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Crucial Conversations Book Summary –  Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, Al Switzler, Ron McMillan

What you will learn from reading Crucial Conversations:

– How to navigate through difficult conversations.

– How to use contrasting to reconcile misunderstandings in the arguments you have.

– How to master the stories you tell and to turn them into more useful ones.

Crucial Conversations Book Summary:

Crucial conversations is a fantastic book that provides powerful skills and principles to ensure that your crucial conversations―especially difficult one lead to the results you want. This is a fairly easy and engaging read, with summaries at the end of each chapter which make it possible to dive in and out of.

It will teach you how to be persuasive rather than abrasive, how to create the context for productive dialogue when emotions run high, and it offers memorable principles for improving your communication skills. This is a must read!


What’s a Crucial Conversation?

The Book  Definition: A discussion between two or more people where (1) stakes are high, (2) opinions vary, and (3) emotions run strong.

You have three options when having a crucial conversation:

  • You can avoid them
  • You can face them and handle them poorly.
  • You can face them and handle them well.


Peoples argumentative styles fall into three general categories:

  1. Those who digress into threats and name-calling
  2. Those who revert to silent fuming
  3. Those who speak openly, honestly, and effectively.
The mistake most of us make in our crucial conversations is we believe that we have to choose between telling the truth and keeping a friend.

Filling the Pool of Shared Meaning

When it comes to risky, controversial, and emotional conversations, skilled people find a way to get all relevant information (from themselves and others) out into the open.
Each of us enters conversations with our own opinions, feelings, theories, and experiences about the topic at hand. This unique combination of thoughts and feelings makes up our personal pool of meaning. This pool not only informs us, but also propels our every action.
People who are skilled at dialogue do their best to make it safe for everyone to add their meaning to the shared pool-even ideas that at first glance appear controversial, wrong, or at odds with their own beliefs. Now, obviously, they don’t agree with every idea; they simply do their best to ensure that all ideas find their way into the open.

Start with heart:

The first problem we face in our crucial conversations. Our problem is not that our behaviour degenerates. It’s that our motives do-a fact that we usually miss.
You can ask these questions either when you find yourself slipping out of dialogue or as reminders when you prepare to step up to a crucial conversation. Here are some great ones:
What do I really want for myself?
What do I really want for others?
What do I really want for the relationship?
Once you’ve asked yourself what you want, add one more equally telling question:
How would I behave if I really wanted these results?

Look for safety:

People only become defensive when they no longer feel safe. The problem is not the content of your message, but the condition of the conversation.
It is worthwhile trying to recode in your brain that when people are acting silent or violent is is often as sign that the person is feeling unsafe.

Reacting with Silence:

Silence consists of any act to purposefully withhold information from the pool of meaning. It’s almost always done as a means of avoiding potential problems, and it always restricts the flow of meaning.
The Three Types of Silence:
Masking consists of understating or selectively showing our true opinions. Sarcasm, sugarcoating, and couching are some of the more popular forms.
Avoiding involves steering completely away from sensitive subjects. We talk, but without addressing the real issues.
Withdrawing means pulling out of a conversation altogether. We either exit the conversation or exit the room.

Reacting with Violence:

Violence consists of any verbal strategy that attempts to convince, control, or compel others to your point of view. It violates safety by trying to force meaning into the pool.
Three Types of Violence:
Controlling consists of coercing others to your way of thinking. It’s done through either forcing your views on others or dominating the conversation. Methods include cutting others off, overstating your facts, speaking in absolutes, changing subjects, or using directive questions to control the conversation.
Labeling is putting a label on people or ideas so we can dismiss them under a general stereotype or category.
Attacking speaks for itself. You’ve moved from winning the argument to making the person suffer. Tactics include belittling and threatening.

