Why crucial conversations are crucial

Elva Philipps is a Catapult consultant certified in running Crucial Conversations Training.  In this interview Elva outlines what crucial conversations are, why they can be tricky, and provides a couple of tips on how to conduct them successfully.

What is a crucial conversation?

It’s any conversation you find tricky really – professionally or personally.  They are tricky conversations because of three things – they involve high stakes, the other person may have a different point of view, and there are strong emotions involved.

What’s an example?

Asking for a pay rise is a crucial conversation because there’s money involved; the person you are asking may not think you deserve a rise; and you’ll feel great if you get it, and upset if you don’t.

What are some other common examples in the workplace?

Addressing poor performance right through to personal hygiene are pretty common.

Why is it important to be able to have crucial conversations?

Well the cost is high if we don’t. Take poor performance as an example.  If the conversation about the poor performance is not had it has an impact on the organisation, on other team members, and on customers.

Often our inclination is to avoid these conversations because they are tricky.  In the past we may have had a bad experience, so we often avoid having them.

Is that so bad?

If it means you don’t get what you want, it is bad.  For example, if you think you deserve a pay rise but don’t have the conversation, then you won’t get the pay rise.  Instead of having the conversation you act out your frustration.  People can become resentful or withhold discretionary effort, or complain to other people!  You get stuck with what you don’t want!

So how do you get unstuck?

You identify the conversation you need to have, the impact the issue is having on you and the result you want.  You then need to plan your approach to make the conversation safe for you and the other person.

How do you do that?

There are many skills taught in Crucial Conversations Training.  A key one is ‘starting with yourself first’.   This includes identifying your motive for wanting the conversation because different motives lead to different results.  For example, if your motive is to prove your point, it’s likely the other person will feel unsafe, get defensive and either retreat or argue with you.  Instead, try looking for a motive that will lead to healthy dialogue (as opposed to arguing).  For example, coming from a place of curiosity so you can gather facts, find out their point of view, and dispel any assumptions you may have had.

Can you provide an example?

If someone has been late to work during the week, you could approach it by saying “Nigel – I need to talk to you about the fact you’ve been late five days in a row this week”.  A better way is to say something along the lines of “Nigel, I’ve noticed the last five days you’ve been late – I’m wondering if something has changed at home as this hasn’t happened before”.  That’s more likely to set up a safe space for healthy dialogue and reduces the chances of Nigel getting defensive.  You don’t have the full information about the situation.  Maybe Nigel’s wife has been sick and he has been getting the kids off to school.

If you go about having a crucial conversation with the intention of creating a safe space for healthy dialogue, you are already well on the way to a successful outcome.

For more information on Crucial Conversations Training click here.

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