Crucial Conversations

Conversations that have high stakes, strong emotions, and differing opinions can be tough, but they are also some of the most important conversations to have. In order to be successful in these types of conversations, Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Swizler (2002) give some specific steps and skills to focus on in their book Crucial Conversations.

Patterson et al. (2002) recommend that we Start with Heart and remember that the only person we can control is ourselves. The following questions are good to keep in mind:

What do I really want for myself? * What do I really want for others? * What do I really want for the relationship?

I will probably need to think about all three of these during conversations about my Innovation Plan. It will be important for me to stay focused on my goal of implementing my plan, and not shift into competitive mode in which I just want to win the situation for winning’s sake. Instead of thinking of choices as either/or choices, I need to find ways to clarify what I WANT and what I DON’T WANT with an and question. Is it possible that there’s a way to accomplish both ideas?

The next step is to Learn to Look. Instead of just focusing on the content of a discussion, we need to be aware of other conditions, including physical, emotional, and behavioral signals that show that we’ve moved from a discussion into a Crucial Conversation. If this occurs, we need to move back into a safe area where all parties feel like they can say anything. When things are unsafe in a conversation, people can move to either silence or violence; withdrawing from the conversation or controlling the conversation, usually by attacking the other person. To self-monitor, it is important to ‘pay close attention to what you’re doing and the impact it’s having, and then alter your strategy if necessary.’ (Patterson, et al., 2002).

In order to Make it Safe in any conversation, it is important for everyone involved to have mutual purpose and mutual respect. When things get unsafe, it is important to step back, apologize if necessary, and then get to mutual respect. Patterson et al. (2002) suggest using the following four skills to do this: Commit to seek Mutual Purpose, Recognize the purpose behind the strategy, Invent a Mutual Purpose,, and Brainstorm new strategies.

Often, even in safe conversations, things can become emotional. Our instinct at this point might be fight or flight, but with the step of Master my Stories we can explain what’s going on with our feelings. Then we can refocus the dialogue to get back to the facts.

Many times, Crucial Conversations require some persuasion. It is important that we don’t let our persuasion become abrasive. In order to do this, we can STATE our Path and use these five tools: Share your facts, Tell your story, Ask for others’ paths, Talk tentatively, and Encourage testing. These tools can guide us through the what and how of talking about sensitive topics. We also need to remember to listen and Explore Others’ Paths. In this way, we can let others know that they are safe and that we want them to share their Path. In order to do this it is important to be sincere, curious, and patient. These four power listening skills can help: Ask to Get Things Rolling, Mirror to Confirm Feelings, Paraphrase to Acknowledge the Story, and Prime When You’re Getting Nowhere. If you have listened to another’s path and disagree with some or all of what they’re contributing to the conversation, remember to Agree, Build, and Compare your stories and paths.

The final part of having a Crucial Conversation is to Move to Action. It is important for all parties to have clear expectations about how decisions will be made: this needs to be part of the dialogue. To make decisions, there four methods to consider: Command, Consult, Vote, and Consensus. The method to be used in each situation needs to be defined. Some things to consider when choosing a decision-making method include: Who cares? Who knows? Who must agree? and How many people is it worth involving? Once a decision is made it needs to be put into action. The following elements need to be considered: Who? Does what? By when? and How will you follow up? These decisions should be put in writing in order to have documentation of the conversation.

When working to implement my Innovation Plan I will most likely have some Crucial Conversations. One Crucial Conversation I will need to have with administrators is about teachers using an online learning format in their classroom as part of the Blended Learning station rotation model. I will need to convince the administrators at my school that this plan is a good idea, and there are parts of it that I believe they will be hesitant about. Before each conversation I will need to prepare and be ready when things turn crucial. When reading the book, I took the quiz in the Learn to Look section and discovered that I especially need to focus on Start With Heart (which surprised me) and Move to Action (which didn’t surprise me). When reading more deeply about Start with Heart, I realized that I often don’t have specific goals in mind, and therefore it’s hard to stay focused. I need to begin with a goal, and when a conversation gets tough, I need to stop and remember that goal. Move to Action is always tough for me. I can have great ideas, but often don’t know how to get started on them or how to move forward. All the steps in between these two I feel like I could do, if only I could get better at the first and last! I think the key for me is to plan ahead and keep focused on more than just content when I’m having a Crucial Conversation.


Patterson, K., Grenny, J., McMillan, R., & Swizler, A. (2002). Crucial conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *