Crucial Conversations [Book]

This is not more than an bundle of quotes from Crucial Conversations:

Chapter 1

What’s a crucial conversation?

  • Opinions vary
  • Stakes are high
  • Emotions run strong

What makes each of these conversations crucial — and not simply challenging, frustrating, frightening, or annoying — is that the results could have a huge impact on the quality of your life.

Despite the importance of crucial conversations, we often back away from the, because we fear we’ll make matters worse. We’ve become masters at avoiding tough conversations.

In truth, when we face crucial conversations, we can do one of three things:

  • We can avoid them.
  • We can face them and handle them poorly.
  • We can face them and handle them well.

Sometimes we boldly step up to hot topics, monitor our behaviour, and offer up our best work. We mind our Ps and Qs. Sometimes we’re just flat-out good. And then we have the rest of our lives. These are the moments when, for whatever reason, we’re at our absolute worst — we yell; we withdraw; we say things we later regret. When conversations matter the most — that is, when conversations move from casual to crucial, we’re generally on our worst behaviour.

We are designed wrong. When conversations turn from routine to crucial, we’re often in trouble. That’s because emotions don’t exactly prepare us to converse effectively. Countless generations of genetic shaping drive humans to handle crucial conversations with flying fists and fleet feet, not intelligent persuasion and gentle attentiveness.

Crucial conversations are frequently spontaneous. More often than not, they come out of nowhere. And since you’re caught by surprise, you’re forced to conduct and extraordinarily complex human interaction in real time — no books, no coaches, and certainly no short breaks while a team of therapists runs to your aid and pumps you full of nifty ideas.

“What was I thinking?” you wonder — when what you should be asking is: “What pat fo my brain was I thinking with?”

You don’t know where to start. You’re making this up as you go along because you haven’t often see real-life models of effective communication skills. (…)

(…) first you have to know what to practise. Sometimes you don’t. After all, you may have never actually seen how a certain problem is best handled. You may have seen what not to do — as modeled by host of friends, colleagues, and, yes, even your parents.

You do what most people do. You wing it. You piece together the words, create a certain mood and you otherwise make up what you think will work. It’s little wonder that when it matters the most, we’re often at our worst behaviour.

We act in self-defeating ways. In our doped-up, dumbed-down state, the strategies we choose for dealing with our crucial conversations are perfectly designed to keep us from what we actually want. We’re our own worst enemies — and we don’t even realise it.

So we studied over 2,200 projects and programs that had been rolled out at hundred of organisations worldwide. You can predict with nearly 90% accuracy which projects will fail — months or years in advance. The predicator of success or failure was wether people could hold five specific crucial conversations. For example, could they speak up if they thought the scope and schedule were unrealistic? Or did they go silent when a cross-functional team member began sloughing off? Or even more tricky — what should they do when an executive failed to provide leadership for the effort?

In most organisations, employees fell silent when these crucial moments hit. Fortunately, in those organisations where people were able to candidly and effectively speak up about these concerns, the projects were less than half as likely to fail. Once again, the presenting problems showed up in key performance indicators such as spiralling costs, late delivery times and low morale. Nevertheless, the underlying cause was the unwillingness or inability to speak up at crucial moments.

Most leaders get it wrong. They think that organization productivity and performance are simply about policies, processes, structures or systems. So when their software product doesn’t ship on time, they benchmark others’ development processes. Or when productivity flags, they tweak their performance management system. When teams aren’t cooperating, they restructure.

Our research shows that these types of nonhuman changes fail more often than they succeed. That’s because the real problem never was in the process, system, or structure — it was in employee behaviour. The key to real change lies no in implementing a new process, but in getting people to hold one another accountable to process.

In the worst companies, poor performers are first ignored and then transferred. In good companies, bosses eventually deal with problems. In the best companies, everyone holds everyone else accountable — regardless of level or position. The path to high productivity passes not through a static system, but through face-to-face conversations.

In truth, everyone argues about important issues. But not everyone splits up. It’s how you argue that matters.