030 – Crucial Conversations part 2: Oh, man it just got difficult!
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!
Continuing our deep dive into the concepts of Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler, we pick up where we left off in our first Crucial episode where we started our conversation, and now talk about the author’s concept of “learning to look.”
Everyone has crucial conversations, so don’t miss this – and go get your copy of Crucial Conversations!
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If you missed the first episode of this series, we recommend you go back and give it a listen as it’s the foundation we build on for this episode. As we shared last time, Crucial Conversations is written by a group called ‘Vital Smarts’. We recommend you read all of their work- you can get a copy of Crucial Conversations using the link below. Today, we are moving forward to the next phase of the conversation – making it safe.
Last time, we covered how to start a conversation – you should start with heart, and focus on what you really want. Now that you are a beacon of enlightened stillness and ready to get curious about the varying opinions, it’s time to Learn to Look. What are we learning to look for? Safety.
Safety is a complex idea in the Crucial world. A safe conversation is one where you can say anything. You can compare it to a situation where your kids feel safe talking to you – about anything. This happens when you don’t start screaming at them if they tell you they did something wrong.
Folks who are skilled in Crucial Conversations know what to look for when safety is at risk, how to restore it, and how to stay in their story when they are feeling angry, scared or hurt. That’s what we’re going to cover today!
Learn to Look [7:45]
“Learning to Look” means paying attention to how the conversation is going – ‘being meta’ in the conversation.
Specifically, look at the meta of:
1. The content of the conversation
2. The conditions of the conversation
Think about your conversation having a health bar or a health indicator – a green conversation
feels like you can say anything, even if it might be vulnerable. Whereas, a bad conversation,
with a red health indicator – might just feel like a war zone! A bad conversation has rude or snide comments, or it feels like everyone is trying to scream out their needs, the loudest hoping that pure volume is the deciding factor. Folks are probably trying to win or punish like we discussed last episode.
This is a learned skill that will grow stronger over time, because the longer we spend in the war
zone, the longer it takes to get back to dialogue. There is a great quote on this in the book:
“Dialogue calls for the free flow of meaning – period. And nothing kills the flow of meaning like fear.”
What are we looking for?
1. Is this conversation crucial?
2. Signs that people don’t feel safe
3. Your style under stress
Since we covered identifying crucial conversations last week, we’ll go into signs that people
don’t feel safe: Silence and Violence.
Silence and Violence [10:49]
When people go silent, they withhold meaning from the pool. But when people go violent, they
try to force meaning into the pool.
Silence is any act to purposefully withhold information from the pool of meaning – either by masking, avoiding or flat out withdrawing.
● Masking: understating or selectively showing true opinions. Sarcasm, sugarcoating, and coaching is popular here.
● Avoiding: steering completely away from the subject, or trying not to talk about the real issue.
● Withdrawing: flat out leaving just to avoid the conversation.
Violence is any strategy that attempts to convince, control or compel others to your point of view, by trying to force meaning into the pool. This may include a lot of name calling, monologuing, and making threats.
● Controlling: coercing others to your way of thinking by railroading the conversation
● Labeling: putting a label on something to dismiss it
● Attacking: is anything that comes out like “Well Kim is just a fuddy duddy about fun so we can’t include him here – and if you do, I’ll have something to say your management about it.”
When a conversation gets crucial and someone goes into Silence or Violence, notice it! The first step here is for you to recognize the frustrating statements which are indicators that other people are feeling unsafe. You are still sitting in your enlightened, full-of-therapy place where you can see that these folks are really saying “I’m scared of a different idea” – either because they are afraid of the conversation that will come or that they are going to lose something if we do have that conversation – The Fool’s Choice!
Your Style under Stress [19:43]
Now that things are stressful, it’s important to be a good, vigilant self-monitor. We are encouraging you to exist in a positive, safe space for yourself, because that’s hard. It takes practice to be calm under stress – so take notice if you do any of the following:
● You’re getting excited and raising your voice.
● You’re talking faster or trying to match the phase of the person you’re talking to.
● You’re going silent
We recommend you check out the book because they have a “style under stress” test. It can be enlightening to understand what you might tend to do under stress.
Making it safe [22:33]
When you identify that a conversation is no longer safe – because you’re not adding to the shared pool of meaning – you need to step out of the conversation. The book literally has a subtitle: STEP OUT. MAKE IT SAFE. THEN STEP BACK IN.
Mutual Purpose and Mutual Respect [24:42]
Mutual Purpose means that others perceive you’re working toward a common outcome in the conversation, and you care about their goals, interests, and values. You also believe they care about yours. Remember, it’s the perception the other person has of you in the conversation here. You have to address the perception, regardless of what you’ve said or done or committed to, with the other party in the conversation. You can always check in with the following questions:
● Do others believe I care about their goals in this conversation?
● Do they trust my motives?
It’s important to note that you can’t make up a mutual purpose if you don’t want to care about the other person. Or if your agenda doesn’t have space for the other person, then you can’t actually have the conversation. You must have a mutual purpose to be talking at all, in the first place.
Vital Smarts calls it ‘the entry condition’ – to talk at all, you have to HAVE a mutual purpose. If Mutual Purpose is the entry condition, Mutual Respect is the ‘continuance condition’. You can’t keep talking if you and the other parties don’t respect each other. You can tell if respect is at risk if there’s eye-rolling, snide side-jokes, heavy sighs, sarcasm – we’ve all seen it, we know what to look for.
If you’ve identified these signs, you can do the following steps:
1. Apologize (when appropriate)
2. Contrast (don’t/do statements!)
3. Create a Mutual Purpose
Apologize and Contrast [27:08]
Only apologize if it’s appropriate. You don’t have to be sorry for bringing up a conversation, but if you had an action that made other people feel bad, apologize for what’s appropriate.
Here, we can clarify using Don’t/Do statements. The book has some great examples and exercises going into even more detail on Don’t/Do, and we recommend you check them out – or listen to the last episode we did on this.
We can follow “CRIB” to create a mutual purpose.
C – Commit to seek mutual purpose
R – Recognize the Purpose behind the strategy
I – Invent a Mutual Purpose: Remember, we’re “Cribbing” at all because we don’t have a mutual purpose – now that we’ve talked about interests driving the discussion, focus on agreeing on a purpose. Sometimes, this has to be higher level than your individual project or relationship. It might seem obvious here, but it can be helpful to clarify a broader mutual purpose so that the other people in the conversation are open to the next step.
B – Brainstorm new strategies: Now that we know what’s driving each side of the discussion, brainstorming should be easy.
You’ve become the baker and a caterer, negotiating how many pies at what price, determined to keep your relationship.
Key Probing Questions
● Is this reaction silent or violent?
● Does this conversation feel tense or weird?
● Is my purpose clear?
● Do we have a mutual purpose?
You may be in trouble if
● You believe the Fool’s Choice!
● You will not accept another person’s perception of the situation
● You are unwilling to work on finding a mutual purpose or, maintaining mutual respect. If you’re too mad to solve this today, politely end the conversation, acknowledge you need some time, and promise to come back to it later