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“What crucial conversations are you not holding, or not holding well?”

Joseph Grenny is a New York Times best-selling author, a keynote speaker, and a social scientist who is passionate about good communication.  More precisely, he is passionate about what he calls “crucial conversations” . . . those conversations that are necessary, but are so fraught with real or imagined danger, or carry so much emotional baggage, that we just can’t bring ourselves to engage in them.  We’re afraid that we will get a negative outcome, that the person we’re trying to communicate with will either shut down, or lash out in some way.  We’re afraid that instead of clearing the air and giving us a fresh start, this conversation will damage the relationship and make matters worse.  Grenny offers some suggestions for conducting a “crucial conversation” in a way that will tilt the odds in favor of a positive outcome.  To learn what he suggests, please continue reading below.

“What crucial conversations are you not holding, or not holding well?”  – Joseph Grenny

First, Grenny would like to dispel a myth . . . the myth that telling the truth will cost you friends.  To the contrary, he argues, having an honest conversation about something important to both parties will deepen a relationship and make it more trusting.  The trick is conducting the conversation in a way that is candid but respectful.

To meet Grenny’s definition of a “crucial conversation,” the parties to the conversation must have:

  1. Opposing opinions.
  2. Strong emotional involvement.
  3. High stakes in the outcome.

So with those conditions in place, it’s easy to see why we approach such conversations with some anxiety.  While Grenny talks about several different ways to manage the conversation in ways that will keep it positive and productive, one of those ways is far more important than the others.  At the very beginning of a “crucial conversation,” he challenges us to “make it safe.”  If we fail to do that . . . if the other party feels threatened or endangered . . . a “fight or flight” response will kick in and the conversation will turn into an argument or the other party will retreat from the conversation altogether.

There are a couple of things we can do to make a crucial conversation “safe.”  First, we need to establish “mutual purpose” . . . the idea that this is a problem for both of us (whatever the problem is), and we both care deeply about solving it.  And second, we need to establish “mutual respect.”  We each need to acknowledge that while we may not agree, our respective opinions and beliefs are both valid and honestly held.

None of this is to say that we should soft-peddle or sugar-coat tough issues so as not to offend our counterpart.  In fact, Grenny says, to tiptoe around the tough issues defeats the whole purpose of a “crucial conversation” which is to get the tough issues on the table where they can be discussed and debated.

Is there a “crucial conversation” you’ve been dreading and putting off?  It should help to take Grenny’s advice: view it as an opportunity to deepen a relationship, not as a threat to damage it.  Then, by establishing mutual purpose and mutual respect, make it “safe” for both parties to be open and honest with one another.

We all have crucial conversations from time to time.  They are inevitable.  So navigating them successfully is an essential leadership skill.  Master it!

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