027 – Crucial Conversations: Part 1 – Oh, man it just got crucial
One of the toughest – and most important jobs – of a PM is having difficult conversations. These can be with sponsors, stakeholders, team members or other PMs. And the ability to successfully manage these difficult conversations can make the difference between success and failure – for your project, and your career!
In this episode, Kate walks us through some key concepts and real life examples based of one of her most influential business books, Crucial Conversations by Joseph Grenny, Al Switzler and Ron McMillan. This book has a lot of content, so this episode we’re going to just focus on how to identify when a conversation gets “crucial.”
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Crucial Conversations is written by a group called ‘Vital Smarts’. It’s a group of people who’ve put decades of research into effective leadership strategies. Kate recommends that you buy their book or even attend a training.
With the help of this book and with practice, you will be able to talk to ANYONE about ANYTHING and maintain a good working relationship or partnership. The method has been researched by a team of at least 6 against hundreds of people and it’s a proven way to communicate – but the magic of this method is dialogue. The skill is in keeping the conversation
moving forward, productively, to a solution. Being able to maintain dialogue is the goal of this work.
What is a ‘crucial conversation’ [6:32]
A conversation turns crucial when the following conditions are met:
1. Opinions Vary
2. Stakes are high
3. Emotions run strong
Avoiding crucial conversations and ‘The Fool’s Choice’ [7:40]
If you’re not sure if a conversation is crucial, you can identify it by the fact that it’s just a conversation that you think you can’t have. You might even try and AVOID a conversation like this, because you’re so afraid of the outcome, because it could have a huge impact on your quality of life. Some other examples:
● A convo with your boss about a promotion
● A convo with a close friend about a behavior that upsets you
● A convo with your partner about feeling supported
● A convo with a stakeholder that won’t pony up and commit
When you are in those situations, you usually feel like there are only two options:
1. Say how you feel (and risk destruction or loss of the thing you’re worried about) OR,
2. Keep quiet and suffer.
The Vital Smarts team calls this “The Fool’s Choice”.
According to “The Fool’s Choice”, the best communicators get curious about other options. A lot of times, due to fear and scarcity mindset, we can see this discussion as ‘a pie’. If you want 6 slices of an 8 slice pie, and you see another person that you love or respect or has power over you and THEY want 6 slices, then it seems like you’re at an impasse.
People who can identify these moments and get curious instead of getting fearful are the best problem solvers, communicators, and leaders. To Brene Brown’s term, these folks ‘Get Curious’ about what’s going on, and open the possibility of discussion to more than either/or. David Honig wrote a great piece about negotiations on Facebook. He tells us to not think about it as a single pie to be divided by two hungry people, but as a baker and a caterer negotiating over how many pies will be baked at what prices and the nature of their ongoing relationship after this one gig is over. This is similar to the approach that we discussed on our three-part series, Getting to Yes.
Identifying crucial conversations with body cues [11:04]
One last note on identifying crucial conversations at the level of the moment – some folks can be desensitized about emotions and not realize that they are running strong. The Vital Smarts team recommends noticing your own body’s physical cues to clue you in that you might be stressed out.
“The shared pool of meaning” [13:18]
“The shared pool of meaning” is the shared understanding everyone has in a conversation. If you start with just yourself making a decision, you have all the meaning. You know everything in your head about what you want out of the decision and what it will cost you and even what the consequences of your decisions are. If you add just one more person to your decision, you need to create a shared pool of meaning for a decision that is created together, because the other person has his/her own set of meaning – what she/he wants, what it costs them, what the consequences are for them.
In order for you to make a decision that works for both of you, the two of you have to add enough information to this shared pool of meaning. The crucial conversations get all the parties to bring their information to this shared pool, and make a collective decision together.
Start with Heart [15:46]
When your actions or decisions are questioned, it is normal for you to become defensive or to justify what you did. But this doesn’t lead to good dialogue. The best folks are going to get curious about dismissive answers, but the foundation for this curiosity is to start with heart, and this can mean several things.
1. Number one: Your self-esteem is high enough that you don’t take this as a personal attack.
2. Number two: Now that we know that we’re not worthless, even if someone has a problem, we can acknowledge that the only thing we can control is ourselves. If a difficult customer comes at you with this, some amount of the problem is your fault – and you need to own it. You don’t own the whole problem, but you can start with what you do own, and you can start there compassionately – this means looking at PROBLEMS, not people.
According to the book, whenever we are in a crucial conversation, our first instinct can be one of
these three motivation which underly the reasons why you always need to start with your heart.
3. Keeping the peace
What do we REALLY want? [25:48]
When the conversation gets crucial, you’re probably teetering on the point of someone getting
thrown under the bus, saying something hurtful, or making a rash decision, so it’s important that you think about what you really want. Specifically:
● What do I want for myself?
● What do I want for others?
● What do I want for the relationship?
And then think:
● How would I behave if I really wanted those results?
The goal of all of this reflection is to refuse the fool’s choice. Remember, The fool’s choice that says “there’s only this or that”, but once we’re clear on what we want, we add more options to the conversation- also known as ‘the shared pool of meaning’.
In addition to clarifying what you do want, it can be helpful to clarify what you don’t want. The book suggests you think about what you are afraid will happen to you if you back away from your current strategy of trying to win or stay safe.
The Vital Smarts team recommends you communicate all of the above through Don’t/Do statements. This looks for a solution that asks how can you have a candid conversation about “what you really want” and avoid creating “what you don’t want”.
Key Probing Questions
● What do you really want?
● Is this conversation crucial?
You may be in trouble if:
● You believe the Fool’s Choice!
● You’re letting your emotions drive you instead of what you really want
● You can’t focus