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Make it perfectly clear that once you’ve given an assignment,

there are only two acceptable paths. Employees need to complete

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the assignment as planned, or if they run into a problem, they

need to immediately inform you. No surprises. Similarly, if they

decide that another job needs to be done instead, they call you.

No surprises.

Clarify the “no surprises” rule. The first time someone comes

back with a legitimate excuse-but he or she didn’t tell you

when the problem first came up-deal with this as the new prob­

lem. “We agreed that you’d let me know immediately. I didn’t get

a call. What happened?”


“YEAH/ BUT. ..

WHAT IF THE PERSON you’re dealing with violates all of

the dialogue principles most of the time-especially

during crucial conversations. ”

The Danger Point

When you look at a continuum of dialogue skills, most of us (by

definition) fall in the middle. Sometimes we’re on and some­

times we’re off. Some of us are good at avoiding Sucker’s

Choices; others are good at making it safe. Of course, you have

the extremes as well. You have people who are veritable conver­

sational geniuses. And now you’re saying that you work with

(maybe live with) someone who is the complete opposite. He or

she rarely uses any skills. What’s a person to do?

The danger, of course, is that the other person isn’t as bad as

you think-you bring out the worst in him or her-or that he or

she really is that bad . and you try to address all the problems at





The Solution

Let’s assume this person is pretty bad all of the time and with

most everyone. Where do you start? Let’s apply a metaphor here.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Choose your

targets very carefully. Consider two dimensions: ( 1 ) What both­

ers you the most? “He or she is constantly assuming the worst

and telling horrible stories.” (2) What might be the easiest to

work on? “He or she rarely shows any appreciation.”

Look for those areas that are most grievous to you and might

not be all that hard to talk about. Pick one element and work on

it . Establish Mutual Purpose. Frame the conversation in a way

that the other person will care about.

“I love it when we’re feeling friendly toward each other. I’d

like to have that feeling more frequently between us. There

are a couple of things I’d like to talk about that I’m pretty

convinced would help us with that. Can we talk?”

STATE the issue, and then work on that one issue. Don’t nag;

don’t take on everything at once. Deal with one element, one day

at a time.



1 2

To improve is to changei to be petfoct is to change often.


Change Your Life How to Turn Ideas into Habits

One day you “overhear” yourself enthusiastically talking about a

professional wrestling match. You’re speaking with such gusto

that you give yourself the willies. You think to yourself: “You

know what? It’s time to expand my cultural horizons.” So you

vow to read more widely and to watch three programs on the sci­

ence channel for every episode of reality TV.

While you’re at it, you commit to trimming down a bit as well.

A reasonable diet and moderate exercise program couldn’t hurt.

To top it all off, you note that you’re nearly consumed with your

work, so you swear to spend more time with your family.

More culture, better health, a stronger family-certainly you’ll

quickly transform such worthy desires into daily habits.

Hardly. Changes of this sort are rarely easy. When it comes to

turning out· wispy hopl!s into concrete realities, our success rate




is mixed at best. This being the case, what are our chances of

improving something as deeply rooted in our psyches as the way

we communicate? Actually, it depends. There are a lot of vari­

ables that affect our chances. Consider the following factors .


You’ve been asked to conduct your first meeting. To avoid

embarrassing yourself, you read a book where you learn all about

agendas, pacing, and the like. When it’s time to lead your first

meeting, you arrive early, adjust the chairs, set the markers just

so, and lay out an agenda for each participant. As participants

arrive, you greet them cordially. Then you kick off the meeting

with a rousing icebreaker and you’re off and running.

Implementing meeting skills is as easy as falling off a log.

That’s because meetings are evident. You know when you’re in

one. You’re seated at a table along with a bunch of other people.

How could you not know you’re in a meeting? They’re also pre­

dictable. You can plan for them. You even have time to go over

underlined portions from the book.

Crucial conversations, in contrast, are far less evident. You

don’t sit in a crucial conversations room. You don’t pass around

a picture of your Path to Action. Instead you get thrown into a

heated discussion where you rarely think, “Oh yes, I’m in the

middle of a crucial conversation. That means I need to think

about all that stuff I read last week.”

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