Make it perfectly clear that once you’ve given an assignment,
there are only two acceptable paths. Employees need to complete
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.
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?”
DEALING WITH SOMEONE WHO BREAKS ALL THE RULES
“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
2 1 4 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
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.
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
2 1 6 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
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.”