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I want to read a definition for you completely out of context.
%% “A discussion between two or more people where (1) stakes are high, (2) opinions vary, and (3) emotions run strong” and the outcome greatly impacts their lives.
The reason I read that to you is because that is the definition of a Crucial Conversation, which ends up being the topic for tonights podcast.
You and I have both been in discussions where the following is present: 1. Stakes are high 2. Opinions vary, and 3. Emotions run strong
I know I have been in these discussions where they didn’t end well, someone leaves with feelings hurt and has an adverse impact on their lives.
To prepare for this episode I found a lot of notes online that all stem from this one book called, Crucial Conversations, Tools for talking when stakes are high. I bought the book today and prepped this episode from the notes I found online.
I wanted to share this episode with you because recently the occurrence of Crucial Conversations have been increasing at work, and I am not as prepared for them as I need to be, so I’ve been meditating on the topic for a few days now and it’s time to share what I’ve come to learn.
My hope for this episode is to introduce you with the tools to prepare for high-stakes conversations, transform intense emotions and hurt feelings into powerful dialogue, and make it safe to talk about almost anything.
How the book came to be
The authors of Crucial Conversations didn’t set out to write a book on communication; rather, they began by researching the behaviours of top performers. They found that most of the time, top influencers were indistinguishable from their peers. But as soon as the stakes grew high, emotions ran strong, and opinions differed, top performers were significantly more effective. What the authors observed during this study and captured is a distinct and learnable set of skills that produce immediate results.
The book focuses on three main ideas, and four very useful models:
Main ideas 1. Start with heart 2. Master your stories 3. Step out, make it safe, step in
Mental models 1. STATE (Share facts, Tell a story, Ask for others paths, Talk tentatively, Encourage testing) 2. CRIB (Commit to seek mutual purpose, recognise the purpose behind the strategy, invent a mutual purpose, brainstorm new strategies) 3. AMPP (ask to get things rolling, mirror to confirm feelings, paraphrase to acknowledge the story, prime when you’re getting nowhere) 4. ABC (agree, build, compare)
START WITH HEART
The big thing here is to pause before you even utter a word and get clear on what you want out of the interaction.
The goal here is to move blood flow from the fight or flight areas of your brain to your cognitive ones. Asking questions refocuses the brain and works as a pattern interrupt for what would otherwise be a downward spiral of results you don’t want.
Start by asking these four questions: 1. What do I want for myself? 2. What do I want for others? 3. What do I want for the relationship? 4. How would I behave if I really wanted those results?
The last question specifically checks for congruence. By asking these questions you can easily identify a behaviour you can change.
Granted, doing this in the middle of a conversation takes skill and practice, so a tip is to prepare these questions before a crucial conversation.
An interesting metaphor I came across for these conversations is the idea of seeing the space between you and the other person as a “pool of shared meaning”, a pool you both should work to feed with information.
This focuses the conversation back on sharing and transparency as opposed to secrecy and more aggressive debate and negotiation techniques.
MASTER MY STORIES
Others don’t make you mad, you make you mad. In particular, the stories we tell ourselves is what make us mad. Between stimulus and response there’s a space, and in that space you’re allowed to retrace your path, tell yourself a different story and derive different actions from the same stimulus. Others don’t push your buttons, only you do.
The flow isn’t see->feel->act, but see->tell a story->feel->act. Telling yourself bad stories will lead to feeling bad feelings and acting in a way that’s unproductive.
There’s three ways to break this cycle: 1. Retrace your path, get back to facts. What really happened in terms of things you can see, hear? Replace “you looked at me angry” by “your face frowned and you started using your phone” 2. Spot the 3 clever stories. Learn how to spot a Victim story (it always happens to me), a Villain story (i know he’s out to get me) or a Helpless story (there’s nothing i can do to change this) 3. Tell the rest of the story. Turn victims into actors (change your strategies), villains into humans (what’s the positive intention) and the helpless into the able (what is the best next thing to do)
A good way to share your own story with others is to use the STATE model (Share your facts, Tell your story, Ask for others paths, Talk tentatively, Encourage testing of the findings).
