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Editorial Reviews

Soundview Executive Book Summaries
Communicating Best When It Matters Most
A crucial conversation, as opposed to a casual exchange, is a discussion between two or more people about tough issues where opinions vary, stakes are high, and emotions run strong. When a topic needs to be breached that could easily lead to disaster, such as approaching a boss who is breaking his or her own safety or quality policies, or critiquing a colleague's work, or talking to a team member who isn't keeping commitments, talking openly is a must, but can be very difficult.

Mastering your crucial conversations can kick-start your career, strengthen your relationships, revitalize your organization and your community, and even improve your health, according to the authors of Crucial Conversations. (One study says a modest improvement in the ability to talk and connect with others corresponds to a two-thirds decrease in the death rate!)

A Free Flow of Meaning
The first technique that must be learned to master crucial conversations is a talent for dialogue. This is the free flow of meaning between two or more people. People who find a way to get all relevant information from themselves and others out in the open, write the authors, make it safe for everyone to add their meaning to the shared pool, even ideas that at first glance raise eyebrows or appear at odds with their own beliefs. These people try hard to ensure that all ideas find their way into the forum; and as this "pool of shared meaning" grows, it helps people by exposing them to more accurate and relevant information so they can make better decisions - and when people share their ideas more freely, the increased time investment creates betterquality decisions.

The authors write that the skills that are needed to master high-stakes interactions are easy to spot and easy to learn. By organizing the lessons they have discovered from extensive research, they have created a set of tools that combines the philosophies, theories, models and skills that can help make crucial conversations more successful.

These tools begin with tips for understanding how we think about and prepare for problem situations. Creating conditions in yourself and others must be done to develop the path of least resistance. Next, people must learn the skills of talking, listening and acting together. The last part of the equation involves mastering the tools for talking when stakes are high.

The first advice the authors offer to help readers prepare for successful dialogue is, "Start with heart." Begin high-risk discussions with the right motives, and then stay focused no matter what happens by knowing what you want - and never forget that dialogue is always an option. Never lose sight of the fact that the only person you can directly control is yourself. To stay focused on what you really want, pay attention to your motives whenever you find yourself moving toward silence or violence. Clarifying what you don't want will help you find healthy options to bring you to dialogue.

Staying Safe From Risk
Another important factor in the development of better dialogue is the ability to know when safety is at risk. Recognizing when the brain is beginning to disengage from a situation and moving away from healthy dialogue is a skill that must be learned to improve communication. When a dialogue is safe, you can say anything.

Since dialogue calls for a free flow of meaning, fear can kill the flow of meaning. To reduce fear, the authors say those involved in the dialogue must learn to look at content and conditions, to watch for safety problems, watch out for outbreaks of stressed behavior, and recognize when things are moving toward silence or violence. Learning techniques to make a dialogue safe helps everyone contribute his or her meaning to it. Once these things are learned, turning them into habits is what will make them useful when they are needed most.

Why Soundview Likes This Book
The skills that the authors set out to help others master in Crucial Conversations are pertinent to everyone who needs to communicate better, and the light-hearted, engaging tone with which they deliver them gets their points across clearly. By breaking down the tactful steps that must be taken along the way to a successful dialogue, the authors help their readers develop better strategies for getting what they want without losing sight of the nonabrasive persuasion that is necessary to get there. By developing their points and suggestions with an abundance of familiar stories and tales of positive role models, the authors deliver valuable lessons about mastering content, recognizing what works and why, and developing the skills to take actions that lead to successful, high-impact dialogue. Copyright (c) 2002 Soundview Executive Book Summaries

Library Journal
★ 12/01/2013
Being an efficient advocate for the self and others depends on the ability to participate effectively in difficult and critical discussions. Readers will appreciate how Patterson's techniques apply both to interpersonal relationships and when acting in the interests of another.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781469266817
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio
  • Publication date: 8/28/2013
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Edition number: 2
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.40 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler are cofounders of VitalSmarts, an innovator in corporate training and organizational performance.
www.vitalsmarts.com

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Read an Excerpt

1

The void created by the failure to communicate is soon filled with poison, drivel, and misrepresentation.

-C. NORTHCOTE PARKINSON

What's a Crucial Conversation?

And Who Cares?

When people first hear the term "crucial conversation," many conjure up images of presidents, emperors, and prime ministers seated around a massive table while they debate the future of the world. Although it's true that such discussions have a wide-sweeping and lasting impact, they're not the kind we have in mind. The crucial conversations we're referring to in the title of this book are interactions that happen to everyone. They're the day-to-day conversations that affect your life.

