Tools for talking when stakes are high
By Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzer
pg 3 Crucial Conversations: a discussion between two or more people where (1) stakes are high, (2) opinions vary, and (3) emotions run strong.
pg 10 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 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 with forms, procedures, and policies that drive performance management. In fact, half of the highflyers had almost no formal performance-management processes.
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 promise, 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.
pg 20 We won’t pull a Curly (from City Slickers). We’ll reveal the one thing. When it comes to risky, controversial, and emotional conversations, skilled people find a way to get relevant information (from themselves and others) out into the open. That’s it. At the core of every successful conversation lies the free flow of relevant information. … Now to put a label on this spectacular talent – it’s called dialogue.
pg 21 When two or more of us enter crucial conversations, by definition we don’t share the same pool. Our opinions differ. I believe one thing, you another. I have one history, you another. People who are skilled at dialogue do their best to make it safe for everyone to add their meaning to the shared pool – even ideas that at first glance appear controversial, wrong, or at odds with their own beliefs. Now, obviously they don’t agree with every idea; they simply do their best to ensure that all ideas find their way out into the open.
pg 23 Not only does a shared pool help individuals make better choices, but since the meaning is shared, people willingly act on whatever decisions they make. As people sit through an open discussion where ideas are shared, they take part in the free flow of meaning. Eventually they understand why the shared solution is the best solution, and they’re committed to act. For example, Kevin and the other VPs didn’t buy into their final choice simply because they were involved; they bought in because they understood.
pg 24 Now, here’s how the various elements fit together. When stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong, we’re often at our worst. In order to move to our best, we have to find a way to explain what is in each of our personal pools of meaning – especially our high-stakes, sensitive, and controversial opinions, feelings, and ideas – and to get others to share their pools. We have to develop the tools that make it safe for us to discuss these issues and to come to a shared pool of meaning. And when we do, our lives change.
pg 29 People who are best at dialogue understand this simple fact and turn it into the principle “Work on me first.” They realize that not only are they likely to benefit by improving their own approach, but also that they’re the only person they can work on anyways. As much as others may need to change, or we may want them to change, the only person we can continually inspire, prod, and shape – with any degree of success – is the person in the mirror.
There is a certain irony embedded in this fact. People who believe they need to start with themselves do just that. As they work on themselves, they also become the most skilled at dialogue. So here’s the irony. It’s the most talented, not the least talented, who are continually trying to improve their dialogue skills. As is often the case, the rich get richer.
pg 33 “And then it struck me,” she continued. “Despite the fact that I had four hundred eyeballs pinned to me, a rather important question hit me like a ton of bricks: ‘What do I really want here?’” Asking this question had a powerful effect on Greta’s thinking. As she focused on this far more important question, she quickly realized that her goal was to encourage these two hundred managers to embrace the cost-reduction efforts – and to thereby influence thousands of others to do the same.
pg 34 …How do you recognize what has happened to you, stop playing games, and then influence your own motives? Do what Greta did. Stop and ask yourself some questions that return you to dialogue. You can ask these questions either when you find yourself slipping out of dialogue or as reminders when you prepare to step up to a crucial conversation. Here are some great ones:
What do I really want for myself?
What do I really want for others?
What do I really want for this relationship?
Once you’ve asked yourself what you want, add one more equally telling question:
How would I behave if I really wanted these results?
pg 40 The best at dialogue refuse Sucker’s Choices by setting up new choices. They present themselves with tougher questions – questions that turn the either/or choice into a search for the all-important and ever-elusive and. (It is an endangered species, you know.) Here’s how this works.
First, clarify what you really want. Second, clarify what you really don’t want. Third, present your brain with a more complex problem. … Combine the two into an and question that forces you to search for more creative and productive options than silence and violence. … “How can I have a candid conversation with my husband about being more dependable and avoid creating bad feelings or wasting our time?”
pg 42 At first, we thought that maybe there were places where dialogue couldn’t survive. But then we learned to ask: “Are you saying there isn’t anyone you know who is able to hold a high-risk conversation in a way that solves problems and builds relationships?” There usually is
pg 46 Later that day as you talk to your friends about the meeting, they let you in on what happened. You were there, but somehow you missed what actually happened. “That’s because you were so caught up in the content of the conversation,” your buddy explains. ”You cared so deeply about the shift rotation that you were blind to the conditions. You know – how people were feeling and acting, what tone they were taking, stuff like that.”
