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Owning Crucial Conversations
By Scott Morrell





 

Have you felt it?  That pit in your stomach when a conversation starts to get heated. You feel your emotions changing. You start to fidget. Your mind starts to race. You begin to get defensive. Out come the boxing gloves. And words begin popping out of your mouth you wish you could take back. Or maybe you're like the comic; when the heat starts to rise you avoid conversation.

 

When the stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions start to run strong, casual conversations transform into crucial ones. And, ironically, the more crucial the conversation, the less likely we are to handle it well. Why? Because our emotions hijack our normal rational mind. And then it’s our negative expression of emotions that generally get us in trouble. (Expression of emotions is not bad.)



When the stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions start to run strong, casual conversations transform into crucial ones. And, ironically, the more crucial the conversation, the less likely we are to handle it well. Why? Because our emotions hijack our normal rational mind. And then it’s our negative expression of emotions that generally get us in trouble. (Expression of emotions is not bad.)

How Do We Typically Handle Crucial Conversations?

By definition, a crucial conversation is a discussion between two or more people where (1) stakes are high, (2) opinions vary, and (3) emotions run strong. When we face crucial conversations, we tend to do one of three things:  we avoid them, we face them and handle them poorly, or we face them and handle them well. That seems simple enough, but we all know that in that heated moment, it’s not that easy. And sadly, if we mess up a crucial conversation, it has the potential to affect many aspects of our lives-from our careers, to our personal life and even our health. 

 

When It Matters Most, We Act Our Worst.  Why?

Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzler (2012) in Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes Are High give insight as to why we are at our worst when it matters the most.


  1. Our Design. Emotions don’t exactly prepare us to converse effectively. Imagine someone says something you disagree with about a topic that matters a great deal to you. The hairs on the back of your neck start to stand and adrenaline gets pumped into the bloodstream. Alarms are going off in your mind. Your body is preparing to deal with an attack from some threat.
  2. We’re Under Pressure. Most often, crucial conversations are spontaneous and come out of nowhere. And since your caught by surprise, you’re forced to react in the moment-no books, no coaches and certainly no breaks while a team of therapists runs to your aid. What you do have, is your adrenaline preparing for fight or flight.
  3. We’re Stumped. Often in those crucial conversations, we’re making it up as we go along. We have not seen enough real-life models of effective communication skills. Therefore, we piece together words and catch-phrases, trying to create positive momentum. The reality is it's a challenge when our emotions trump our rationale mind.
  4. We Act In Self-Defeating Ways. In our adrenaline induced state, the strategies we choose for dealing with the conversation may actually become our own worst enemy and keep us from getting the desired results we want. Often, we can get into a push and pull mentality that has the opposite effect of what we are trying to accomplish. For instance, we “nag” another person thinking that will inspire action. However, it generally has the opposite effect.  

What Can We Do?

At the heart of almost all problems in organizations, teams and relationships lie crucial conversations we’re either not holding or not holding well. The effects of these conversations (or lack of them) can be both devastating and far reaching. However, we can become skilled conversationalists when the stakes are high, opinions vary and emotions run strong. We need to develop the tools to make it safe for us (and the other person(s) to discuss issues and come to a shared understanding.  The key: genuine and authentic dialogue!

 

Dialogue

Saying the key to mastering crucial conversations is dialogue doesn’t really give us much insight as we all dialogue daily. However, the key to the dialogue is the free flow of relevant information where people are openly and honestly expressing their opinions and sharing their feelings. In the upcoming newsletter, we’ll explain some keys to mastering the dialogue within the conversation. In the meantime, think of your own important relationships:


  • Are there a few crucial conversations that you’re currently avoiding or handling poorly?
  • Do you walk away from some issues only to come charging back at others?
  • Do you hold in ugly opinions only to have them tumble out as sarcastic remarks or cheap shots?
  • When it matters most, are you on your best behavior or your worst behavior?
  • What’s more important: being right or the right relationship?