Now, what makes one of your conversations crucial as opposed to plain vanilla? First, opinions vary. For example, you're talking with your boss about a possible promotion. She thinks you're not ready; you think you are. Second, stakes are high. You're in a meeting with four coworkers and you're trying to pick a new marketing strategy. You've got to do something different or your company isn't going to hit its annual goals. Third, emotions run strong. You're in the middle of a casual discussion with your spouse and he or she brings up an "ugly incident" that took place at yesterday's neighborhood block party. Apparently not only did you flirt with someone at the party, but according to your spouse, "You were practically making out." You don't remember flirting. You simply remember being polite and friendly. Your spouse walks off in a huff.

And speaking of the block party, at one point you're making small talk with your somewhat crotchety and always colorful neighbor about his shrinking kidneys when he says, "Speaking of the new fence you're building . . ." From that moment on you end up in a heated debate over placing the new fence-three inches one way or the other. Three inches! He finishes by threatening you with a lawsuit, and you punctuate your points by mentioning that he's not completely aware of the difference between his hind part and his elbow. Emotions run really strong.

What makes each of these conversations crucial-and not simply challenging, frustrating, frightening, or annoying-is that the results could have a huge impact on the quality of your life. In each case, some element of your daily routine could be forever altered for better or worse. Clearly a promotion could make a big difference. Your company's success affects you and everyone you work with. Your relationship with your spouse influences every aspect of your life. Even something as trivial as a debate over a property line affects how you get along with your neighbor. If you handle even a seemingly insignificant conversation poorly, you establish a pattern of behavior that shows up in all of your crucial conversations.

By definition, crucial conversations are about tough issues. Unfortunately, it's human nature to back away from discussions we fear will hurt us or make things worse. We're masters at avoiding these tough conversations. Coworkers send email to each other when they should walk down the hall and talk turkey. Bosses leave voice mail in lieu of meeting with their direct reports. Family members change the subject when an issue gets too risky. We (the authors) have a friend who learned through a voice-mail message that his wife was divorcing him. We use all kinds of tactics to dodge touchy issues.

But it doesn't have to be this way. If you know how to handle (even master) crucial conversations, you can step up to and effectively hold tough conversations about virtually any topic.

Crucial Conversation (kr-oo shel kän´v?ur s¯a´shen) n

A discussion between two or more people where (1) stakes are high, (2) opinions vary, and (3) emotions run strong.

How Do We Typically Handle Crucial Conversations?

Just because we're in the middle of a crucial conversation (or maybe thinking about stepping up to one) doesn't mean that we're in trouble or that we won't fare well. In truth, when we face crucial conversations, we can do one of three things:

We can avoid them.

We can face them and handle them poorly.

We can face them and handle them well.

That seems simple enough. Walk away from crucial conversations and suffer the consequences. Handle them poorly and suffer the consequences. Or handle them well.

"I don't know," you think to yourself. "Given the three choices, I'll go with handling them well."

We're on Our Worst Behavior

But do we handle them well? When talking turns tough, do we pause, take a deep breath, announce to our innerselves, "Uh-oh, this discussion is crucial. I'd better pay close attention" and then trot out our best behavior? Or when we're anticipating a potentially dangerous discussion, do we step up to it rather than scamper away? Sometimes. Sometimes we boldly step up to hot topics, monitor our behavior, and offer up our best work. We mind our Ps and Qs. Sometimes we're just flat-out good.

And then we have the rest of our lives. These are the moments when, for whatever reason, we either anticipate a crucial conversation or are in the middle of one and we're at our absolute worst-we yell; we withdraw; we say things we later regret. When conversations matter the most-that is, when conversations move from casual to crucial-we're generally on our worst behavior.

Why is that?

We're designed wrong. When conversations turn from routine to crucial, we're often in trouble. That's because emotions don't exactly prepare us to converse effectively. Countless generations of genetic shaping drive humans to handle crucial conversations with flying fists and fleet feet, not intelligent persuasion and gentle attentiveness.

For instance, consider a typical crucial conversation. Someone says something you disagree with about a topic that matters a great deal to you and the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The hairs you can handle. Unfortunately, your body does more. Two tiny organs seated neatly atop your kidneys pump adrenaline into your bloodstream. You don't choose to do this. Your adrenal glands do it, and then you have to live with it.

And that's not all. Your brain then diverts blood from activities it deems nonessential 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.

