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Making Crucial Conversations Easier
by Frank Grant
June 13, 2024
Conversation between two people

Starting and operating a business will require developing skills in delivering a crucial conversation.  So what is a crucial conversation?  First, your opinion and the other person’s opinions vary.  Second, the stakes are high and emotions are strong.

For example, you have an employee that you like but now feel taken advantage of in some way.  You depend on their work, yet are increasingly feeling that something is wrong and you need to talk.  You have been avoiding this, and are fearful of handling this poorly.  Other examples can be

  • Talking to a coworker who behaves offensively
  • Dealing with a defiant teen
  • Asking in-laws to quit meddling
  • Having to give an unfavorable performance review

So what does research show is the best approach?

The best companies are good at communicating.  Becoming really good at these types of conversations will certainly help you along the path to success.  The key steps are

Start with the Heart – What do you want from this conversation, and what don’t you want? 

As with any conversation be alert to the signs the conversation is turning crucial.  Are you or the other person going silent?  Is one of you now feeling unsafe?  These are signs that the conversation has shifted into crucial territory.  Observe yourself and the other person(s) carefully.  If anyone is starting to feel unsafe, their brain will move rapidly to safety and shut down rational thought.  Voices get loud, opinions are cemented. Keep it safe.

Keep it safe to talk.  Apologize when appropriate.  Fix misunderstandings rapidly.  Find a mutual purpose for the conversation such as finishing the project on time, on budget.

Understand yourself as well.  How have you contributed to the problem?  Why would a reasonable person behave this way?  What are the steps I need to take to move this forward.

Share your journey, and listen to their journey.  Be open to other viewpoints and explore them beyond a superficial explanation.  Are we talking about real issues yet? Talk tentatively yet be confident. 

Get to agreement, document all decisions, assign who will follow up and when.  Create milestones and a mutual path to success.

For more information about this topic read Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler

About the author
Frank Grant

Frank Grant, MBA, is a volunteer business mentor with SCORE's Tip of the Mitt chapter. To request the free, confidential mentoring services which SCORE offers for small businesses, request a local SCORE mentor.

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