I recently attended a seminar on the subject of the book, Crucial Conversations , given by Master Trainer, J.D. Taylor from Vital Smarts®. I am intensely interested in the principles taught in Crucial Conversations and have used the techniques taught in the book both at work and in my personal life. At netlogx, we have a group-read around Crucial Conversations or one of the other Vital Smarts® books every year. Why do we do this? Simple – we are a consulting firm and our work often means that we are managing projects that will bring about sweeping organizational change. That means that we “move people’s cheese” on a regular basis, and most people don’t like having their cheese moved. However, understanding why organizational change is needed, agreeing what changes are needed, and then making those changes takes dialogue. And that’s where the lessons of Crucial Conversations are, well… crucial!

According to the glossary on the VitalSmarts® website, a Crucial Conversation is defined as “A discussion between two or more people where (1) stakes are high, (2) opinions vary, and (3) emotions run strong.” Because we are change agents, we often find ourselves in the middle of a Crucial Conversation. Knowing how to prepare for the situation and how to handle it when it arises is key. Even though I have read the book nearly every year since discovering it, each time I read it, I understand new things about how my skills can be improved and how important dialogue is when people go quiet or tempers flare. Crucial Conversations readers will recognize these behaviors as “silence or violence”, a key signal that the “fight or flight” response has kicked in, indicating that the conversation has turned crucial.

Reading the book, of course, is the best way to learn about these skill in depth, but practicing the skills in daily life – whether at work or at home – is the only way to master them. And once you think you have mastered them, you will find that life still hands you challenges with them. I find it in my own life and even the book’s authors find that. As a subscriber to their Crucial Skills Newsletter, I read on a regular basis about both their successes and their failures and learn from both.

In the seminar that I attended, I learned about a study of over 1,200 employees, managers and executives that two of the Crucial Conversations authors, Joseph Grenny and  David Maxfield, recently conducted.  In that study, they learned that there was a gigantic disconnect between employees’ perceptions and what managers and executives said were cultural norms in their companies.  (Read more about it here.) While the managers said that cultural norms were:

  • innovation, initiative, candor and teamwork

Employees perceived that they actually were:

  • obedience, predictability, deference to authority and competition with peers

Obviously, there was a need to start with some open dialogue in order to find a way to align the cultural norms to allow the employees to achieve the more positive and growth-enhancing norms that the managers and executives said that they actually wanted. Crucial Conversations won’t solve your problems, but trying to solve problems in this complex world only happens with open dialogue. The practices in Crucial Conversations are the starting point and the way to see things through to completion.

For more information about Crucial Conversations or one of the other wonderful books and training materials from VitalSmarts®, the link is: https://www.vitalsmarts.com/