Do your conversations almost always end up in a debate?
One of the best books I’ve read in the last ten years is a great look at communications, from four great minds who collaborated to write Crucial Conversations. Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler decided to write a book for those of us who struggle to speak our minds when it’s clear the stakes are high. I couldn’t help but think how different my life and career might have gone had I read this book twenty years ago. Sadly, the book was written back in 2002, and I failed to discover it until a few years ago.
The premise of the book is that crucial conversations come out of nowhere. This often puts us into a situation where we are forced to have a high-stakes conversation where people are in general disagreement, and we’re not well prepared. Sound familiar? It did for me; it was the story of my life over the last 10-20 years in corporate America. When we’re feeling unprepared for these conversations we often shrink from them by withdrawing into silence. We, therefore, feel threatened and begin to lash out with an intensity that feels violent to the colleagues we’re conversing with. Because we’re not well prepared, we botch the opportunity to excel in these conversations, far too often.
The authors posit that we need to develop skills and experience in choosing to engage in dialogue rather than debate, if we wish to master crucial conversations. By being humble, but helpful, we can throw great ideas into an imaginary “shared pool” of concepts and mutual understanding. As we do, we need to monitor others to check on whether the whole assembled group is trusting one another enough to safely express themselves. The book provides excellent examples of how to think, feel, and act; and while it does, it paves a path to summoning the courage to speak your mind without feeling disloyal or disruptive. Along the path, we are likely to find dialogue rather than debate, and add to the conversation our best thinking. With practice, we become capable conversationalists and avoid botching the golden opportunity to build a collegial understanding that leads the team to greater outcomes.
It’s been about a year and a half since picking up this gold mine of great ideas. Since then, the number of crucial conversations that I’ve been personally involved in and heard about in my role as an executive business coach is now in the dozens. I have personally fared much better than previously when crucial conversations have presented themselves to me. Likewise, my clients have found themselves engaged in conversations where they comfortably added their greatest ideas and opinions to the conversation, where a year ago they might have resorted to silence and sat on the sidelines, missing an important conversation. Do yourself a favor, and check out this great book, it’s a classic! It’s almost as good as listening to the late great Duane “Skydog” Allman play the slide guitar on the Boz Scaggs hit, “Loan Me A Dime…” Have an amazing day!