Don’t Let Emotions Rule “Crucial Conversations”

Apr 8, 2020

There is no shortage of books on communication in the workplace to improve collaboration and maximize teamwork.  Harvard Business Review also provides wonderful, well-researched articles that can help one improve communication and leadership capabilities.

But one book that I’ve read and re-read over the years stands out: “Crucial Conversations.”  Perhaps the book stands out as much for improving communication and resolving differences in the workplace as for resolving issues in personal relationships.

Over the years, I’ve leaned on this book to help navigate difficult situations.  For example, how do you tell someone trying really hard to do a good job that he isn’t cutting it?  Or explaining to people that they have poor hygiene?  Or telling your client CEO on a media tour that half of the six interviews canceled while you’re on the tour with him?

The authors explain what happens to our brains when conversations go from casual to crucial that is, when emotions grow heated, the stakes are high, and people are entrenched in their opinions.  Let’s just say the blood flowing to the reasoning part of our brains gets detained.

An important element of a crucial conversation is making sure that those involved feel safe to share their opinions.  If they don’t feel safe, they will flee to silence (not sharing information crucial to a problem and toward a decision) or to violence (making personal attacks that exacerbate the situation).

The authors say average communicators make a Fool’s Choice.  They either choose to be brutally honest or silent. Great communicators, on the other hand, avoid the Fool’s Choice; they share absolute candor but with deep respect.

In the healthcare field Amendola Communications serves, nurses and other care team members often fall silent during critical situations that affect patient safety for fear of doctors and other authority figures.  It’s situations like these, the authors assert, where none of us can remain silent.

While there is much to be gleaned from the book, here are some key recommendations:

  • Don’t “wing” crucial conversations.  “Perfect practice makes perfect”
  • Fill the “pool” of meaning in a dialogue by making sure information flows freely
  • Start with heart and stay focused on what you want for yourself, other people and your relationships (with emphasis on mutual purpose and mutual respect)
  • The best at dialogue look at themselves and ask how they can improve their communication skills; they don’t see others as the source of all that’s wrong with the world
  • Stay focused on achieving results and building relationships

The authors make an astute observation based on the hundreds of conversations they have studied or witnessed as communication consultants:  The problem often is not the message (or bad news) delivered to people, but whether people feel safe hearing that message.

In my next post, we’ll learn about several skills tested by the authors to build mutual purpose.

Philip Anast

Philip has been building, managing and executing PR programs for technology providers since 1995. Using the power of storytelling and influencer relations, he has launched new companies, brands and products, resulting in market penetration, market share growth and corporate acquisition for such clients as HP, Language Analysis Systems, Motorola and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Prior to joining Amendola Communications, Philip worked at Chicago-based PR firm Tech Image, serving in various roles over his 15-year tenure, including managing client programs, providing strategic counsel, pitching new business, growing client relationships, teaching best practices and managing finances. During that time, he served several clients targeting the healthcare/HIT sector, including NEC Display Solutions, IBS (now Iptor Supply Chain Systems) and Cleo. Philip also has worked in the technology practices of Hill and Knowlton and Porter Novelli. He began his PR career at U.S. Robotics and 3Com. Philip holds bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from Northwestern University.