A Crucial Conversation

December 11, 2020
# min read
Rob Long

According to the NY Times bestseller by the same name, a "crucial conversation is one between two or more people where: 1) the stakes are high; 2) opinions vary; and 3) emotions run strong." Ever been in a conversation like that? Of course! They happen all the time in our personal and business lives; dealing with personal conflict; offering constructive criticism; asking for a raise; resolving differences of opinion on how to complete a task, to name some.

Unfortunately our crucial conversations often don't go well, negatively affecting our well-being, our organization's well-being, and that of the others involved. This is an undesirable outcome and can be avoided.

I had a chance to put the book's (Crucial Conversations) ideas to the test and can report success. As I pursued a path towards a desired goal I encountered a crucial conversation. I wasn't anticipating it; it dredged up strong, painful emotions that were unresolved and buried; and presented a potential obstacle to my goal. As is often the case with difficult conversations, my immediate reaction was to get defensive, which led to feelings of anger, roiling my state of well-being. Besides that unpleasantness I took on a mindset that would not have contributed to constructive dialog. (That silence or violence thing we talked about a few months ago.)

In such situations, the authors of Crucial Conversations suggest we start with ourselves and figure out what is important to us. They propose a series of questions to ask oneself:

  1. "What do I really want for myself?
  2. What do I really want for others?
  3. What do I really want for the relationship?"
  4. Once you've answered those questions then this final one:
  5. "How would I behave if I really wanted these results?"

Considering that my answers to questions 1-3 were all something positive required me reset my attitude about the conversation. It also required me to take personal responsibility for how I was feeling, which, when we are feeling aggrieved, can be a challenge. A calmer mindset resulted, which alone was virtuous, providing a foundation to engage in constructive dialog. In this instance the crucial conversation resulted in an optimal outcome.

In advance of this crucial conversation the other party had similar emotional misgivings, but was unaware of the Crucial Conversations approach. I believe that because I was grounded before engaging in the conversation it helped set a tone that enabled the other party to proceed constructively as well. If I had gone with my first reaction heightened conflict would have likely resulted with the conversation becoming an obstacle to reaching my goal.

In this instance I was fortunate enough to have time to reflect before engaging. That doesn't always happen, but if you develop the habit of starting with yourself i.e., taking personal responsibility for how you feel and figuring out what is important to you, even surprise crucial conversations can go well.

The combination of developing self-awareness and refining communication skills helps us get what we want out of life - and make the world a better place at the same time; a nice combo!

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