We're under pressure. Let's add another factor. Crucial conversations are frequently spontaneous. More often than not, they come out of nowhere. And since you're caught by surprise, you're forced to conduct an extraordinarily complex human interaction in real time-no books, no coaches, and certainly no short breaks while a team of therapists runs to your aid and pumps you full of nifty ideas.

What do you have to work with? The issue at hand, the other person, and a brain that's preparing to fight or take flight. It's little wonder that we often say and do things that make perfect sense in the moment, but later on seem, well, stupid.

"What was I thinking?" you wonder.

The truth is, you were real-time multitasking with a brain that was working another job. You're lucky you didn't suffer a stroke.

We're stumped. Now let's throw in one more complication. You don't know where to start. You're making this up as you go along because you haven't often seen real-life models of effective communication skills. Let's say that you actually planned for a tough conversation-maybe you've even mentally rehearsed. You feel prepared, and you're as cool as a cucumber. Will you succeed? Not necessarily. You can still screw up, because practice doesn't make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.

This means that first you have to know what to practice. Sometimes you don't. After all, you may have never actually seen how a certain problem is best handled. You may have seen what not to do-as modeled by a host of friends, colleagues, and, yes, even your parents. In fact, you may have sworn time and again not to act the same way.

Left with no healthy models, you're now more or less stumped. So what do you do? You do what most people do. You wing it. You piece together the words, create a certain mood, and otherwise make up what you think will work-all the while multiprocessing with a half-starved brain. It's little wonder that when it matters the most, we're often at our worst behavior.

We act in self-defeating ways. In our doped-up, dumbed-down state, the strategies we choose for dealing with our crucial conversations are perfectly designed to keep us from what we actually want. We're our own worst enemies-and we don't even realize it. Here's how this works.

Let's say that your significant other has been paying less and less attention to you. You realize he or she has a busy job, but you still would like more time together. You drop a few hints about the issue, but your loved one doesn't handle it well. You decide not to put on added pressure, so you clam up. Of course, since you're not all that happy with the arrangement, your displeasure now comes out through an occasional sarcastic remark.

"Another late night, huh? Do you really need all of the money in the world?"

Unfortunately (and here's where the problem becomes self-defeating), the more you snip and snap, the less your loved one wants to be around you. So your significant other spends even less time with you, you become even more upset, and the spiral continues. Your behavior is now actually creating the very thing you didn't want in the first place. You're caught in an unhealthy, self-defeating loop.

Or consider what's happening with your roommate Terry-who wears your and your other two roommates' clothes (without asking)-and he's proud of it. In fact, one day while walking out the door, he glibly announced that he was wearing something from each of your closets. You could see Taylor's pants, Scott's shirt, and, yes, even Chris's new matching shoes-and-socks ensemble. What of yours could he possibly be wearing? Eww!

Your response, quite naturally, has been to bad-mouth Terry behind his back. That is until one day when he overheard you belittling him to a friend, and you're now so embarrassed that you avoid being around him. Now when you're out of the apartment, he wears your clothes, eats your food, and uses your computer out of spite.

Let's try another example. You share a cubicle with a four-star slob and you're a bit of a neat freak. In Odd Couple parlance, you're Felix and he's Oscar. Your coworker has left you notes written in grease pencil on your file cabinet, in catsup on the back of a french-fry bag, and in permanent marker on your desk blotter. You, in contrast, leave him typed Post-it notes. Typed.

At first you sort of tolerated each other. Then you began to get on each other's nerves. You started nagging him about cleaning up. He started nagging you about your nagging. Now you're beginning to react to each other. Every time you nag, he becomes upset, and, well, let's say that he doesn't exactly clean up. Every time he calls you an "anal-retentive nanny," you vow not to give in to his vile and filthy ways.

What has come from all this bickering? Now you're neater than ever, and your cubicle partner's half of the work area is about to be condemned by the health department. You're caught in a self-defeating loop. The more the two of you push each other, the more you create the very behaviors you both despise.

Some Common Crucial Conversations

In each of these examples of unhealthy self-perpetuation, the stakes were moderate to high, opinions varied, and emotions ran strong. Actually, to be honest, in a couple of the examples the stakes were fairly low at first, but with time and growing emotions, the relationship eventually turned sour and quality of life suffered-making the risks high.

