Move to Action How to Turn Crucial
Conversations into Action and Results
Up until this point we’ve suggested that getting more meaning
into the pool helps with dialogue. It’s the one thing that helps
people make savvy decisions that, in turn, lead to smart actions.
In order to encourage this free flow of meaning, we’ve shared the
skills we’ve been able to learn by watching people who are gift
ed at dialogue. By now, if you’ve followed some or all of this
advice, you’re walking around with full pools. People who walk
near you should hear the sloshing.
It’s time we add two final skills. Having more meaning in the
pool . even jointly owning it, doesn’t guarantee that we all agree
on what we’re going to do with the meaning. For example, when
Il!ums or families meet and generate a host of ideas, they often
fa i l to convert the ideas into act ion for two reasons:
1 62 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
• They have unclear expectations about how decisions will be
• They do a poor job of acting on the decisions they do make.
This can be dangerous. In fact, when people move from adding
meaning to the pool to moving to action, it’s a prime time for new
challenges to arise. Who is supposed to take the assignment?
That can be controversial. How are we supposed to decide in the
first place? That can be emotional. Let’s take a look at what it
takes to solve each of these problems. First, making decisions.
DIALOGUE IS NOT DECISION MAKING
The two riskiest times in crucial conversations tend to be at the
beginning and at the end. The beginning is risky because you
have to find a way to create safety or else things go awry. The end
is dicey because if you aren’t careful about how you clarify the
conclusion and decisions flowing from your Pool of Shared
Meaning, you can run into violated expectations later on. This
can happen in two ways.
How are decisions going to be made? First, people may not
understand how decisions are going to be made. For example,
Cara is miffed. Rene just plunked down a brochure for a three
day cruise and announced he had made reservations and even
paid the five hundred dollar deposit for an outside suite.
A week ago they had a crucial conversation about vacation
plans. Both expressed their views and preferences respectfully
and candidly. It wasn’t easy, but at the end they concluded a
cruise suited both quite well. And yet Cara is miffed, and Rene
is stunned that Cara is anything less than ecstatic.
Cara agreed in principle about a cruise. She didn’t agree with
this particular cruise. Rene thought that any cruise would be fine
and made a decision on his own. Have fun on the cruise. Rene.
MOVE TO ACTION 1 63
Are we ever going to decide? The second problem with deci
sion making occurs when no decision gets made. Either ideas
slip away and dissipate, or people can’t figure out what to do
with them. Or maybe everyone is waiting for everyone else to
make the decisions. “Hey, we filled the pool. Now you do some
thing with it.” In any case, decisions drag on forever.
DECIDE HOW TO DECIDE
Both of these problems are solved if, before making a decision,
the people involved decide how to decide. Don’t allow people to
assume that dialogue is decision making. Dialogue is a process
for getting all relevant meaning into a shared pool. That process,
of course, involves everyone. However, simply because everyone
is allowed to share their meaning-actually encouraged to share
their meaning-doesn’t mean they are then guaranteed to take
part in making all the decisions. To avoid violated expectations,
separate dialogue from decision making. Make it clear how deci
sions will be made-who will be involved and why.
When the line of authority is clear. When you’re in a position
of authority, you decide which method of decision making you’ll
use. Managers and parents, for example, decide how to decide. It’s
part of their responsibility as leaders. For instance, VPs don’t ask
hourly employees to decide on pricing changes or product lines.
That’s the leaders’ job. Parents don’t ask small children to pick
their home security device or to set their own curfew. That’s the
job of the parent. Of course, both leaders and parents tum more
decisions over to their direct reports and children when they war
rant the responsibility, but it’s still the authority figure who decides
what method of decision making to employ. Deciding what deci
sions to tum over and when to do it is part of their stewardship.
When the line of authority isn ‘t clear. When there is no clear
l ine of authority, deciding how to decide can be quite difficult.
1 64 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
For instance, consider a conversation we referred to earlier-the
one you had with your daughter’s schoolteacher. Should you hold
your child back? Whose choice is this anyway? Who decides
whose choice it is? Does everyone have a say, then a vote? Is it
the school officials’ responsibility, so they choose? Since parents
have ultimate responsibility, should they consult with the appro
priate experts and then decide? Is there even a clear answer to
this tough question?