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Master the Content

There’s too much material in this book to try to master in one sit­

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ting. Despite the fact that you may have read this book rather

quickly, a rapid once-over rarely generates much of a change in

behavior. You may have a feel for the content, but probably not

enough to propel you to change.

Here are some other steps you can take to help master the





Do something. Years ago, Dale Carnegie recommended that

you read his now classic How to Win Friends and Influence

People one chapter at a time. Then, once you finished the chap­

ter, he suggested you go out and practice what you learned from

it. We agree. Pick a chapter you found relevant (possibly one

with a low score in your Style Under Stress test) and read it

again. This time, implement what you learned over a three- to

five-day period. Look for opportunities. Pounce on every chance

you get. Step up to the plate and give the skills a try. Then pick

another chapter and repeat the process.

Discuss the material. When you first learn something, your

knowledge is “preverbal.” That is, you might recognize the con­

cepts if you see them, but you’re not able to discuss them with

ease. You haven’t talked about them enough to make them part

of your functional vocabulary. You haven’t turned the words

into phrases and the phrases into scripts. To move your knowl­

edge to the next level, read a chapter and then discuss it with a

friend or loved one. Talk about the material until the concepts

come naturally.

Teach the material. If you really want to master a concept,

teach it to someone else. Stick with it until the other person

understands the concept well enough to pass it on to someone


Master the Skil ls

There’s a story going around the self-help talk circuit about a

Vietnam War prisoner who played golf in his head in order to

help maintain his sanity. He’d mentally step up to each hole at

his favorite golf course and “play” an entire round. After being

released, he eventually found his way to the course, where he

promptly shot his best score ever, one under par. When his

friends acted astonished at his new-found talent, he explained,




“Why shouldn’t I have shot under par? I never once shot over

par while I was in prison.”

This tale is routinely used to teach the power of mental prepa­

ration. Gurus can’t say enough about the power of the mental

game. While we agree that thinking is an essential part of the

process, we’d like to emphasize the greater importance of doing.

Evidence suggests that mental preparation can make some dif­

ference in execution, but thinking isn’t enough. If you really want

to improve your ability, practice. Step up to problems and give

the material a try.

Rehearse with a friend. Start by rehearsing with a friend. Ask

a colleague or coworker to partner with you. Explain that you’d

like to practice the skills you’re learning. Briefly discuss the skill

you’ll be attempting. Provide the details of a real problem you’re

facing. (Don’t include names or otherwise violate privacy

issues.) Next, ask your friend to play the role of the other person

and practice the crucial conversation.

Ask your partner to give you honest feedback. Otherwise you

could be practicing the wrong delivery. Remember, practice

doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect. Insist that

your practice partner hold you to a high standard. Make sure

you’re constantly improving.

Practice on the fly. You’re going to be holding crucial conver­

sations at home and at work, or you wouldn’t have bought this

book in the first place . So practice the skills you’ve been read­

ing, teaching, and rehearsing. If you have children, hardly a day

will pass that you won’t have a chance to practice.

Start immediately. If you wait until you’re perfect before you

give something a try, you could be waiting a long time. To make

it safe, pick a conversation of only medium risk. Trying out

something new is hard enough without applying it to a monu­

mental problem.




Practice in a training session. For those of you who would like

more material and practice opportunities than you can extract

from a book and other static materials, attend one of our live

training seminars. Give us a call and see if you can either sched­

ule a session at a location near you or bring the training into your


Our training materials library is equipped with a variety of

delivery tools ranging from leader-guided workshops to off-site

intensive courses.

Enhance Your Motive

We all have ideas about how to motivate others, but how do you

motivate yourself? While you may feel 1 00 percent committed to

improving your crucial conversations right now, what can you do

when you’re staring at an angry coworker and your commitment

to improVIDent drops to, say, 1 0 percent?

The truth is that we often need to take steps to ensure that our

most well-founded wishes (those made during peaceful moments

where we’re taking an honest look at the future) survive turbu­

lent, less forward-looking circumstances.

Apply incentives. Start with the obvious. Use incentives. For

example, people going through self-help courses are often

encouraged to put their money where their mouth is. Every time

they fulfill an assignment, they’re given back a portion of their

tuition. On the other hand, if they don’t step up, it costs them.

When incentives are added, results improve fairly dramatically.

