Thursday, May 28, 2015

Crucial Conversations by Patterson et al (Book Review #43 of 2015)


Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, Second Edition
A pastor recommended this book to me as there are not many in the explicitly Christian genre that deal with how to reason with one another. A crucial conversation is one which "could have a huge impact on the quality of your life" (loc. 285). This book has immediate application in any marriage, therefore I also consider it a book on marriage. A book like Eggerich's Love and Respect will give you the motivation and the basics of what to say in having some crucial conversations with your wife but does not describe HOW to say it. What do you do when the adrenaline is pumping and you feel a vein popping out on your forehead? This book explains what to do, excellently. (My wife was a communications major in college, so she has had an advantage all these years.) It's applicable to any workplace, conversation with your teenager, etc. and there are plenty of hypothetical examples. I actually read this in motivation for a meeting with my boss in a semi-annual employee evaluation. If I were a pastor, like the friend who recommended this, I would have every church member read it-- even though the Gospel isn't in the book itself (you can insert it there if you try).

One criticism of the book is that it spends the first 10% just trying to sell you through testimonials. Hey, I have the book, so skip the sales pitch. The other criticism is that it's easy to get the sense that it's easy; the reality is it takes practice. The authors discuss this, they're still learning as they practice personally. We all fail, the goal is to "think a little more clearly during a few crucial conversations" (loc. 1513).

The authors begin with a look at the personal-- good (ie: healthy) organizations foster a safe environment for employees and members to discuss and critique. Mature adults should strive to improve their communication and respond to comments or criticism with respect for the giver.

"In the worst companies, poor performers are first ignored then transferred. In good companies, bosses eventually deal with problems. In the Best companies, everyone holds everyone else accountable--regardless of level or position" (Loc. 438).

(I work for a state government agency where this is rarely the case. Be the change you want to see, right?)

"People fall into three categories-- those who digress into threats and name-calling, those who revert to silent fuming, and those who speak openly, honestly, and effectively" (loc. 450).

The goal is to work against our natural survival instinct toward fight or flight. To avoid the false "fool's choice" of "telling the truth and keeping a friend." A healthy relationship sees conflicts and differences of opinions as opportunities to grow deeper into the relationship, not something to fear. "Skilled people find a way to get all relevant information (from themselves and others) out into the open" (Loc. 549).

The authors are correct that we first have to deal with ourselves, get the log out of our own eyes before we remove a speck from someone else's. Examine your own heart. "If you can't get yourself right, you'll have a hard time getting dialogue right...the first step to achieving the results we really want is to fix the problem of believing that others are the source of all that ails us" (loc. 668, 686).

They make two powerful (convicting) claims (loc. 1575):
1. "Others don't make you mad. You make you mad...scared, annoyed, or insulted. You and only you create your emotions."
2. "You can act on (your emotions) or be acted on by them. That is, when it comes to strong emotions you either find a way to master them or fall hostage to them."

So, when thinking about the above you realize that you tell yourself a story about the other person who you think "makes me mad." Over the weeks and years you've built up a list of grievances and examples that fit that story-- that person is out for you or is just plain ________ because ______. Recognizing that made-up story is harmful to the relationship is crucial in fostering effective conversation. You have to take control of the story, tell yourself a different story-- give the other person the benefit of the doubt, or figure out where he/she might be coming from. (Recognizing and overcoming our cognitive biases is half of the battles in life).

Don't confuse your story with facts. And don't spread your story to others. You may have indeed been aggrieved by a co-worker, but if you didn't bring it up with him at the time, or make a point to talk to him later, then you simply make the problem worse by spreading your grievance with others. That won't help you achieve what you want.

The key questions to ask yourself heading into any crucial conversation:
1. What do I really want for myself? (ie: to be happy in this relationship, heal, etc. My idea to be considered, etc.)
2. What do I really want for others? (For her to stop hurting me. For him to communicate with me, etc.)
3. What do I really want for the relationship? (For it to continue, grow closer, etc.)
4. How would I behave if I really wanted these results? (If the relationship is important to you, you won't resort to sulking silence or violence.)

Clarify the above by also asking what you DON'T want.

Next, refuse the "fool's choice" of truth or relationship, of fight or flight. Ask yourself "how can I hold a conversation with this person that achieves #1-3 while avoiding creating bad feelings or resentment?"

One key is to create a safe environment. The other person will not communicate if it's not safe. In engaging her with a crucial conversation she may react with hostility (snide remarks, darts, etc.) initially out of insecurity, perhaps from years of unsafe conversations and built-up stories she has told herself about you. You have to recognize that this is not about you, but about them, and keep circling back to make it safe. Own up to your past mistakes. Don't fake apologize for things that are not your fault, either. But do recognize that you have contributed to this situation.

