Leadership Lunch and Learn—Crucial Conversations
For the November 2022 Leadership Lunch and Learn, I presented on the topic “Crucial Conversations.”
I was first introduced to the Crucial Conversations information as a participant in the Delta Leadership Institute. I remembered the importance of the topic but had forgotten the complexity of the details in the book. Let me focus on a few tips and tricks to engage in crucial conversations.
What is a Crucial Conversation?
A crucial conversation is a discussion characterized by high stakes, differing opinions, and strong emotions. Crucial conversations are often typical daily interactions as opposed to planned, high-level meetings. These conversations can have a huge impact on your life. Examples include confronting a coworker about his/her behavior, ending a relationship, asking a roommate to move out, or giving the boss critical feedback.
We often try to avoid having these conversations because we’re afraid we’ll make matters worse. And in fact, when we do have crucial conversations, we usually handle them badly. We behave our worst at the most critical moments. We may withdraw, or rage and say things we later regret.
We typically fail at these conversations because:
- Nature works against us. When under stress, we get an adrenaline surge and blood is diverted from the brain
to muscles so that our thinking ability suffers.
- We get caught off guard. Crucial conversations often catch us by surprise — we have a knee-jerk reaction and
later end up wondering, what was I thinking?
- We lack the right skills. We don’t know where to start in terms of responding to or initiating a crucial conversation,
so we just plunge in.
- Our reaction is self-defeating. We act in ways that keep us from getting what we want. We’re our own worst enemies. For example, when one partner is neglecting the other, the aggrieved partner may respond with sarcasm and sniping — which causes the offending party to spend even less time with him or her.
But this doesn’t have to happen. People can learn the skills to handle these conversations effectively. And when they do, their career, health, personal relationships, and their organization or company benefit tremendously.
Crucial conversations need to be constructive, they must have a shared purpose, and the conditions must be safe for everyone to contribute. It’s important that all parties participate in order to reach the best conclusion or outcome.
Many conversations, however, go off the rails as people act out by pushing their views aggressively, withholding their views, or acting from motives that undercut the shared purpose.
How do you react when conversations suddenly move from smooth and easygoing to tense or awkward?
- Do you retreat into silence?
- Do you go on the attack?
- Or do you do your best to keep the conversation calm and focused on the issues at hand?
Let’s review the Law of Crucial Conversations from the book: Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High.
Three Stages of a Conversation
Stage 1: Before
Work on yourself first. Start with heart which means focus on what you really want for yourself, them, the relationship, and the organization (your long-term results).
Stage 2: During
The goal is for participants in the dialogue is to contribute to a shared meaning. For effective conversations, there needs to be a safe place for all to contribute and together work to avoid silence (withholding meaning from the dialogue) or violence (trying to force meaning into the dialogue).
Stage 3: After
In this stage, there should be a “move to action.” This means participants should determine who, does what, by when, and how they will follow up.
I recommend you watch the recording for video examples of how to implement these tips for a crucial conversation.
Watch December Leadership Lunch and Learn
Here are valuable resources that may help you in your own crucial conversations:
- Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, Third Edition
- How to Have Difficult Conversations with Employees: 10 Crucial Examples — Manage Better: The #1 Performance Review Generator
2023 Leadership Lunch & Learn Plans
In 2023, we are excited to be hosting a book review series, featuring leadership experts from across the south. Each presenter will review a leadership development book. The Book Review series will give you the opportunity to hear the cliff notes version of many popular leadership development books.
The series will kick off on January 25, 2023, with Good to Great by Jim Collins, reviewed by Dr. Julie Robinson, Associate Professor-Leadership, University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.