These examples, of course, are merely the tip of an enormous and ugly iceberg of problems stemming from crucial conversations that either have been avoided or have gone wrong. Other topics that could easily lead to disaster include

Ending a relationship

Talking to a coworker who behaves offensively or makes suggestive comments

Asking a friend to repay a loan

Giving the boss feedback about her behavior

Approaching a boss who is breaking his own safety or quality policies

Critiquing a colleague's work

Asking a roommate to move out

Resolving custody or visitation issues with an ex-spouse

Dealing with a rebellious teen

Talking to a team member who isn't keeping commitments

Discussing problems with sexual intimacy

Confronting a loved one about a substance abuse problem

Talking to a colleague who is hoarding information or resources

Giving an unfavorable performance review

Asking in-laws to quit interfering

Talking to a coworker about a personal hygiene problem

OUR AUDACIOUS CLAIM

Let's say that either you avoid tough issues or when you do bring them up, you're on your worst behavior. What's the big deal? How high are the stakes anyway? Do the consequences of a fouled-up conversation extend beyond the conversation itself? Should you worry?

Actually, the effects of conversations gone bad can be both devastating and far reaching. Our research has shown that strong relationships, careers, organizations, and communities all draw from the same source of power-the ability to talk openly about high-stakes, emotional, controversial topics.

So here's the audacious claim. Master your crucial conversations and you'll kick-start your career, strengthen your relationships, and improve your health. As you and others master high-stakes discussions, you'll also vitalize your organization and your community.

Kick-Start Your Career

Could the ability to master crucial conversations help your career? Absolutely. Twenty-five years of research with twenty thousand people and hundreds of organizations has taught us that individuals who are the most influential-who can get things done, and at the same time build on relationships-are those who master their crucial conversations.

For instance, high performers know how to stand up to the boss without committing career suicide. We've all seen people hurt their careers over tough issues. You may have done it yourself. Fed up with a lengthy and unhealthy pattern of behavior, you finally speak out-but a bit too abruptly. Oops. Or maybe an issue becomes so hot that as your peers twitch and fidget themselves into a quivering mass of potential stroke victims, you decide to say something. It's not a pretty discussion-but somebody has to have the guts to keep the boss from doing something stupid. (Gulp.)

As it turns out, you don't have to choose between being honest and being effective. You don't have to choose between candor and your career. People who routinely hold crucial conversations and hold them well are able to express controversial and even risky opinions in a way that gets heard. Their bosses, peers, and direct reports listen without becoming defensive or angry.

What about your career? Are there crucial conversations that you're not holding or not holding well? Is this undermining your influence? And more importantly, would your career take a step forward if you could improve how you're dealing with these conversations?

Improve Your Organization

Okay, so individual careers may sink or swim based on crucial conversations, but how about organizations? Surely a soft-and-gushy factor such as how you talk to one another doesn't have an impact on the not so soft-and-gushy bottom line.

For twenty-five years we (the authors) explored this very issue. We (and hundreds of others) searched for keys to organizational success. Most of us studying the elusive topic figured that something as large as a company's overall success would depend on something as large as a company's strategy, structure, or systems.

After all, organizations that maintain best-in-class productivity rely on elegant performance-management systems. Widespread productivity couldn't result from anything less, could it? We weren't alone in our thinking. Every organization that attempted to bring about improvements-at least the companies we had heard of-began by revamping their performance-management systems.

Then we actually studied those who had invested heavily in spiffy new performance-management systems. It turns out that we were dead wrong. Changing structures and systems alone did little to improve performance. For example, one study of five hundred stunningly productive organizations revealed that peak performance had absolutely nothing to do with forms, procedures, and policies that drive performance management. In fact, half of the highflyers had almost no formal performance-management processes.1

What's behind their success? It all comes down to how people handle crucial conversations. Within high-performing companies, when employees fail to deliver on their promises, colleagues willingly and effectively step in to discuss the problem. In the worst companies, poor performers are first ignored and then transferred. In good companies, bosses eventually deal with problems. In the best companies, everyone holds everyone else accountable-regardless of level or position. The path to high productivity passes not through a static system, but through face-to-face conversations at all levels.

Solve pressing problems. The best companies in almost any critical area are the ones that have developed the skills for dealing effectively with conversations that relate to that specific topic. For example:

Safety. When someone violates a procedure or otherwise acts in an unsafe way, the first person to see the problem, regardless of his or her position, steps up and holds a crucial conversation.

Productivity. If an employee underperforms, fails to live up to a promise, doesn't carry his or her fair share, or simply isn't productive enough, the affected parties address the problem immediately.

Diversity. When someone feels offended, threatened, insulted, or harassed, he or she skillfully and comfortably, discusses the issue with the offending party.

Quality. In companies where quality rules, people discuss problems face-to-face when they first come up.

