This article was originally published a few years ago at the RockStar Success Library. But we are surrounded by crucial conversations every day, so still relevant!
What makes Crucial Conversations so, well, crucial? What differentiates it from all of the other books on communication and building rapport that you can find on the bookshelf? Well, it’s exactly that Crucial Conversations deals with the high-stakes conversations that happen infrequently, but that have a huge impact on the the course of our professional and personal lives.
Most books deal with how to communicate in your day-to-day life. Crucial Conversations takes a more focused look at how we communicate at critical junctures, when the outcome of the conversation can have consequences that really matter to us. The authors make an interesting case that we often fail to achieve the goals we want in these high-stakes conversations because we’re biologically wired for failure. The flight or fight mechanisms prevent us from being cool, calm, and collected when that is precisely what we need to be. Learning how to counteract these “default” impulses can be a big part of improving your communication.
The authors point out that the ability to handle this type of communication well is a skill, and can be learned. The premise of the book, then, is to help develop the skills necessary to handle these conversations. The goal is to create what the authors call dialog where there is a “free-flow of information (pg 20). As you develop the skills to create dialog, you’ll have more productive conversations.
Implications, Ideas, and Questions
- The authors make an important point that, even though dialog necessarily involves more than one person, you can only control yourself. They offer the idea that you should “Start with Heart” to examine yourself and your goals because you can only control how you act in the conversation. I think this is really powerful because it shows how to influence conversations without manipulating others.
- The ideas of Shared Meaning and Shared Purpose are probably the most relevant to me personally. I’m often working with groups where each person has their own background and agenda. This isn’t a negative situation, but it does make creating agreement challenging. The idea of using dialog to create Shared Meaning and Purpose, as a prelude to further conversation, is really powerful. It makes sense to build a foundation for any in-depth conversation.
- The authors point out that we tell ourselves stories to interpret other’s behaviors, and that those stories are often negative, no matter what the true intention of the individual is. The three main negative stories are victim, villain, and helpless stories. Just the ability to identify which of these stories you are telling yourself can help you get past the story – because it can help you realize that it is just a story you’ve made up, and not necessarily fact. I know that I tend to create villain stories, and now that I know that, I can be aware when they pop up, and choose a different story.
- The authors also make a critical distinction that not only do you have to create dialog, but you have to have some way to create action. I think that their chapters on creating and implementing decisions is right on. It reminds me of the need to make sure that there is clarity surrounding the four steps of action assignments (pg 174).
- Does What?
- By When?
- And How Will You Follow Up?
Should You Read this Book?
I love this book because when you get right down to it – it’s a textbook. No, it’s not boring and filled with charts and graphs, but it’s based on giving you tools and skill to improve something that we all do, which is communicate with others when something important is on the line. Whether that conversation is at your job with your boss, or at home with your spouse or children, you are already having these conversations. Crucial Conversations gives you the ability to improve what you are already doing and shows you how to get better results. Read it and implement what you learn!