Aim for Progress, not Perfection in Crucial Conversations

Jun 3, 2020

In my last post, we learned that a key technique to resolving problems is fostering dialogue with another person, or even a group of people.  This wisdom comes from the best seller, “Crucial Conversations.”

Having the other person’s best interests in mind goes a long way toward resolving work and personal issues.  That seems like a no-brainer.  But when emotions get the best of us, conversations can go sideways in a hurry.  Truly serving another person’s interests and seeing her point of view start with building mutual purpose and mutual respect during crucial conversations.

Here are some questions to ask oneself before engaging in dialogue:

  • Do others believe I care about their goals?
  • Do they trust my motives?
  • What would I do now if I really wanted to see

You may be saying to yourself:  I’m committed to those values, but I can’t get the other person to come around. The authors, through their countless use cases and observations of crucial conversations, admit that sometimes one has to create a mutual purpose.  That may involve finding more meaningful goals, or longer-term ones.

It also means adroitly combining confidence, humility and skill to make people feel that they can safely contribute their thinking to a conversation.

Confidence enables various opinions to be contributed to the “pool of meaning” without threat or emotion; humility underscores that others have valuable inputs to contribute; and skill avoids the Fool’s Choice we learned about earlier.

Here are some phrases and questions to consider as you pursue mutual purpose:

  • “I want to talk about what each of us likes and doesn’t like.  That way, we’ll be able to see what we need to do to improve and why”
  • “It seems like we’re both trying to force our view on each other”
  • “I commit to staying in our conversation until we have a solution that satisfies both of us”
  • “I’m beginning to feel you are upset with me.  Did I do something to anger you?”
  • “Does anyone see it differently?  Am I missing something here?”

What the authors make abundantly clear in imparting their techniques is they’re not advocating that every decision be made by consensus.  “Dialogue does not equal decision-making.”

The real focus is on solving problems and building relationships.  And to achieve those things, you need everyone to feel comfortable adding information and
perspective to a discussion.

When people are silent for fear of retribution or respond with vitriol, the results are the same: loss of safety and dialogue.  But when they feel they can safely
contribute, the greater the possibility for true dialogue and resolution.

The ultimate goal in all of these techniques is to “aim for progress, not perfection.”

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.