Every other hot topic. Companies that are best-in-class in innovation, teamwork, change management, or any other area that calls for human interaction are best-in-class in holding the relevant crucial conversations.

What's the relationship between success in a key area and crucial conversations? Companies that make impressive improvements in key performance areas (and eventually master them) are generally no different than others in their efforts to improve. They conduct the same awareness training, print the same banners, and make the same speeches. They differ in what happens when someone does something wrong. Rather than waiting for a policy to kick in or a leader to take charge, people step up, speak up, and thrive. Equally important, if it's a leader who seems to be out of line, employees willingly speak up, the problem is solved, and the company moves on.

So what about you? Is your organization stuck in its progress toward some important goal? If so, are there conversations that you're either avoiding or botching? And how about the people you work with? Are they stepping up to or walking away from crucial conversations? Could you take a big step forward by improving how you deal with these conversations?

Improve Your Relationships

Consider the impact crucial conversations can have on your relationships. Could failed crucial conversations lead to failed relationships? As it turns out, when you ask the average person what causes couples to break up, he or she usually suggests that it's due to differences of opinion. You know, people have different theories about how to manage their finances, spice up their love lives, or rear their children. In truth, everyone argues about important issues. But not everyone splits up. It's how you argue that matters.

For example, when Clifford Notarius and Howard Markman (two noted marriage scholars) examined couples in the throes of heated discussions, they learned that people fall into three categories-those who digress into threats and name-calling, those who revert to silent fuming, and those who speak openly, honestly, and effectively.

After watching dozens of couples, the two scholars predicted relationship outcomes and tracked their research subjects' relationships for the next ten years. Sure enough, they had predicted nearly 90 percent of the divorces that occurred.2 Over time, couples who found a way to state their opinions about high-stakes, controversial, and emotional issues honestly and respectfully remained together. Those who didn't, split up.

Now, what about you? Think of your own important relationships. Are there a few crucial conversations that you're currently avoiding or handling poorly? Do you walk away from some issues only to come charging back into others? Do you hold in ugly opinions only to have them tumble out as sarcastic remarks or cheap shots? How about your significant other or family members? Are they constantly toggling from seething silence to subtle but costly attacks? When it matters the most (after all, these are your cherished loved ones), are you on your worst behavior? If so, you definitely have something to gain by learning more about how to handle crucial conversations.

Revitalize Your Community

Next, let's look at our neighborhoods and communities. If the fate of an organization is largely determined by how pivotal conversations are habitually handled, why should the communities that surround them be any different? The truth is, they aren't.

The difference between the best communities and the good or the worst is not the number of problems they have. All communities face problems. Once again, the difference lies in how they deal with problems. In the best communities, key individuals and groups find a way to engage in healthy dialogue. They talk through important issues. In contrast, communities that fail to improve play costly games. During community meetings people insult one another, become indignant, and act as if individuals with differing views are sick or deranged. Battles ensue.

In addition to how people behave in public forums, private behavior affects community health as well. Take, for example, the problem of crime. You might be shocked to discover a rather tragic statistic. Not everyone in prison is a career criminal who was born into a horrible family, then shaped by abuse and neglect into a seething sociopath. In fact, over half of the people who are convicted of violent crimes are first-time offenders who commit crimes against friends or loved ones.3

How could this be? Violence is often preceded by prolonged periods of silence. Most inmates once held a job, paid their bills, and remembered their friends' birthdays. Then one day, after allowing unresolved problems to build up and then boil over, they attacked a friend, loved one, or neighbor. That's right, convicted first-time offenders are often not career criminals. They're our frustrated neighbors. Since they don't know what to say or how to say it, they opt for force. In this case, the inability to work through tough issues devastates individuals, ruins families, and poisons communities.

What about where you live? What crucial issues does your community face? Are there conversations that people are not holding or not holding well that keep you from progress? Is crime skyrocketing? Do your community meetings look more like the Jerry Springer show than an energetic forum for healthy communication? If so, both you and the community have a lot to gain by focusing on how you handle high-stakes discussions.

Improve Your Personal Health

If the evidence so far isn't compelling enough to focus your attention on crucial conversations, what would you say if we told you that the ability to master high-stakes discussions is a key to a healthier and longer life?

Immune systems. Consider the groundbreaking research done by Dr. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser and Dr. Ronald Glaser. They studied the immune systems of couples who had been married an average of forty-two years by comparing those who argued constantly with those who resolved their differences effectively. It turns out that arguing for decades doesn't lessen the destructive blow of constant conflict. Quite the contrary. Those who routinely failed their crucial conversations had far weaker immune systems than those who found a way to resolve them well.4 Of course, the weaker the immune system, the worse their health.

