How to Hold Crucial Conversations
Being able to hold crucial conversations is a big step towards effective communication. Master tough situations and express your opinions in a winning way!
“Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and hoping for the other person to die” – Anonymous
Your colleague just behaved wrong in a meeting and all of a sudden the mood is at rock bottom. Your boss has made an error, but you remember how poorly he has reacted the last time when someone pointed this out. What do you do?
Often we face this dilemma: Do we address a contentious topic and risk to damage a relationship, or do we keep quiet and don’t get the issue addressed?
Negative interactions at the workplace can diminish our performance significantly, sometimes for hours, at other times for days. It affects the quality of our time.
~~~ What’s YOUR strategy? ~~~
We all have our strategies to deal with difficult situations. What is yours? Do you keep quiet, make a sarcastic remark, joke over it or just drop an innuendo? Regardless which way we react, we don’t feel great afterwards. That is because we have not addressed the issue.
Sometimes we observe someone handling such a crucial conflict brilliantly and that person commands our respect. Kerry Patterson (and others) have researched for 25 years what top-performers in companies distinguishes from others. Initially, they found only few differences. It took them a long time to realise one area of major difference. Top-performers approach conflict situations differently.
One of the key elements when addressing contentious topics is to put the other person in a safe mode. This doesn’t mean to sugarcoat things. It means that you have a genuine interest in addressing the issue with the aim of improving the situation as well as improving on the relationship to the other person. The second part it the key.
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”
- John Maxwell.
Begin crucial conversations with the right motives.
~~~ Safety first! ~~~
Before entering critical conversations make sure that you are absolutely clear on what you want to address. Be able to summarise it in one sentence. Plus aim to improve the relationship. Dishonest motives will be sensed immediately. We all have a radar for that.
When you observe that the other person doesn’t feel safe, there is no point continuing the conversation on the issue. Feeling unsafe the other person will either fight (argue) or flight (withdraw), none of which will help the conversation. I see this often being done wrong. When the one addressing the issue feels he is not getting through to the other person, he tries the same in different ways, generally by using different types of arguments. When you feel you are not getting through to someone, more likely than not this person feels unsafe. Meaning he doesn’t trust your motives or is unclear about them.
~~~ Creating safety ~~~
If you feel the other person feels unsafe you have to first step out of the issue you are addressing, put the person into a safe state and then go back into the issue at hand. Two proven techniques of putting someone into safety are apologising and contrasting.
If you realise you have said something wrong, Acknowledge it!
Then Apologise. It is not as difficult as you think.
Finally propose an Action to overcome your mistake.
“I missed the deadline. I apologise. You will have the report by 11am in future.” Hard? Yes! But imagine the respect you will get in return!
Contrasting is the right approach when you realise the other person has misunderstood you. Just clarify what you didn’t mean “I didn’t mean this is an easy task.” Then say what you really meant: “I meant that you are good at this task and could do it quickly.”
~~~ Signs of lack of safety ~~~
Withdrawing, avoiding or silence are the passive forms of an unsafe feeling. Aggressive reactions are attacking, trying to force, arguing and so on. Observe what the other person says, but also observe the body language. Tight, tense body language is and indicator. Mimic reveals a lot as well. Verbal and non-verbal cues will give you a clear picture. Once you realise this, start putting the other person at safety first.
What is your own style when you feel unsafe? You most likely know it. If you don’t know, you have to observe yourself and find out. Or simply ask others. They know it very well, most likely better than you. Once you know this, find a method to improve.
Aggressive reactions are attacking, trying to force, arguing and so on.
~~~ Do you go for the sucker’s choice? ~~~
So how do you deal with your colleague who violated meeting rules? Do you attack him to equal things out? Or do you keep quiet? Many people believe they have to chose between these two evils. Accept bad behaviour to keep the relationship or punish bad behaviour and damage the relationship. Assuming you have these two choices only is called the sucker’s choice. Learn conflict management techniques to be able to go for the third option. Bring the conversation back on track and improve relationships. Do it and stand out!
Share your facts – Put him in a safe state, for example when nobody else is around and you feel he isn’t stressed, ask for permission.
Tell your story – State facts where possible; start with the least contentious and explain your conclusions.
Ask for the others’ paths – Ask how the other has seen it.
Talk tentatively – State your story as a story.
Encourage testing – Make it safe for the other person.
“Boss, you appear to be upset?”
“Yes, I am not happy that the report went out late.”
“But I had sent you the report for final review. Was that not right?”
“I was in a meeting and had no chance to see the report before the deadline.”
“You generally check the report before I send it out. Isn’t that right?”
“This time I had asked you to send it out by 11am. I was not going to be able to check it due to the meeting.”
“It seems I misjudged the importance. I apologise and will have the report with you at 11 am in future.”
“Thank you, I appreciate that and your work!”
Kerry Patterson (and others) – Crucial Conversations
Learn the STATE method below and many other techniques for holding crucial conversations. “This is a breakthrough book. I found myself being deeply influenced, motivated, and even inspired” – Stephen Covey, Author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Plus get a few copies for your friends, like I did (and put them in a safe mode before you give the book to them).
Kerry Patterson (and others) – Crucial Confrontations
Become that person who is able to resolve issues the right way and get the things done where others fail. This is what the authors have found distinguishes top-performers from others.
Learn how to improve communication skills, how to hold difficult conversations, communicate positively and improve your listening skills now.
By Murat Uenlue, PhD, PMP, 2013.