Crucial Conversations

I have been reading a book that was recommended reading from last summer’s CliftonStrengths Summit: Crucial Conversations.

How many times have you gotten wrapped up in, turned around, left out of or ended up feeling any number of negative emotions because an important conversation went poorly? Thankfully, for me this doesn’t happen a lot. But, when it does happen, it does not go well.

Let’s start with what a crucial conversation is. A crucial conversation happens when:

  1. The stakes are high
  2. Opinions vary
  3. Emotions are strong.

While I don’t want to go into the entire book in this blog post, I do want to cover this idea of catching a conversation as it turns from a normal to a crucial conversation. Since you can only directly impact your part of the conversation, the place to start is with yourself. The authors draw a connection to first-aid. If you recognize a cut when it is small, if treated early, it can heal easily. However, if it is not treated and becomes infected, it can take a much longer time to heal. The sooner you recognize a conversation is not going well, the easier it is to right the conversation. Of course.

The idea then is to be able to recognize when a conversation turns crucial at the beginning. There are three ways you might find yourself reacting:

  1. Physical signals – there is physical change in your body (stomach clenches, eyes tighten, short breathing)
  2. Emotional signals – emotions start to surface that give you a clue you are feeling under stress (anger, frustration, fear, etc…)
  3. Behavioral signals – you start seeing your body reacting negatively to the conversation (voice raised, aggressively pointing fingers)

There is a short quiz in the book that helps you identify they way you react to crucial conversations under stress. There are two main categories: Silence and Violence.

  • Silence – you prefer to walk away from a conversation (there are many ways to do this).
  • Violence – you try to force your view upon others (again, many ways this happens).

I took the short quiz in the book to help identify how I react when conversations turn crucial. It turns out I react in two somewhat contradictory ways: I withdraw or I try to control.

  • Withdrawing – you chose to pull out of the conversation altogether
  • Controlling – you try to push/pull others to your viewpoint.

The whole point of this book is for you to develop the skills you need to be able to have any conversation, at any time, anywhere. I want that for myself and I would like to be able to help others as a coach do this too. So, I did some deep dive thinking into how I can recognize in myself when conversations turn crucial. I think the biggest thing I notice is my breathing gets shallow. If I can do quick first-aid and take deep breaths as soon as I notice my chest is tight and I am not breathing deeply, I can begin the process of turning a crucial conversation around to a positive direction.

What are your own cues that you are heading into a crucial conversation? And what can you do to turn things around at the beginning?

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