Life-threatening diseases. In perhaps the most revealing of all the health-related studies, a group of subjects who had contracted malignant melanoma received traditional treatment and then were divided into two groups. One group met weekly for only six weeks; the other did not. Facilitators taught the first group of recovering patients specific communication skills. (When it's your life that's at stake, could anything be more crucial?)

After meeting only six times and then dispersing for five years, the subjects who learned how to express themselves effectively had a higher survival rate-only 9 percent succumbed as opposed to almost 30 percent in the untrained group.5 Think about the implications of this study. Just a modest improvement in ability to talk and connect with others corresponded to a two-thirds decrease in the death rate.

We could go on for pages about how the ability to hold crucial conversations has an impact on your personal health. The evidence is mounting every day. Nevertheless, most people find this claim a bit over the top. "Come on," they chide. "You're saying that the way you talk or don't talk affects your body? It could kill you?"

The short answer is yes. The longer answer suggests that the negative feelings we hold in, the emotional pain we suffer, and the constant battering we endure as we stumble our way through unhealthy conversations slowly eat away at our health. In some cases the impact of failed conversations leads to minor problems. In others it results in disaster. In all cases, failed conversations never make us happier, healthier, or better off.

So how about you? What are the specific conversations that gnaw at you the most? Which conversations (if you held them or improved them) would strengthen your immune system, help ward off disease, and increase your quality of life and well-being?

SUMMARY

When stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions start to run strong, casual conversations become crucial. Ironically, the more crucial the conversation, the less likely we are to handle it well. The consequences of either avoiding or fouling up crucial conversations can be severe. When we fail a crucial conversation, every aspect of our lives can be affected-from our careers, to our communities, to our relationships, to our personal health.

As we learn how to step up to crucial conversations-and handle them well-with one set of skills we can influence virtually every domain of our lives.

What is this all-important skill-set? What do people who sail through crucial conversations actually do? More importantly, can we do it too?

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Table of Contents

Foreword XI
Acknowledgments XV
Ch. 1 What's a Crucial Conversation? And Who Cares? 1
Ch. 2 Mastering Crucial Conversations: The Power of Dialogue 17
Ch. 3 Start with Heart: How to Stay Focused on What You Really Want 27
Ch. 4 Learn to Look: How to Notice When Safety Is at Risk 45
Ch. 5 Make It Safe: How to Make It Safe to Talk about Almost Anything 65
Ch. 6 Master My Stories: How to Stay in Dialogue When You're Angry, Scared, or Hurt 93
Ch. 7 State My Path: How to Speak Persuasively, Not Abrasively 119
Ch. 8 Explore Others' Paths: How to Listen When Others Blow Up or Clam Up 141
Ch. 9 Move to Action: How to Turn Crucial Conversations into Action and Results 161
Ch. 10 Putting It All Together: Tools for Preparing and Learning 179
Ch. 11 Yeah, But: Advice for Tough Cases 193
Ch. 12 Change Your Life: How to Turn Ideas into Habits 215
Endnotes 229
Index 231
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 125 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 8, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    For when things get crucial

