Crucial Conversations


by Kerry Patterson
ISBN: 0071771328
Finished 2/17/16
Amazon page for details and reviews


When stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong, we know our conversations have turned crucial. If these conversations go poorly, the results can be both devastating and far-reaching. How do we avoid making fool’s choices, falling into a lack of safety, and perpetuating disagreement? By establishing mutual purpose and putting all the information out there, watching diligently for violations of safety. By effectively holding crucial conversations, we can turn victims into actors, villains into humans, and the helpless into the able.


“Nothing fails like success.” – Arnold Toynbee
– When a challenge is met with an equal response, you have success. But when the challenge moves to a higher level, the response fails.

Crucial conversations transform people and relationships.
– The middle way, like in Buddhism
– Not transactions

To learn and not to do is not really to learn

The results of some conversations can have a huge influence over your quality of life

We tend to become masters of avoiding tough conversations

Crucial conversations:
1. Stakes are high
2. Opinions vary
3. Emotions run strong

Effects of conversations gone bad can be both devastating and far-reaching

Almost all problems are due to conversations we’re not having or not having well

We don’t have to choose between being honest and effective

The world changes when people have to do something crucial and either do it poorly or well

Prediction of whether a project will succeed or fail hinges on 5 specific conversations

Those who can’t have crucial conversations fail in 13 different ways

At the best organizations, everyone holds everyone accountable

In relationships, everyone disagrees, but those who speak openly and effectively are most successful

The ability to master crucial conversations is the key to longer, happier, healthier lives
– Immune system benefits
– Melanoma patients who learned to express themselves successfully greatly lowered the death rate

Failed conversations never make us healthier, happier, or better off

Avoid the fool’s choice – we believe we need to trade off telling the truth with keeping friends

Be 100% honest and respectful

Every successful conversation: free flow of meaning

Work on me 1st, us 2nd.
– Fix the problem of believing that others are the source of what ails us
– Skilled people begin high-risk discussions with the right motives and stay focused no matter what happens
– Don’t give in to fool’s choices. Dialog is always an option

The desire to win drives us away from healthy dialog
– We correct facts and quibble over details
– Punishing

We accept the certainty of bad results over the possibility of uncomfortable conversation

Our motives often change without our even noticing. We must approach the situation as an outsider, asking “What am I doing? What is my motive?”

Ask “How would I behave if I really wanted these results?”
– “What do I really want?”

As we introduce complex questions to our mind, we recognize that we are now dealing with intricate social issues
– Reminds us of our goal
– Juices up our brain and helps us keep focused

Search for the elusive “and”
To yourself:
– Clarify what you really want
– Clarify what you really don’t want
– Present your brain with a more complex problem
– Combine these into an “and” question
– Forces you to find more creative solutions than silence and/or violence

Spotting crucial conversations
1. The moment conversation turns crucial
2. Signs of silence or violence
3. Your own style under stress

Nothing kills the free flow of meaning like fear
– If you feel unsafe, even unintended comments can be suspect

Recode silence and violence as signs the other person feels unsafe

3 common types of silence
– Masking: selectively understating or sugarcoating opinion, sarcasm
– Avoiding
– Withdrawing: exiting the conversation or room

– Controlling
– Labeling
– Attacking

Making it safe
– Step out of the conversation topic to restore safety
– Then step back in when safety is back

Crucial conversations often go awry because the other party believes you have a malicious intent

When mutual purpose is at risk, we end up in debate
– We must truly care about the interest of the others. Look for the mutuality

We can’t stay in a safe conversation if we don’t maintain mutual respect

Signs that respect is violated
– Defense of dignity
– Anger
– Name calling, pouting

We can counteract disrespect by trying to sympathize/empathize, find what is common, and respect the basic humanity

Find mutual purpose and respect:
– Apologize
– Contrast
– Create a mutual purpose

Contrasting: don’t/do statement
1. Addresses others’ concerns that you don’t respect them or have a malicious purpose
2. Confirms your respect or clarifies your real purpose

