Key Post Highlights
> Lead with facts to ground crucial conversations.
> Engage in crucial conversations in a timely manner to avoid problems.
> Be honest with yourself about your emotions and what stories you’re telling yourself about others.
This year, CareContent started a book club. As book clubs go, we read the book, then discussed what stood out, what we agreed with, what we did not, and how we can use this information to better ourselves — both professionally and personally.
Fittingly, our first book was Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, Third Edition. It covers how to navigate conversations — particularly those really tough ones.
Crucial conversations are a fact of life. The authors of Crucial Conversations define them as having two key components:
- There are opposing opinions about a high-stakes issue.
- Emotions run strong.
Whether you’re talking with your boss about a raise or with your partner about how to parent your children, how we handle these conflicts can determine if we break relationships or if we strengthen them. At work, it can also affect if tasks move quickly through the pipeline or if they get caught up in a bottleneck.
Being a strong communicator is a key part of success in life, but it is a skill. It has to be learned and practiced, and Crucial Conversations is a great resource to build this skill. Here are my top 5 takeaways from the book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High.
1. Lead with facts.
If you know me at all, you know I love information more than feelings.
I love that the authors focus on the importance of starting with information gathering, highlighting that:
- Facts are the least controversial aspect of tough conversations. They give you an indisputable place to start.
- Facts are the foundation of every conversation. They determine what you’re talking about and what comes next.
They also emphasize the importance of leaving space for other people’s facts. Be prepared with questions, including about other people’s mindsets and motivations. And be ready to answer their questions, too.
2. Lag time is critical.
According to the authors, you can gauge the health of teams, organizations, and relationships in general by how long it takes between when issues are identified and when they are resolved. This is called lag time.
Limiting lag time is crucial. I tend to fill in the blanks of another person’s perspective if I don’t get it from them. So, the sooner we can have a conversation, the better.
While some people may prefer to wait until they’re comfortable to have a conversation, the right skills can accelerate how long it takes to get to that place. Then, you can approach the conversation in a more timely and relevant manner.
3. Be honest with yourself and with others.
Emotions run high in crucial conversations, whether you’re talking about a conflict at work or in your personal life. No matter what, it’s important to be honest about how you’re feeling.
Think through your emotions and regain control of them. Occasionally, this might involve changing your emotions, especially strong ones.
Then, once you’ve identified what you are feeling, use your emotions for thoughtful action. This helps you opt for behaviors that will get the results you actually want.
If you’re particularly emotional, say that. Say, “I am emotionally raw right now. I have not had time to process this, and I want to address it later.” Most reasonable people will respect this request.
4. Pay attention to the stories you paint about other people’s motivations.
The stories we create in our heads about other people’s motives or character can trigger a high-conflict situation too soon. From “this person doesn’t like me” to “they’re just a jerk” to “the problem is all their fault” — these stories increase the conflict from the jump.
The authors refer to these as villain stories, which ignore other people’s virtues and emphasize their flaws. These stories give others a bad motive and point toward them being guilty without a fair trial.
Their solution is to humanize these villains. Ask yourself, “Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do what this person is doing?” Then, consider reasons and motivations that don’t villainize them — and victimize you — in the process.
5. Know when to have crucial conversations.
Knowing if you should even have a conversation in the first place is key. The authors of Crucial Conversations discuss choosing the right topic and making sure the topic is simple enough to actually discuss. I’m a believer in protecting your peace. Some topics don’t require a discussion, and some people can’t handle tough conversations no matter how you approach them.
Ask yourself whether or not a conversation will be helpful, or whether it’s better to simply make a decision on your own.
Everyone has crucial conversations — with their colleagues, partners, best friends, kids, or neighbors. By having the skills to approach and engage in these conversations effectively, you can get the results you want and move toward action.