    We all face situations in life where things are tense and saying the right things is critical. This is what the authors call a "crucial conversation," as opposed to a casual discussion. Crucial conversations happen between two or more people when opinions vary, stakes are high, and emotions run strong. Whether you are approaching a boss who is breaking his or her own policies, critiquing a colleague's work, or talking to a team member who isn't keeping commitments, keeping the conversation productive can be very difficult.<BR/><BR/>The main technique the authors teach is the talent of dialogue. This is the free flow of meaning between two or more people. People who use this technique are able to find a way to get all relevant information from themselves and others out in the open and make it safe for everyone to add their meaning to the shared pool. These people try hard to ensure that all ideas find their way into the forum; and as this "pool of shared meaning" grows, it helps people by exposing them to more accurate and relevant information so they can make better decisions.<BR/><BR/>The book also offers a series of tools for understanding how we think about and prepare for problem situations. They posit that people must learn the skills of talking, listening and acting together, and must remember that successful dialogue, "Starts with heart." They suggest you begin high-risk discussions with the right motives, and then stay focused no matter what happens by knowing what you want. Never lose sight of the fact that the only person you can directly control is yourself. To stay focused on what you really want, pay attention to your motives whenever you find yourself moving toward silence or violence. Clarifying what you don't want will help you find healthy options to bring you to dialogue.<BR/><BR/>Another important factor they teach in the development of better dialogue is the ability to know when safety is at risk. Recognizing when the brain is beginning to disengage from a situation and moving away from healthy dialogue is a skill that must be learned to improve communication. When a dialogue is safe, you can say anything.<BR/><BR/>Since dialogue calls for a free flow of meaning, fear can kill the flow of meaning. To reduce fear, the authors say those involved in the dialogue must learn to look at content and conditions, to watch for safety problems, watch out for outbreaks of stressed behavior, and recognize when things are moving toward silence or violence. Learning techniques to make a dialogue safe helps everyone contribute his or her meaning to it. Once these things are learned, turning them into habits is what will make them useful when they are needed most.<BR/><BR/>I think the skills taught in Crucial Conversations are pertinent to everyone who needs to communicate better, and the light-hearted, engaging tone the authors use gets their points across clearly. By breaking down the tactful steps that must be taken along the way to a successful dialogue, the authors help us to develop better strategies for getting what we want.<BR/><BR/>Another book I love and recommend strongly for dealing with difficult people and stressful situations is The Emotional Intelligence Quick Book.

    15 out of 25 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    A great book

    A great book for business school curriculum and family communication workshops.

    14 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Insightful

    Everyone has to deal with difficult situations while interacting with people whether it be a difficult customer, a overzealous boss, or a conflict with a coworker. It is necessary to be able to deal with these types of situations with out losing your temper or making your work-life much more difficult and much less productive. Crucial Conversations is the perfect tool for anyone who has to deal with customers or coworkers for any amount of time. It gives you the basic tools to be able to manage maintaining your composure in difficult situations.

    The advice in Crucial Conversations was given in an extremely engaging manner. The language was very conversational. I did not feel as if I was being preached or talked down to while reading this book as I think some self-help and instructional books have the tendency to do. The examples and stories illustrated their points sufficiently and in an engaging way. The stories also did not overwhelm. I sometimes find that there are too many and they overpower the message of the book. That was not the case with this one. The exercises were also very helpful and illustrated the points very well.

    Crucial Conversations did have one minor flaw. I did find that sometimes the language became a bit clich&#233;. It was not overly obvious and I feel that most self-help books fall victim to it.

    I would recommend Crucial Conversations to anyone who works with people.simple as that because it's inevitable that a situation will arise where the tactics in this book will be extremely useful.

    7 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 17, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Great Book!

    This book touched on bases in business and personal conversations that I needed to improve. I'd recommend this book to anyone.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 29, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Great book

    This is a great book. It breaks down the process of conversation into steps. It also gives practical examples. Further, it outlines the proper interaction during odd conversations. It just happened that by the time I opened it, I had already read four books on the subject. It came as common sense to me. At least, it confirmed what the other publications asserted.

    3 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 10, 2002

    To Think Before I Speak

    If for nothing else, read this book to engage your brain before you speak. I read the book some time ago but did not write a review until I had time to use some of the concepts prescribed. The advice is good and has been applicable in both my business and personal life. The book is easy to read and at times the content reads like common sense. The truth of the matter is that sometimes even common sense needs to be placed in front of me to understand and use. I recommend the book to anyone. I add a higher recommedation to those that have my problem of letting your conversation start before you ever engage your brain.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 31, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Another Self-Improvement Book - With Ideas That Stick

    A concise book packed with helpful tips, so many of which you remember and can immediately apply. These guys have done a lot of research and give great examples. Ideas that have really assisted me include laying the groundwork for how important someone is before a serious discussion and how to watch for someone 'flooding' in an emotional way so you can reset the conversation right then and there. Provides a powerful ode to honesty and a healthy dose of praise to those who take emotional risks for the sake of a greater goal. This is a book that works in business and well as personal situations.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2009

    On my second read

    Crurcial Conversations opened my eyes to how I interact with my family and colleagues. I recommend it.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 9, 2009

    Great Reading!

    I work at a hospital where these skills apply every day. It was VERY easy to read and funny! Not dry and dull like some books. Can be applied to personal or business relationships/conversations. Highly recommend.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2006

    Good, but could have been better.

