WHArs A CRUCIAL CONVERSATION? 1 5
Improve Your Personal Health
If the evidence so far isn’t compelling enough to focus your attention on crucial conversations, what would you say if we told you that the ability to master high-stakes discussions is a key to a healthier and longer life?
Immune systems. Consider the ground breaking research done by Dr. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser and Dr. Ronald Glaser. They studied the immune systems of couples who had been married an aver age of forty-two years by comparing those who argued constantly with those who resolved their differences effectively. It turns out that arguing for decades doesn ‘f lessen the destructive blow of constant conflict. Quite the contrary. Those who routinely failed their crucial conversations had far weaker immune systems than those who found a way to resolve them well.4 Of course, the weaker the immune system, the worse their health.
Life-threatening diseases. In perhaps the most revealing of all the health-related studies, a group of subjects who had contracted malignant melanoma received traditional treatment and then were divided into two groups. One group met weekly for only six weeks; the other did not. Facilitators taught the first group of recovering patients specific communication skills. (When it’s your life that’s at stake, could anything be more crucial?)
After meeting only six times and then dispersing for five years, the subjects who learned how to express themselves effectively
had a higher survival rate-only 9 percent succumbed as opposed to almost 30 percent in the untrained groUp.5 Think about the implications of this study. Just a modest improvement in ability to talk and connect with others corresponded to a two-thirds decrease in the death rate.
We could go on for pages about how the ability to hold cru
cial conversations has an impact on your personal health. The evidence is mounting every day. Nevertheless, most people find
1 6 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
this claim a bit over the top. “Come on,” they chide. “You’re say
ing that the way you talk or don’t talk affects your body? It could kill you?”
The short answer is yes. The longer answer suggests that the negative feelings we hold in, the emotional pain we suffer, and
the constant battering we endure as we stumble our way through unhealthy conversations slowly eat away at our health. In some cases the impact of failed conversations leads to minor problems. In others it results in disaster. In all cases, failed conversations never make us happier, healthier, or better off.
So how about you? What are the specific conversations that gnaw at you the most? Which conversations (if you held them or
improved them) would strengthen your immune system, help ward off disease, and increase your quality of life and well-being?
When stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions start to run strong, casual conversations become crucial. Ironically, the more crucial the conversation, the less likely we are to handle it well. The consequences of either avoiding or fouling up crucial con versations can be severe. When we fail a crucial conversation, every aspect of our lives can be affected-from our careers, to our communities, to our relationships, to our personal health.
As we learn how to step up to crucial conversations-and
handle them well-with one set of skills we can influence virtu ally every domain of our lives.
What is this all-important skill-set? What do people who sail through crucial conversations actually do? More importantly, can we do it too?
Give me a lever long enough
and I shall move the world.