031 – Crucial Conversations part 3 – Stepping in and taking the lead

031 – Crucial Conversations part 3 – Stepping in and taking the lead

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 in the book, Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler, we wrap up our 3 part discussion on this keystone resource by talking through how to have and succeed with that difficult discussion, including –

  • Making it safe
  • Language to use
  • Listening
  • Taking action

Everyone has crucial conversations, so don’t miss this – and go get your copy of Crucial Conversations! (nope, they aren’t paying us to say that 🙂 )


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Show Notes

We’re finally down to the final stage of our thrilogy. Today, we’ll talk about “The How”. This is two hours worth of content guiding you on how to have a crucial conversation. We want to talk about the actual way and you better bet it starts with an acronym – STATE: Share your facts, Tell your story, Ask for other paths, Talk tentatively, and Encourage testing
The first three describe WHAT to do, while the last two describe HOW to do it.

Share your facts [6:11]

There is another book that talks about getting ready for a crucial conversations BETTER than Crucial Conversations does: Rising Strong by Brene Brown. Many crucial conversations are crucial because your emotions are running strong- Crucial Conversations talks about emotions in our everyday lives, like physical intimacy with your partner, discussing affairs, hurt feelings, and fights. Of course, work can be emotional too- if we want a promotion, we might not understand why our bosses or peers won’t trust our solutions, or we might feel disrespected when something we’ve worked hard on is shot down. Brene Brown’s book has an amazing chapter on Mastering our Stories, in particular, the story you are telling yourself. In short, the story you tell yourself is your perception of events – YOUR perception – and it’s not the whole story. If you find yourself shutting down and unable to respond when certain situations trigger you, Brene Brown’s works Daring Greatly and Rising Strong are must reads.
We can’t let the story we tell ourselves be the story we tell other people in a crucial conversation. We must start with the facts. The story we’re telling ourselves is filled with our ego, our emotions, and probably, some hurtful statements for other people.

But in reality, what facts do we have?
When things get crucial, you have GOT to stick with the facts. If you’re upset your teenager stayed out late and missed curfew, you might tell yourself they were drinking, or was out with your least favorite of their friends, or that did it on purpose. However, when your teenager walks in the door, the facts you have are:
1. You have previously agreed on a curfew
2. You have previously agreed on a plan for dealing with curfew late
3. They did not do those things
If we’re being compassionate humans, there’s all kinds of reasons they could be late: Their phone
could have died and they might have actually tried to call; they could have been helping a friend in trouble; they might have had a bad day and honestly forgot.
And this could apply to someone who isn’t delivering on time for your projects. They could have had an urgent request from management that didn’t go through you, they could have tried to send an email but it got stuck, or something else you don’t know about. This is why we have to start with the facts, because starting with the facts is free of judgement and therefore creates a safe, objective space for a discussion.

Tell your story [15:51]

Telling your story is when you draw your conclusion from your facts. Crucial Conversations maintains that you should be able to feel confident about your story, because the conclusion you draw from it should also be one that a reasonable, rational and decent human being would draw. This is a great place to stop if you feel some tension come up in the room. In another context, you may be working with a teammate who seems to keep dropping a particular task you’ve assigned them,. In this case, you could reply in assuring them that while you value their contribution to the team, you need to understand what is going on with delivering this particular task.

Ask for other’s stories [18:18]

Once you’ve shared your story, it’s important to ask others in this conversation to contribute their points of view – their facts and their stories. Remember the shared pool of meaning? This is how you facilitate an open and honest conversation to enrich the shared pool of meaning: invite others to participate. It will be critical that you listen to what they are saying and verify it with them to continue building trust, a safe space, and enriching this shared pool of meaning.

Talk Tentatively [19:28]

In Crucial Conversations, when sharing a story, we need to strike a blend between confidence and humility.
Talking Tentatively is about being as compassionate and respectful as possible while not apologizing
for your point of view. The book suggests some fail proof statements:
● “From my point of view…”
● “In my opinion…”
● “I was wondering why…”
● “Perhaps you or I were unaware…”
As opposed to:
● “The fact is…”
● “Everyone knows that…”
● “There is only one way this is going to go”
But be careful not to fall into discrediting wording – phrases such as “Call me crazy but” and “This probably isn’t true” can have an effect on your voice of confidence.

Encourage Testing [25:10]

When you’re asking for others stories, it’s important to have a curious and open statement around that invitation. The Vital Smarts team has another Acronym! AMPP
● Ask
● Mirror
● Paraphrase
● Prime
We’ve all heard these things as good listening skills, but here’s what they each mean:
Does anyone see this differently?

Listen to other viewpoints and stakeholders to make sure the whole picture is clear. Use statements such as “What am I missing? I want to solve the problem fairly,” as opposed to  “That’s how I see it – nobody disagrees, do they?”, a sarcastic tone, or “I really want to hear from you.”

MIRROR to confirm feelings:
Majority of our listeners have heard at least one “I’m fin.” and have known that person was not, in fact, fine. Mirroring is explaining what you perceive to the other person.

“It seems like you’re agreeing with the solution but you’re not happy about it”
“I hear you say that you’re fine, but you seem angry at me”

Paraphrasing is an excellent skill that all PMs should have. You always want to be confirming you have the story correct, you repeat it back in your own words to confirm you understand.

Prime is you taking your best guess at what’s going on. It comes from the phrase “priming the pump”: you’re trying to get more ideas and information into the shared pool of knowledge. Maybe there’s still tension in the room and your best efforts to ask and mirror aren’t working, so you take a guess.
The book says the measure of your skill at encouraging testing is measured as your ability to prove what you want is more options and information in dialogue, as opposed to being stubbornly focused on the solutions.

What about when it gets crucial on you? [39:40]

What if you’re in a crucial conversation, and all kinds of cross talk, winning, silence, and violence are happening, and you know that you are right?

Here are the steps to take:
1. Learn to look for Resistance: The more people don’t like your idea, the more they retreat into silence or violence.
Remember, the more you care about the something, the less likely you are to be on your
best behavior.
2. Tone it down

Taking Action [43:52]

Now that we’ve discussed, we need to agree on the way forward. There are 4 ways to make a decision at the end of a crucial conversation:
● Command: Either someone else has made the decision for you or you or someone else has the authority to make the decision
● Consult: A decision maker asks for feedback
● Vote: Take a vote
● Consensus: A frustrating situation for a work environment, but we all know it means making everyone agree on the same decision
Once you know how you’re deciding, it’s time to kick those PM skills into high gear! Take down who’s in charge of next steps, note the decision maker (perhaps in your RAID log), include the context around the decision, and note who was there.


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 instead of what you really want

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