    I thought the book was a worthwhile read, but the language used throughout ¿ typos and grammar issues aside ¿ left me wanting something more academic. For example, the authors create sections with titles such as ¿Start With Heart¿. This sort of language makes me feel like I am reading an Oprah book of the month selection ¿ not that there is anything wrong with that - rather than a book on effective communication.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2002

    Effective tools for understanding and being understood

    As I work with groups, whether in a business, social, family or volunteer setting, I am frequently struck by the degree to which people are in agreement, but still think they are not. They want many of the same things, but are so stuck in 'positions' that they can't even hear that their hearts are in agreement. This book has made my job -- helping them hear each other's 'heart position' instead of their 'ego position' -- much easier. And it takes the burden off me since they can now learn the tools to do this without my intervention. People light up when they discover the secret of finding agreement without compromising core principles. Effectiveness improves. Productivity and team spirit begin to soar. Morale takes a definite upswing. People like each other and themselves more and are therefore more likely to work well together on practical tasks. They derail personal attacks before they get going, and have concrete, practical tools for helping each other stay focused on the 'aim' they share, not the 'blame' they used to try to assign. I believe Stewart Levine would say this book supplements and supports his efforts to create 'resolutionaries' (people who work to resolve conflicts instead of 'revolutionaries' who work to 'win' at all costs) in the work place. Not just a good read, but an ongoing desktop reference. One to mark up and wear out and give copies of to other people.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2009

    Appropriately prescriptive - I found it useful in my work

    This was recommended to me, and I did find it useful. One of the better mgmt-type books that I've read. It's certainly an easy read.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Everyone should read this book

    I couldn't put this book down! It was interesting, easy to read, and had a lot of great information about communicating and interacting with other people. It's useful information that anyone can apply at work, home, school... anywhere.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2007

    Impressive

    This book is a clever hands on material with reconisable issues of everyones everyday life. I have read a great deal of books on this topic but I assure you this one takes the whole cake. It is build up by understandable fractions bit by bit they come together as a logic pussel, and I am amased by how much I've learned by reading it and I now see back and laugh about my old me before learning the strategy and methodes this book reveles. Outstanding

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2003

    One of the most actionable books I have ever read.

    I work in a large corporate setting where every conversation in the course of daily business can become a crucial conversation by the standards in this book: differing opinions, high stakes and emotional participants. The dialogue model presented in this book is so practical and easy to use in everyday conversations that it should be made a 'standard' for employee development prior to engaging another person in a business conversation. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and have recommended it throughout our organization as a 'must' read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2002

    Be understood

    What is more important in this life than comunication? what is more frustrating than being missunderstood? I found tips in this book and the cds that go with it to help me understand misstakes I make that put a distructive spin on my attempts to get my point accross to people I care to have a lasting relationship with. Thank you for this tool!Maya Sniadecki First Security Loan

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2002

    Real truths you can use

    Plain and simple; this book offers real advice and teaches how to communicate to succeed. It's an actual step-by-step playbook for communicating to get what you want out of others. Teaches very effectively how to size 'crucial conversations' up and rise above the discussion. It really works and will make you ten times more effective in important discussions. Very effective for people who 'heat up' when a discussion may not go their way. Gives you all you need to know to maintin control in almost all situations.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2002

    Fundamental Truths

    As the program manager of a cross-functional product development team, I daily arbitrate or engage in emotionally charged crucial conversations. The principles in this book enable me to identify these crucial situations, diffuse tension, draw out meaning from each of the parties, and ultimately reach the best action plan possible. Most importantly, since I started using the principles in this book, mutual respect and unity on my team has increased dramatically¿positional debate and argument is almost non-existent. Reading this book also helped me change my perspective of crucial conversations. Instead of fearing and avoiding them, I now recognize them as incredible opportunities for me to lead. My recurring thought as I read this book was that these are ¿fundamental truths¿. The authors use accessible writing with minimal jargon and no word invention. Additionally, they reinforce their theories with an abundance of applicable technique. These are not trendy gimmicks that manipulate people into agreeing with you. Rather, the authors teach fundamentally sound communication skills that enable the reader to fully understand others and then to explain their own perspective in a respectful, non-confrontational way. The principles taught in this book are universally applicable. Not only have I used them in business, but they also help me strengthen my communication with family. Likewise, I know I will use these principles in the team oriented Stanford MBA program that I will begin this fall.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 13, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    A guide to a crucial social subject is in this book. Its pages h

    A guide to a crucial social subject is in this book. Its pages have several insights and advisories about handling interpersonal conflict. I recommend this reading for its great usefulness and relevance to rational and emotional concerns. It combines conversational style with proven mental health treatment techniques.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 15, 2011

    Great Book - Very insightful

    This book is practical help for application in business and personal life. It is truly a must read for managers.

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