How To Have A High-Stakes Discussion When You Know It's Gonna Suck! - David C Figueroa's Blog
David C Figueroa's Blog

How To Have A High-Stakes Discussion When You Know It’s Gonna Suck!

How to Make It Safe to Talk About Almost Anything Without Committing Career or Relationship Suicide!

You and the other managers have been called to a special meeting with the Chief Executive Officer. At this meeting the CEO announces that he has decided that one of the distribution centers in a certain location needs to be shut down.

Unfortunately, it is a center that is located within your territory and you know that shutting down this center would be a huge mistake. You know from experience that this is a growing area and will need to have a distribution hub in that area in order to supply the surrounding outlets. Not only does it mean a huge loss of money to the company, but also many jobs lost.

So, what do you do? You can tell the CEO that he is a blundering idiot and risk getting fired on the spot, or you can keep your mouth shut and later have to explain to the center employees why they are all losing their jobs. It is a difficult situation, and you are now in a “crucial conversation.”

You work a full-time job, make dinners, do laundry, and take care of the kids. Your husband also works a full-time job and even though he sometimes helps around that house, you feel that you end up doing most of the work and would appreciate it if he would help you just a little bit more.

When he gets home you greet him with “Robert, we need to talk.” Immediately, your husband suspects that something is going on and instead of engaging in conversation, he tries to avoid you the rest of the night. When you finally corner him, you know in your gut that the conversation is not going to go well and is likely to end up in a heated argument just like it usually does! This is a “crucial conversation.”

What are “crucial conversations?” According to Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler, researchers who have written a book called “Crucial Conversations- Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High”, crucial conversations are day-to-day conversations that affect your life. They tend to be more intense because opinions vary, stakes are high, and emotions run strong. These types of conversations may have a huge impact on the quality of your life, and are often about tough issues.

Some common examples of crucial conversations are:

  • giving your boss feedback about his ideas or behavior

  • ending a relationship

  • asking a friend to repay a loan

  • giving an unfavorable performance review

  • talking to a coworker about a personal hygiene problem

  • asking your spouse to help more around the house

  • dealing with a rebellious teen

The consequences for not handling these discussions well often results in arguments, yelling, frustration, threats, name-calling, silent fuming, loss of relationships, or loss of a job.

How do you know if you are in a “crucial conversation?”

Physical– You may feel your stomach getting tight, your eyes dry up, palms may sweat. You may feel tension in your upper body or a headache.

Emotional– You may feel scared, hurt, angry, anxious, or nervous. You may feel like fleeing.

Behavioral– Your voice in rising; you’re pointing a finger; or you’re becoming quiet.

So, what are you supposed to do when you are in a “crucial conversation” and it’s absolutely important for you to get your point across? How are you supposed to talk?

According to 25 years of research, this is what the authors discovered in a nutshell:

  1. Start with Heart– Focus on what you really want in the discussion. Very likely you have a goal in mind, and it is not productive to simply “want to win” or to seek revenge.

  2. Learn to Identify a Crucial Conversation- You may feel physical signs such as your stomach getting tight, or your eyes and mouth getting dry. You may also feel your emotions rising and feeling scared, hurt, or angry. Learn to control those emotions and focus on the goal.

  3. Make it Safe– Create an atmosphere in your relationship or in you business that conveys the idea that even though there will be differing opinions, it is important that everyone feel free to express their views. When others move to silence or violence, step out of the conversation and make it safe. When safety is restored, go back to the issue at hand and continue the dialogue.

  4. Master Your Stories- When you are angry, scared, or hurt you must strive to take charge of your emotions. Remember! No one MAKES you mad. YOU make you mad. When emotions are high there are thoughts (stories) going on in your head that produce those emotions. Learn to be introspective to identify those negative thoughts so that you can change them. If we can find a way to control the stories we tell ourselves, by rethinking them, we can master our emotions and, therefore, master our crucial conversations.

  5. STATE– “The best at dialogue speak their minds completely and do it in a way that makes it safe for others to hear what they have to say and respond to it as well. They are both totally frank and respectful.” Have confidence to say what needs to be said, but say it with humility. Be aware that others may also have valuable input. You must be willing to express your opinions and also encourage others to do the same. When you finally do speak, use “STATE”. Share your facts. Begin by stating the facts. Usually this means what is measurable and observable. Tell your story. Give your opinion or conclusions. Ask for others’ paths. In other words, encourage others to share their facts and their opinions. Talk tentatively. This means that when you present your case, you may use phrases such as. . . “Perhaps you were unaware” or “In my opinion.” Don’t force your message down people’s throats!  Encourage testing. Make it safe for others to express differing or even opposing views.

  6. Explore Others’ Paths- Be prepared to listen sincerely to the other person’s point of view. Try to get at the source of their feelings. What is a possible reason for them being angry? “Is it possible that you are angry because. . .?” “Tell me more. . .”

  7. Move to Action– Upon the conclusion of the dialogue document decisions and follow up. Who will do what by when? How will we follow up?

Practice the skills above to master your crucial conversations. Master your crucial conversations and you’ll be able to further your career, strengthen your relationships, and improve your health.  It can also improve the climate of your organization.

Individuals who master their crucial conversations are those that are most influential, get things done, but at the same time build relationships.

In the best companies, everyone holds everyone accountable regardless of level or position.  There are face-to-face conversations at all levels.

Finally, the ability to master high-stakes discussions also leads to a healthier, longer life.

If you got value from this post, please share with your social media network. I also enjoy reading your comments below.

To your success,

David C Figueroa- Success Coach

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Reference:  “Crucial Conversations-Tools for talking when stakes are high”- by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler, 2002

About the Author David C Figueroa

David C Figueroa is a psychologist with over 35 years of experience teaching personal development. An awesome success coach, and internet marketer. Now retired, he has refocused his goals into helping network marketers grow their businesses online.

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