So every time you deftly hold a crucial conversation, celebrate

your victory. Treat yourself to something you wouldn’t otherwise

enjoy. And don’t wait for perfection. Celebrate improvement. If

you used to get in a heated argument every time you brought up

a cel-tain problem. and now the interaction is merely tense, enjoy




the victory. Self-improvement is achieved by individuals who

appreciate direction more than those who demand perfection.

Apply disincentives. You might consider disincentives as well.

Take a look at what went on at Stanford a few years back.

Subjects who were trying to lose weight were asked to write a

donation check to an organization they despised. These checks

were then set aside, never to be mailed unless the subjects failed

to live up to their goals-at which point five hundred dollars

was sent to Americans for Nuclear Proliferation or something

equally distasteful to the subject. As predicted, subjects did bet­

ter when they used disincentives.l

Go pUblic. Let others know that you’re trying to routinely

hold crucial conversations. Explain what you’re doing and why.

Over half a century ago, Dr. Kurt Lewin, the father of social psy­

chology, learned that when subjects made a public commitment

to do something, they were more likely to stay the course than if

they kept their wishes to themselves.2 Tell people what your

goals are. Get social pressure working in your favor.

Talk with your boss. If you want to take it a step further, sit

down with your boss and explain your goals. Ask for his or her

support. If you want to put some real teeth into your goal, build

your plan into your performance review. As a leader, you’re almost

always asked to pick one “soft area” listed on your performance

review forms and work on it. Select dialogue. You might as well

tie your plans for improvement into the formal reward system.

Align your personal, family, and organizational goals to a single

goal-improving your dialogue skills.

Remember the costs; focus on the reward. Perhaps the most

predictive piece of social science research ever conducted was

completed with small children and marshmallows. A child was

put in a room and then told that he or she could have either one

marshmallow now or two if he or she was willing to wait until

the adult returned in a few minutes. The adult would then place




one marshmallow in front of the child and exit. Some of the chil­

dren delayed gratification. Others ate the marshmallow right

away. Researchers continued studying these children.

Over the next several decades, the children who had delayed

gratification ended up doing far better in life than those who

hadn’t. They had stronger marriages, made more money, and

were healthier.3 This willingness to do without now in order to

achieve more later turns out to be an all-purpose tool for success.

How did the children who were able to delay gratification

fight off their short-term wishes? First, they looked away from

the scrumptious marshmallow that sat in front of them. No use

torturing themselves with the vision of what they couldn’t have.

Second, they kept telling themselves that if they waited, they

would get two, not one. What could be simpler?

As you step up to a crucial conversation and wonder if it’s

really worth trying out something new and untested, remind

yourself why you’re trying new skills in the first place. Focus on

improved results. Remember what happens when you fall back

on your old methods.

Think “things.” How can things help motivate you? Actually,

this particular concept isn’t easy to grasp. An example might

help. You’re unsuccessfully trying to lose weight. It turns out

that your early-morning iron will turns into midday rubber as

your stomach begins to growl and you sniff the air of the restau­

rant you frequent for lunch. What can you do with things to help

keep you on track?

Pack a sensible lunch first thing in the morning when your will

is strong. Take no money with you. That way it won’t be easy to

cave in to your weaker, afternoon wishes. By structuring around

your self-control cycles, you heighten the power of your stronger

motives whi le lessening the blow of you weaker moments.

Schedule crucial conversations when you’re feeling confident.

Practice befurehHnd. Ta ke nutes . Set up your office the way you




would like. Anned with smart timing and material support,

you’re far more likely to step up to tough problems effectively.

Build in Cues

To remind yourself to use your new skills, create helpful cues.

Mark hot spots. People who go through stress-reduction train­

ing learn to mark physical items that are closely linked to their

sources of tension. People who freak out in traffic put a small red

circle on their steering wheel. Individuals who are constantly in

a rush put one on their watch.

When it comes to the tough conversations you face, you might

want to make use of small visual cues as well. Place one on the

computer that spits out results that drive you nuts. Build a cue

into your copy of the agenda of any meeting that typically serves

up tough problems.

Set aside a time. Perhaps the best way to remind yourself to

use your new skills is to set aside a time each day to walk around

in search of both successes and problems. When you see a suc­

cess, celebrate. When you encounter a problem, bring your best

dialogue tools into play.

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