But what about when other people are using a Silence strategy and are unwilling to share their stories (the “ask for other’s paths” part of the STATE model)?
In this case use the AMPP model to help feed the pool of knowledge with details of the interaction (ask to get things rolling, mirror to confirm feelings, paraphrase to acknowledge the story, prime when you’re getting nowhere).
STEP OUT, MAKE IT SAFE, STEP IN
Dialogue is only available when both parties have a sense of security. There is a case for engaging a conversation in dual-watch mode: watching the conversation for content while also watching it for conditions.
Engaging the conversation in both content and form is important because it allows you to spot early signs that create a lack of safety.
When either party feels like safety is lacking, they usually result into one of two opposite strategies: 1. Silence [masking, avoiding, withdrawing] or 2. Violence [controlling, labelling, attacking]. 3. Once safety is broken, it’s usually due to one of two things: 1. Lack of mutual purpose. When one or both parties are not working towards the same goal, the same purpose. 2. Lack of mutual respect. When one or both parties feel like the other one doesn’t respect the interests being presented (or worse, the people presenting them!). Respect is like air, if it’s not there, that’s all people think about — yet if it’s there, the purpose of living is not to keep breathing.
There is also a case for “stepping out of the conversation”, “making it safe” and then “stepping back in”. This is a tool that could produce great results.
There are four things that are helpful to do this: 1. Apologise. Just genuinely say you’re sorry — you don’t have to win always, pick your battles. Marshall Goldsmith has gold in his hands when he says: “When it’s sports you want to… win! — when it’s important you want to… win! — when it’s not important you want to … win?” 2. Contrast. This technique is a golden-nugget! The concept is very simple: start with a [don’t] followed by a [do] statement, followed by the [gap]. This is best used when you spot an early sign of lack of safety and want to course correct before the other person jumps to the wrong conclusions. Example: [don’t] I don’t mean to imply you’re not a trust-worthy developer, [do] just last week we worked together on the X feature and you proven to be autonomous and dependable. [gap] What I am saying is that you need to communicate more often on your progress. 3. The CRIB model. (Commit to seek mutual purpose, recognise the purpose behind the strategy, invent a mutual purpose, brainstorm new strategies). This is a similar model to what you find in books like “Getting to Yes”. Again, super useful!
There is this idea of a pattern interrupt and it’s a tool you use early in a conversation when you start to see any sings of lack of safety beginning to emerge.
It looks like this:
%% “it looks like we don’t share the same goals on this one. I’m sure there’s space for us to work together in a way that looks good for both of us. So before we move any further, help me understand what would you like to get out of this?”.
This interrupts the pattern that the conversation may have continued on.
WHAT IF YOU DISAGREE?
So what do you do if you disagree? Well, you remember your ABC’s.
Agree, Build, Compare.
First, make sure you’re not in violent agreement. How many times have you found yourself in the middle of a discussion in where emotions run strong, but you’re all agreeing to the same thing?
In this instance you could use a pattern interrupt, it looks like this:
%%“Well, it looks like we all violently agree on this one [chuckles] — Here’s what I heard: we’re moving on by doing [X] followed by [Y] and that [Z] is the person responsible — does that sound fair to everyone — great let’s tackle the next one“.
The essence here is to agree when you’re agreeing, don’t turn an argument into an agreement.
Second, it’s acknowledging that we are wired to look for points of disagreement.
Instead, setup an attitude of curiosity (like if you’re a scientist observing something that’s happening, or a police officer trying to find out what’s going on). Look for points of agreement and build-on instead of pointing-out the gaps that you see.
Say “in addition to what you said […]” instead of “you forgot […]“.
Third, compare how the situation was presented to how you see it by using tentatively language such as “I see things slightly differently“.
Doing it in this order, these disagreements turn into relationship and idea enhancers.
Well, there it is. I hope that I was successful in introducing you to tools that will help you prepare for high-stakes conversations and help you transform those moments into additive experiences.