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Move to Action How to Turn Crucial

Conversations into Action and Results

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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:




• 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.


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.




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.


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.




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?

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