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 Safety. When someone violates a procedure or otherwise acts

in an unsafe way, the first person to see the problem, regard­ less of his or her position, steps up and holds a crucial con­

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• Productivity. If an employee underperforms, fails to live up to a promise, doesn’t carry his or her fair share, or simply isn’t productive enough, the affected parties address the problem immediately.

• Diversity. When someone feels offended, threatened, insulted,

or harassed, he or she skillfully and comfortably, discusses the issue with the offending party.

• Quality. In companies where quality rules, people discuss problems face-to-face when they first come up.

• Ellery other hot topic. Companies that are best-in-class in inno­

vation. teamwork, change management, or any other area that




calls for human interaction are best-in-class in holding the rel­ evant crucial conversations.

What’s the relationship between success in a key area and crucial conversations? Companies that make impressive improvements in key performance areas (and eventually master them) are gen­ erally no different than others in their efforts to improve. They conduct the same awareness training, print the same banners, and make the same speeches. They differ in what happens when someone does something wrong. Rather than waiting for a poli­ cy to kick in or a leader to take charge, people step up, speak up, and thrive. Equally important, if it’s a leader who seems to be out of line, employees willingly speak up, the problem is solved, and the company moves on.

So what about you? Is your organization stuck in its progress toward some important goal? If so, are there conversations that you’re either avoiding or botching? And how about the people you work with? Are they stepping up to or walking away from crucial conversations? Could you take a big step forward by improving how you deal with these conversations?

Improve Your Relationships

Consider the impact crucial conversations can have on your relationships. Could failed crucial conversations lead to failed relationships? As it turns out, when you ask the average person what causes couples to break up, he or she usually suggests that it’s due to differences of opinion. You know, people have differ­ ent theories about how to manage their finances, spice up their love lives, or rear their children. In truth, everyone argues about important issues. But not everyone splits up. It’s how you argue that matters.

For example, when Clifford Notarius and Howard Markman (two noted marriage scholars) examined couples in the throes of




heated discussions, they learned that people fall into three cate­

gories-those who digress into threats and name-calling, those who revert to silent fuming, and those who speak openly, hon­ estly, and effectively.

Mter watching dozens of couples, the two scholars predicted

relationship outcomes and tracked their research subjects’ rela­

tionships for the next ten years. Sure enough, they had predicted

nearly 90 percent of the divorces that occurred.2 Over time, cou­ ples who found a way to state their opinions about high-stakes,

controversial, and emotional issues honestly and respectfully

remained together. Those who didn’t, split up. Now, what about you? Think of your own important relation­

ships. Are there a few crucial conversations that you’re current­

ly avoiding or handling poorly? Do you walk away from some

issues only to come charging back into others? Do you hold in

ugly opinions only to have them tumble out as sarcastic remarks

or cheap shots? How about your significant other or family

members? Are they constantly toggling from seething silence to subtle but costly attacks? When it matters the most (after all,

these are your cherished loved ones), are you on your worst

behavior? If so, you definitely have something to gain by learn­

ing more about how to handle crucial conversations.

Revitalize Your Community

Next, let’s look at our neighborhoods and communities. If the fate

of an organization is largely determined by how pivotal conver­ sations are habitually handled, why should the communities that

surround them be any different? The truth is, they aren’t. The difference between the best communities and the good or

the worst is not the number of problems they have. All commu­

nities face problems. Once again, the difference lies in how they deal with problems. In the best communities, key individuals




and groups find a way to engage in healthy dialogue. They talk through important issues. In contrast, communities that fail to improve play costly games. During community meetings peo­ ple insult one another, become indignant, and act as if indi­

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