10 Proven Strategies for Successfully Navigating Difficult Conversations

How to Handle Crucial Conversations and Improve Your Quality of Life

Crucial conversations are conversations where opinions vary, something is at risk, and emotions are running high. These conversations have a large impact on your quality of life, yet we often back away from them because we feel awkward or fear that we may make the situation worse. One way to master the art of crucial conversations is to read the book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High authored by Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Kerry Patterson, and Al Switzler. According to this book, some work-related topics that involve crucial conversations include talking to a co-worker who is behaving badly, giving your boss feedback about his management style, critiquing a direct report’s work, confronting a team member who is shirking her responsibilities, and giving an unfavorable performance review.

The book explains that 25 years of research involving 17 organizations and more than 100,000 people led the authors to conclude that the most critical skill of competent leaders is the ability to skillfully address emotionally and politically risky issues. The results of truly crucial conversations have a significant impact on your quality of life, and not having them can be costly. The authors suggest that we must learn to skillfully address these conversations to avoid making stupid or offensive comments that lead to disaster.

I had a crucial conversation with a co-worker. Although I was hesitant to have it, I gathered the courage and did so. There is a woman I work with who never meets deadlines. I talked to her several times about this issue, but the situation has not improved. At this point, she’s acknowledged that I’m nagging her, which probably makes her even less likely to comply. I wished I could just let it go, but every missed deadline was costing me time and money.

According to Crucial Conversations, I had been addressing a symptom rather than the problem itself. The real problem here is that my co-worker doesn’t feel that it’s important to fulfill her commitments, and a symptom of this is missing deadlines. The book suggests that I should look for patterns in her behavior, i.e., other instances where she doesn’t do what she said she was going to do, and have a calm and honest conversation about those. And if I do seem a little frustrated, my emotions won’t seem out of proportion because I’m not addressing a single incident, but a global problem that signals a lack of trust and respect.

So what might my approach to the conversation look like? I would say, “Jessica (not her real name), I’ve noticed that lately, you’ve been missing deadlines, leaving the office before we’ve finalized client deliverables, and forgetting to make your prospecting calls. When you don’t do what you say you’re going to do, it makes me feel like you lack commitment to this job and that I can’t trust you. I would like to understand where you’re coming from, so we can decide if this position is a good fit for you.” I recognize that this conversation has the potential to grow defensive and heated, and I will do my best to remain calm, listening carefully to Jessica’s point of view. Throughout, I must remind myself of what I really want, which is for Jessica to change her behavior to demonstrate a true commitment to our work. If she can do that following this interaction, then I need to let bygones be bygones.

In conclusion, crucial conversations have a significant impact on your quality of life, and it’s crucial to handle them skillfully. According to Crucial Conversations, patterns of behavior help you understand the real problem, and addressing global issues prevents your emotions from seeming out of proportion. Remember, listening carefully to the other person’s point of view, reminding yourself of what you want, and remaining calm throughout the conversation can help you handle even the most challenging of conversations.

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