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Having Successful ‘Crucial Conversations’

crucialWhen the stakes are high and emotions run wild, it can be near-impossible to keep interpersonal exchanges on a professional level. “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High” (McGraw-Hill) by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler offers a seven-point strategy that will make anyone achieve his or her goals in emotionally, psychologically, or legally charged situations that can arise in the workplace.

At some point in their career, virtually everyone will have a crucial conversation, whether it’s about a possible promotion or failing to meet a performance goal. Whatever the situation is, the conversation is crucial because the outcome may significantly impact one’s quality of life. However, what’s problematic is that crucial conversations are usually about tough issues on which opinions will vary. Who really wants to give a boss feedback on his or her behavior? Or talking to a colleague who behaves inappropriately? Or even give an employee an unfavorable review?

Regardless of the degree of difficulty in addressing similar issues, it needs to be done. Why?

From left: Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Al Switzler and Ron McMillan.
From left: Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Al Switzler and Ron McMillan.

Because it can improve your career, the authors say. “People who routinely hold crucial conversations and hold them well are able to express controversial and even risky opinions in a way that gets heard. Their bosses, peers and direct reports listen without becoming defensive or angry,” Patterson et al write.

The authors’ acronym STATE sums up how a potentially painful conversation can become less agonizing: Share your facts, Tell your story, Ask for others’ paths and Talk tentatively. Beginning any tough conversation with the right motives and remaining focused no matter what happens is key to having a successful verbal exchange. Also, making the other person comfortable in sharing information is crucial. By repeating the mutual purpose, apologizing if something inappropriate has been said, or avoiding speaking disrespectfully will keep the conversation on point and pleasant.

If you still prefer hiding your head in the sand and avoiding crucial conversations, consider another aspect: your health. According to the authors, a research study on married couples showed that those who routinely failed their crucial conversations had far weaker immune systems than those who had found a way to resolve them well.

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