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Book Summary – Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when Stakes are High

Crucial Conversations - Book summary

How do you deal with topics that are sensitive yet important to you? Your daily interactions can hold pivotal moments, with outcomes that affect the quality of your relationships, careers and life. This book by Kerry Patterson et. al. helps you to identify and effectively conduct “crucial conversations”, so you can overcome difficult or sensitive issues, to improve results and achieve your desired outcomes. In this free version of the Crucial Conversations summary, you’ll learn the 7 principles of crucial conversations.

Why Crucial Conversations?

The authors started with the goal to find out what makes some people more effective than others. They discovered that the most outstanding leaders are able to influence the outcomes of difficult but vital conversations, without offending others. By following these leaders, observing how they handled such crucial conversations, developing and testing theories and tools, the authors developed the tips in this book.

Crucial conversations involve 3 key components: high stakes, differing views, and strong emotions. They may not involve big issues, but their outcomes can affect the quality of our lives. For example, an innocent remark to your neighbor about their late night (noisy) parties can unexpectedly degenerate into a shouting match; overnight, your two families end up in a “cold war”, and both sides are unhappy.

Crucial Conversations summary_what's Crucial Conversations

Unfortunately, we are usually at our worst performance when faced with crucial conversations – because the issues are important (and often personal) to us, our emotions take over (pushing logic aside), and things start to spiral downwards.

When we enter a conversation, we bring along our beliefs, experiences, emotions, and perspectives – these jointly form our “pool of meaning”. Conflict arises when people hold different opinions and pools of meaning. Instead of a free and constructive exchange, people may become:

• Silent and withdrawn. They withhold their opinions for fear of confrontation, offending others or sounding stupid; or

• Violent and aggressive. They force their opinion on others, directly or indirectly (e.g. using sarcastic remarks, putting down others, or using authority to impose their views).

7 Principles to Master Crucial Conversations

Principle #1: Start with Heart

It’s easy to give in to our emotional impulses and make poor choices in the heat of the moment. Getting the right focus involves 2 components:

(a) KNOW AND FOCUS ON WHAT YOU TRULY WANT. Imagine this: You’ve just explained to your team how critical it is to complete the current project on schedule, and urge everyone to complete their assigned tasks by the week. One of your staff points out that 2 days ago, you agreed defer a vital input by another department, which caused a delay to your team’s output. You feel offended by this open challenge, and are tempted to dismiss the comment or to retort with a sarcastic remark. This is common problem in crucial conversations – we lose sight of our original goals, and become distracted by one of these less noble goals:
• Winning the argument or proving ourselves rights;
• Punishing the other person for making us feel embarrassed, disrespected, hurt; and/or
• Avoiding conflict.

In our full Crucial Conversations summary, we’ll explain how to break down your goals and re-examine your motives, to refocus on what truly matters.

(b) REFUSE THE FOOL’S CHOICE. Often, we mistakenly think there are only two options (e.g. talk to your spouse about her bad habit and make her unhappy, or avoid the topic altogether). During crucial conversations, we feel threatened, our brains shut down, and we’re even more likely to settle for the Fool’s Choice. The better approach is to realize that the options are not mutually-exclusive. It is possible to voice your concerns, while maintaining respect or a positive relationship. Get clear on what you truly want, what you truly don’t want, and figure out how to achieve both objectives. Use the word “and” to frame your question, e.g. “How can I talk to my spouse about her bad habit and not make her unhappy?”

Here’s an overview of the remaining 6 principles. For more tips and skills to master these 7 principles, do get our full Crucial Conversations summary (click here for full summary bundle).

Crucial Conversations summary_7 Principles

Principle #2: Learn to Look

Become aware of non-verbal conversation cues (including your personal cues) that suggest a dialogue is breaking down, so you can bring it back on track.  Learn the cues to look out for from our full summary.

Principle #3: Make it Safe

Once you see signs that you or others feel unsafe, the best approach is to step out of the current conversation, restore safety, then resume the dialogue. In the complete Crucial Conversations summary, we address how to identify what’s at risk, and how to use 3 approaches to restore safety, so you can facilitate an open dialogue.

Principle #4: Master your Stories

To stay in constructive dialogue, you need to manage your emotions. This in turn requires that you understand the “Path to Action”, which explains why people react emotionally, and why the same circumstances may trigger different responses in different people.  Essentially, we conjure stories about what’s happening around us, and these stories determine how we respond emotionally. In the full summary, we’ll take a closer look at how the Path to Action works, the 3 types of stories that we tell ourselves, and how to master our stories.

Crucial Conversations summary_Path to Action

Principle #5: State your Path

Now that you have your emotions in check, you need to master the art of sharing your views persuasively. Check out the full summary for the 5 STATE skills to share your views without offending others.

Principle #6: Explore Others’ Path

By the time conversations turn crucial, the other party is already moving through their Path to Action. Besides managing our own emotions, we must help others to retrace their path. To do that, use the tips for restoring safety (Principle #3), and the 4 AMPP listening tools in the full Crucial Conversations summary.

Principle #7: Move to Action

Finally, we must convert the agreement into results, through specific decisions and follow up.

Getting More from “Crucial Conversations”

If you’d like to get more details, examples and application tips for each of the Crucial Conversations principles above, do check out our full summary bundle. This includes an infographic, 13-page text summary, and a 21-minute audio summary.

Crucial Conversations summary - book summary bundleThe book includes many useful case studies to illustrate crucial conversations at work at home and in the workplace, and how to apply the skills and tips to achieve your desired outcomes. There are also several useful exercises for you to practice handling difficult situations, a “Style Under Stress” survey and an entire chapter dedicated to examples of difficult or sensitive conversations. Some examples include: dealing with an overly-sensitive spouse, blatant disrespect, or under-performing teammates. You can purchase the book here, or go to www.CrucialConversations

Do also check out our Crucial Confrontations summary and Difficult Conversations summary for more communications tips!

About the Authors of Crucial Conversations

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High was written by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron Mcmillan, and Al Switzler. They are the cofounders and leaders of VitalSmarts, an innovator in corporate training and organizational performance, which has taught more than two million people worldwide and worked with more than 300 of the Fortune 500 companies.

Crucial Conversations Quotes

“If you know how to handle crucial conversations, you can effectively hold tough conversations about virtually any topic.”

“When you name the game, you can stop playing it.”

“Respect is like air. As long as it’s present, nobody thinks about it. But if you take it away, it’s all that people can think about.”

“When it comes to these high-stakes conversations, a little progress can produce a lot of benefit.”

“Separate fact from story by focusing on behaviour.”

“When we feel the need to push our ideas on others, it’s generally because we believe we’re right and everyone else is wrong.”

“At the very moment when most people become furious, we need to become curious. Rather than respond in kind, we need to wonder what’s behind the ruckus.”

“If you want people to feel accountable, you must give them an opportunity to account.”

Click here to download Crucial Conversations book summary and infographic

One Comment

  • I get it how some people create a story. First, they see/ hear, then create a story in their mind that evoke feelings which lead them to take action. Amazing infographics.

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