A person will only hear what you say if it's safe. If at any time in the conversation, you sense a flight or fight response from the other, circle back to safety. (Don't counter-offend!) The authors have included a survey of T/F questions to help you determine your own style under stress. (Avoiding, attacking, etc.)

This is easier said than done, although the book provides some (somewhat realistic) examples. "(T)he first condition of safety is Mutual Purpose." You both want to increase company sales, for example, or enjoy spending time with one another in the evenings. "(W)hen mutual purpose is at risk, we end up in debate" (loc. 1220). We generally have to care about the other person's interests to establish mutual purpose. Mutual purpose demands mutual respect. Perceived disrespect jeopardizes safety. Disrespect includes rolling your eyes, or taking a bad posture (not mentioned by the authors, but critical).
"(F)eelings of disrespect often come when we dwell on how others are DIFFERENT from ourselves. We can counteract these feelings by looking for ways we are similar" (loc. 1260).

The authors teach the helpful technique of "contrasting" when others misinterpret your purpose or intent, or perceive disrespect. It's a combination of "don't" and "do" statements. Ex: "The last thing I wanted to do was communicate that I don't value the work you put in...I think your work has been nothing short of spectacular" (loc. 1321).

Contrasting is not apologizing, it's restating your concern and creating safety. It provides context and proportion (loc. 1351). Don't give into the temptation of saying "Ah, it's no big deal..." or "nevermind" or take back what you said. Simply put your remarks in context. Maybe your counterpart believes something that isn't true about your motives, this is your way to address that.

In the real world, sometimes your goal may not be compatible with the other's. Your boss may want you to do something you don't want to do. So, you have to "invent" a mutual purpose-- zoom out a bit to find where you do agree, like productivity of the workplace and morale. What are the long-term goals of the relationship? From there, you can brainstorm new strategies or reach some sort of agreement-- you do it your boss's way this time with the understanding that next time it will be done differently.

The above are summed up with the acronym CRIB:
Commit to seek Mutual Purpose
Recognize the purpose behind the strategy
Invent a mutual purpose
Brainstorm new strategies.

Five other tools for the crucial conversation are in the acronym STATE:
Share your facts.
Tell your story (what was your impression of what the other was doing, see above).
Ask for others' paths. (Let them tell their story)
Talk tentatively. (Be aware of the facts you're missing; the unknowns. Tell your story as a story and not a fact).
Encourage testing.

Facts are the most persuasive. "You were 20 minutes late yesterday" is better than "You are always late," or "You're taking advantage of this office." Talking tentatively does not mean attaching a disclaimer or doing it in a tone suggesting you're completely unsure of yourself (loc. 2110). Don't say "It's probably just my imagination but..."

An acronym for encouraging others to share their path is is AMPP (2343-2349):
Ask: "I'd like to hear your opinions." "What do you think about..."
Mirror: "From the way you're saying that, it doesn't sound like you're 'okay.'"
Paraphrase: "So, you're mad because you think I..."
Prime (when there's uncomfortable silence): "Are you thinking that I'm doing this because..."

The authors also discuss situations with multiple parties, maybe at a department meeting. Remember that the goal is not to "win" or persuade others you are "right." The goal is to get your ideas and opinions into the pool for consideration. The same strategies above apply, you above all need to seek safety for the members in the conversation, let everyone feel comfortable putting their ideas out there. Seek mutual purpose and keep directing the conversation towards it.

Use the acronym ABC (loc. 2525):
Agree. Agree when you share views.
Build. If others leave something out, agree where you share views, then build.
Compare. When you differ significantly, don't suggest others are wrong. Compare your two views.

The last part to consider is how to close the conversation. A decision has to be made (never hold a meeting for which there is no action plan). "Dialogue is not decision making" and all parties have to decide how the decision will be made (loc. 2542). Make sure you know who will make the final decision and how it will be made-- and what's required from you. (Never assume.)
A good manager or leader will also follow up to make sure the decision was carried out and all parties are still in agreement on mutual purpose. That should also be included in the conversation-- what's the time-line for follow-up?

The authors do deal with some difficult situations, giving some examples. It also gives advice for managers dealing with silent deference from employees or insubordination. The book doesn't deal with people who don't remember what was said in the last crucial conversation, or do not allow for such a conversation to take place in the first place. In general, the authors encourage you to work on yourself first, then work on safety for the other person, and eventually he or she will come around. That requires skills not covered in the book. They also don't consider other basic skills of communication (eye contact, posture, etc.) nor physiological issues that can affect how you feel emotionally (don't up your caffeine intake before beginning a crucial conversation, for example).

This is one book that perhaps everyone should read and practice. I give it 4.5 stars.

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