After contrast, can move back into the topic for remediation

Safety first

Contrasting is not apologizing. It provides context and proportion

Contrasting can be used as prevention and first aid

When people misunderstand and you start arguing over the misunderstanding, stop and apply contrasting

When we have different purposes, contrasting might not work

Compromise is sometimes necessary but can lead to other problems

Four skills to create a mutual purpose. CRIB:
– Commit to create mutual purpose
– Recognize the purpose behind the strategy
– Invent a mutual purpose
– Brainstorm new strategies

Emotions don’t just settle upon you
1. Only you create your emotions
2. You have the choice to master or fall hostage to them

Four blocks of emotion (path to action):
1. See or hear something
2. Tell yourself a story about that
3. Generate a feeling
4. Drive action

Since only we tell the story, we can tell a different story

When we feel at risk we tell ourselves stories very quickly

Until we tell different stories, we cannot break the loop

Slow down and retrace path to action

Words do matter. Knowing what you really feel with descriptive vocabulary is important

Don’t confuse stories for facts

Watch for the 3 clever stories
1. Victim stories: Not my fault
2. Villan stories: All your fault
3. Helpless stories: Nothing else I can do

Clever stories can:
1. Match reality
2. Get us off the hook
3. Keep us from acknowledging our own sellouts

Clever stories are incomplete

Filling in the story can be done by turning
– Victims into actors
– Villains into humans
– The helpless into the able

Speaking the unspeakable while maintaining respect:
1. Confidence
2. Humility
3. Skill

State your path

5 skills to talk about the most sensitive topics: STATE:
– Share your facts
– Tell your story
– Ask for others’ paths
– Talk tentatively
– Encourage testing

Facts are the least controversial and persuasive, and the least insulting
– Conclusions are highly controversial and less persuasive. Most insulting

You need to share the story so the other understands how you reached your conclusion

As you share your story look for loss of safety

Share facts and stories tentatively
– Strike a blend between confidence and humility

The more convinced and assertive you are, the more resistive the other person is likely to be

The more tentative you are, the more open the other is likely to be

Do not fake tentativeness. Comes off as inauthentic

Do not act as if data is uncertain or unimportant. Be confident

You must want to hear the others’ ideas
– Invite opposing opinions

When most become furious we need to become curious

Be patient

Help them on their path to action
– Encourage them to find their root cause

When there appears to be a fact or story, it is our job to invite the other to share it

All this requires listening

They must believe they won’t be punished for speaking frankly

Power listening tools: AMPP
– Ask
– Mirror
– Paraphrase
– Prime

AMPP can be used for both silence and violence

Mirroring: stating how they look

Prime: believing they want to share and enticing them to do so. Guessing what they want to say so they can speak up

Only use priming as a last resort. Becoming vulnerable to try to get the other to share meaning

Only trying to understand, not agree with, the other

If, after priming, you disagree, focus on the things you agree on and start there. Not the subtle differences

Agree then build. Add elements that were left out of the discussion

Then compare. Don’t pronounce that something is wrong, but that you see things differently

– Agree when you agree
– Build when info is left out
– Compare when you differ

Don’t turn differences into debates

Move to action

Decision time can be dangerous
1. Decision gets made for you
2. Decisions drag on forever

Dialog is not decision making

Decide how to decide

Establish a clear line of authority

When authority is not clear, dialog about who should decide is necessary

4 methods of decision making:
– Command
– Consult
– Vote
– Consensus

Command: passing on the circumstances. No decision what to do, just how to do it

4 questions:
– Who cares?
– Who knows?
– Who must agree?
– How many people is it worth involving?

Strive for the fewest number of people for quality decision-making

Decision making
– Who does what by when, and how does it get done?

Assign responsibility

Clarify exactly what you want

Always agree on how to follow up, and how often

2 main skills:
– Learn to look if you are in or out of dialog
– Make it safe so you can have dialog again

It’s not about communication, it’s about results