The Essence of Crucial Conversations

A powerful book on communications is Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when Stakes are High (Patterson, K., J. Grenny, R. McMillan, and A. Switzler (2002), McGraw-Hill). The authors provide a lot of information and the book is filled with stories, leading to the hard-to-recall problem we’ve previously discussed. However, just remembering the central thesis of this book is extremely helpful.

A crucial conversation is a discussion where stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong. Due to these factors, the conversation does not usually end well. The results are either a fight, or a flight of silence, leaving the issue unresolved.

The main causes of the fight or flight reaction is the differing understanding of the facts and the different points of view the parties bring to the table. These perspective differences, coupled with the emotional charge and high stakes, bring conflict.

The solution strategy is to share your perspective and make the other party feel safe in sharing their understanding. Through this sharing, a joint understanding pool is created whereby both parties are seeing the situation from a similar point of view. Through that joint understanding a path to a resolution can be traveled.

The authors provide a wealth of tools and techniques to identify, stabilize and resolve crucial conversations and the book is well worth reading. Until then, just identifying the potential fight and flight situations, and then creating a safe environment to share viewpoints, can greatly increase your chance of successful resolution of critical issues.