In spite of the fact that I have spent many years writing and teaching similar ideas, I found myself being deeply influenced, motivated, and even inspired by this material-learning new ideas, going deeper into old ideas, seeing new applications, and broaden ing my understanding. I’ve also learned how these new techniques, skills, and tools work together in enabling crucial conversations that truly create a break with the mediocrity or mistakes of the past. Most breakthroughs in life truly are “break-withs.”
When I first put my hands on this book, I was delighted to see that dear friends and colleagues had drawn on their entire lives and professional experiences to not only address a tremendously important topic, but also to do it in a way that is so accessible, so
fun, so full of humor and illustration, so full of common sense and practicality. They show how to effectively blend and use both intellectual (1.0.) and emotional intelligence (E.O.) to enable crucial conversations.
I remember one of the authors having a crucial conversation with his professor in college. The professor felt that this student
was neither paying the price in class nor living up to his potential. This student, my friend, listened carefully, restated the professor’s
concern, expressed appreciation for the professor’s affirmation of his potential , and then smilingly and calmly said, “My focus is on
other priorities, and the class is just not that important to me at this time. I hope you can understand.” The teacher was taken
aback, but then started to listen. A dialogue took place, new understanding was achieved, and the bonding was deepened.
I know these authors to be outstanding individuals and remarkable teachers and consultants, and have even seen them work their magic in training seminars-but I didn’t know if they could take this complex topic and fit it into a book. They did. I
encourage you to really dig into this material, to pause and think deeply about each part and how the parts are sequenced. Then
apply what you’ve learned, go back to the book again, learn some more, and apply your new learnings. Remember, to know
and not to do is really not to know. I think you’ll discover, as have I, that crucial conversations, as
powerfully described in this book, reflect the insight of this excerpt of Robert Frost’s beautiful and memorable poem, “The
Road Not Taken”:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; . . .
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
– Stephen R. Covey
We are deeply grateful to many.
First, to our colleagues at VitalSmarts, we express apprecia tion for creativity, discipline, competence, and friendship. Thanks to Charla Allen, James Allred, Mike Carter, Benson Dastrup, Kevin Koger, Kevin Sheehan, Jed Thompson, Mindy
Waite, and Yan Wang. Also we appreciate our colleagues for their indispensable help
in teaching and testing these ideas: Bemell Christensen, Larry Myler, Bev Roesch, and Steve Willis.
And to our associate friends who have worked hard to change lives and organizations with these concepts-and provided
invaluable feedback for refining them: Mike Allen, Karol Bailey, Pat Banks, Mike Cook, Brint Driggs, Simon Lia, Mike Miller, Jim
Munoa, Stacy Nelson, Larry Peters, Betsy Pickren, Mike Quinlan, Ron Ragain, James Sanwick, Kurt Southam, Neil Staker, Joe Thigpen, and Michael Thompson.
Thanks to our agent, Michael Broussard, for getting us the opportunity to share our message. And thanks to our editor, Nancy Hancock, a world-class partner in producing this book
and a master of crucial conversations. And one final, sweeping, large thanks. So many have helped
us over the years, that we add this admittedly blanket thanks to the clients, colleagues, friends, teachers, and associates on whose shoulders we stand.
The void created by the failure to communicate
is soon filled with poison, drive� and
-c. NORTHCOTE PARKINSON
What’s a Crucial
Conversation? And Who Cares?
When people first hear the term “crucial conversation,” many
conjure up images of presidents, emperors, and prime ministers seated around a massive table while they debate the future of the
world. Although it’s true that such discussions have a wide sweeping and lasting impact, they’re not the kind we have in
mind. The crucial conversations we’re referring to in the title of this book are interactions that happen to everyone. They’re the day-to-day conversations that affect your life.
Now, what makes one of your conversations crucial as opposed to plain vanilla? First, opinions vary. For example, you’re talking with your boss about a possible promotion. She thinks you’re not ready; you think you are. Second, stakes are high. You’re in
a meeting with four coworkers and you’re trying to pick a new marketing strategy. You’ve got to do something different or your company isn’t going to hit its annual goals. Third, emotions run
strong. You’re in the middle of a casual discussion with your spouse and he or she brings up an “ugly incident” that took place at yesterday’s neighborhood block party. Apparently not only did you flirt with someone at the party, but according to your spouse, “You were practically making out.” You don’t remember flirting.
You simply remember being polite and friendly. Your spouse walks off in a huff.
And speaking of the block party, at one point you’re making small talk with your somewhat crotchety and always colorful
neighbor about his shrinking kidneys when he says, “Speaking of the new fence you’re building . . . ” From that moment on you
end up in a heated debate over placing the new fence-three inches one way or the other. Three inches ! He finishes by threat ening you with a lawsuit, and you punctuate your points by men
tioning that he’s not completely aware of the difference between his hind part and his elbow. Emotions run really strong.
What makes each of these conversations crucial-and not sim
ply challenging, frustrating, frightening, or annoying-is that the results could have a huge impact on the quality of your life. In each case, some element of your daily routine could be forever altered
for better or worse. Clearly a promotion could make a big differ ence. Your company’s success affects you and everyone you work with. Your relationship with your spouse influences every aspect of
your life. Even something as trivial as a debate over a property line affects how you get along with your neighbor. If you handle even a seemingly insignificant conversation poorly, you establish a pattern of behavior that shows up in all of your crucial conversations.
By definition, crucial conversations are about tough issues.