Master the Content
There’s too much material in this book to try to master in one sit
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
CHANGE YOUR LIFE 2 2 1
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
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,
222 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
“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
CHANGE YOUR LIFE 223
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
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
224 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
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
CHANGE YOUR LIFE 225
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
226 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
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.