“You saw all that while still carrying on a heated conversation?” you ask. “Yeah,” your coworker explains, “I always dual process. That is, when things start turning ugly, I watch the content of the conversation along with what people are doing. I look for and examine both what and why. If you can see why people are becoming upset or holding back their views or even going silent, you can do something to get back on track.
pg 51 Imagine the magnitude of what we’re suggesting here. We’re asking you to recode silence and violence as signs that people are feeling unsafe. We’re asking you to fight your natural tendency to respond in kind. We’re asking you to undo years of practice, maybe even eons of genetic shaping that prod you to take flight or pick a fight (when under attack), and recode the situation. “Ah, that’s a sign that the other person feels unsafe.” And then what? Do something to make it feel safe. … For now, simply learn to look for safety and then be curious, not angry or frightened.
pg 56 What does it take to be able to step out of an argument and watch for process – including what you yourself are doing and the impact you’re having? You have to become a vigilant self-monitor. That is, pay close attention to what you’re doing and the impact it’s having, and then alter your strategy if necessary. Specifically, watch to see if you’re having a good or bad impact on safety.
pg 80 When people misunderstand and you start arguing over the misunderstanding, stop. Use Contrasting. Explain what you don’t mean until you’ve restored safety. Then return to the conversation. Safety first.
pg 84 So next time you find yourself stuck in a battle of wills, try this amazingly powerful but simple skill. Step out of the context of the struggle and make it safe. Simply say, “It seems like we’re both trying to force our view. I commit to stay in this discussion until we have a solution both of us are happy with.” The watch whether safety takes a turn for the better.
pg 86 So when you sense that you and others are working at cross-purposes, here’s what you can do. First, step out of the content of the conflict. Stop focusing on who thinks what. Then CRIB your way to Mutual Purpose.
– Commit to seek Mutual Purpose. Make a unilateral public commitment to stay in the conversation until you come up with something that serves everyone.
– Recognize the purpose behind the strategy. Ask people why they want what they’re pushing for. Separate what they’re demanding from the purpose it serves.
– Invent a mutual purpose. If after clarifying everyone’s purposes you are still at odds, see if you can invent a higher or longer-term purpose that is more motivating than the ones that keep you in conflict.
– Brainstorm new strategies. With a clear Mutual Purpose, you can join forces in searching for a solution that serves everyone.
pg 91 Summary – Make It Safe …
Step Out: When others move to silence or violence, step out of the conversation and make it safe. When safety is restored, go back to the issue at hand and continue the dialogue. Decide which safety condition is at risk:
Mutual Purpose. Do others believe you care about their goals in this conversation? Do they trust your motives?
Mutual Respect. Do others believe you respect them?
Apologize When Appropriate: When you’ve clearly violated respect, apologize.
Contrast to Fix Misunderstanding: When others misunderstand either your purpose or your intent, use Contrasting. Start with what you don’t intend or mean. Then explain what you do intend or mean.
CRIB to Get to Mutual Purpose: When you are at cross-purpose, use four skills to get back to mutual purpose:
Commit to seek mutual purpose, recognize the purpose behind the strategy, invent a mutual purpose, brainstorm new strategies.
pg 98 As it turns out, there is an intermediate step between what others do and how we feel. That’s why, when faced with the same circumstances, ten people may have ten different emotional responses. … What is this intermediate step? Just after we observe what others do and just before we feel some emotion about it, we tell ourselves a story. That is, we add meaning to the action observed. To the simple behaviour we add motive. Why were they doing that? We also add judgement – is that good or bad? And then, based on these thoughts or stories, our body responds with an emotion.
pg 103 When an unhelpful story is driving you to silence or violence, stop and consider how others would see your actions. For example, if the 60 Minutes camera crew replayed this scene on national television, how would you look? What would they tell you about your behaviour?
pg 105 Separate fact from story by focusing on the behaviour. To separate fact from story, get back to the genuine source of your feelings. Test your ideas against a simple criterion: Can you see or hear this thing you’re calling a fact? Was it an actual behaviour?
pg 112 Tell the rest of the story… turn victims into actors. Ask: am I pretending not to notice my role in the problem? … turn villains into humans. Ask: why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do what this person is doing? … our purpose for asking … is not to excuse others for any bad things they may be doing. If they are, indeed, guilty, we’ll have time to deal with that later. … when we reflect on alternate motives, not only do we soften our emotions, but equally important, we relax our absolute certainty long enough to allow for dialogue – the only reliable way of discovering others’ genuine motives. …turn the helpless into the able. Ask: what do I really want? For me? For others? For the relationship? What would I do right now if I really wanted these results?
pg 117 Summary – Master My Stories… If strong emotions are keeping you stuck in silence or violence, try this.
Retrace Your Path – Notice your behaviour. If you find yourself moving away from dialogue, ask yourself what you’re really doing.
Am I in some form of silence or violence? Get in touch with your feelings. Learn to accurately identify the emotions behind your story.
What emotions are encouraging me to act this way? Analyze your stories. Question your conclusions and look for other possible explanations behind your story.
What story is creating these emotions? Get back to the facts. Abandon your absolute certainty by distinguishing between hard facts and your invented story.
What evidence do I have to support this story?
pg 124 Once you’ve worked on yourself to create the right conditions for dialogue, you can then draw upon five distinct skills that can help you talk about even the most sensitive topics. These five tools can be easily remembered with the acronym STATE. It stands for:
Share your facts
Tell your story
Ask for others’ paths
The first three skills describe what to do. The last two tell how to do it.
pg 126 Facts are the least controversial. Facts provide a safe beginning. By their very nature, facts aren’t controversial. That’s why we call them facts. For example, consider the statement: “Yesterday you arrived at work twenty minutes late.” No dispute there. Conclusions, on the other hand, are highly controversial. For example: “You can’t be trusted.” That’s hardly a fact. … Eventually we may want to share our conclusions, but we certainly don’t want to open up with a controversy.