The Conditions for Safety:

The first condition of safety is Mutual Purpose.
Mutual Purpose means that others perceive that you’re working toward a common outcome in the conversation, that you care about their goals, interests, and values. And vice versa. You believe they care about yours., Consequently, Mutual Purpose is the entry condition of dialogue, Find a shared goal, and you have both a good reason and a healthy climate for talking.
First, when Mutual Purpose is at risk, we end up in debate. When others start forcing their opinions into the pool of meaning, it’s often because they figure that we’re trying to win and they need to do the same.
The second condition of safety is Mutual Respect.
While it’s true that there’s no reason to enter a crucial conversation if you don’t have Mutual Purpose, it’s equally true that you can’t stay in the conversation if you don’t maintain Mutual Respect.
Mutual Respect is the continuance condition of dialogue. As people perceive that others don’t respect them, the conversation immediately becomes unsafe and dialogue comes to a screeching halt.
What to do once you step out of mutual respect or purpose:
Create a Mutual Purpose

Conversational Skill – Contrasting:

When others misinterpret either your purpose or your intent, step out of the argument and rebuild safety by using a skill called Contrasting.
Contrasting is a don’t/do statement that:
• Addresses others’ concerns that you don’t respect them or that you have a malicious purpose (the don’t part).
• Confirms your respect or clarifies your real purpose (the do part).
So you address the misunderstanding by explaining what you don’t intend. Once you’ve done this, and safety returns to the conversation, then you can explain what you do intend. Safety first.
You use Contrasting to clarify what you don’t and do believe. Start with what you don’t believe.
“Let me put this in perspective. I don’t want you to think I’m not satisfied with the quality of your work. I want us to continue working together. I really do think you’re doing a good job. This punctuality issue is important to me, and I’d just like you to work on that. If you will be more attentive to that, there are no other issues.”
Use Contrasting for prevention or first aid. Contrasting can be useful both as prevention and as first aid for safety problems.

Building Mutual Purpose:

The best at dialogue use four skills to create a Mutual Purpose. If it helps you remember what to do, note that the four skills used in creating Mutual Purpose form the acronym CRIB.
Commit to Seek Mutual Purpose
Recognise the purpose behind the strategy.
Invent a mutual purpose.
Brainstorm new strategies.

Decide Which Condition of Safety Is at Risk

Mutual Purpose. Do others believe you care about their goals in this conversation? Do they trust your motives?
Mutual Respect. Do others believe you respect them?

Mastering Your Stories:

Just after we observe what others do and just before we feel some emotion about it, we tell ourselves a story. We add meaning to the action we observed. We make a guess at the motive driving the behaviour. Why were they doing that? We also add judgment-is that good or bad? And then, based on these thoughts or stories, our body responds with an emotion.
Stories provide our rationale for what’s going on. They’re our interpretations of the facts. They help explain what we see and hear. They’re the theories we use to explain why, how, and what. For instance, Maria asks: “Why does Louis take over? He doesn’t trust my ability to communicate. He thinks that because I’m a woman, people won’t listen to me.”

Here’s how to retrace your path:

[Act] Notice your behaviour. Ask:
Am I in some form of silence or violence?
[Feel] Get in touch with your feelings.
What emotions are encouraging me to act this way?
Tell story] Analyse your stories.
What story is creating these emotions?
[See/hear] Get back to the facts.
What evidence do I have to support this story?

Avoid conclusive statements:

Statements such as “He doesn’t trust me” are conclusions. It explains what you think, not what the other person did. Conclusions are subjective.
In Maria’s case, she suggested that Louis was controlling and didn’t respect her. Had she focused on his behaviour (he talked a lot and met with the boss one-on-one), this less volatile description would have allowed for any number of interpretations. For example, perhaps Louis was nervous, concerned, or unsure of himself.

The Default Stories we tell:

Victim Stories – “It’s not my fault”
The first of the clever stories is a Victim Story. Victim Stories, as you might imagine, make us out to be innocent sufferers. The theme is always the same. The other person is bad, wrong, or dumb, and we are good, right, or brilliant. Other people do bad or stupid things, and we suffer as a result.
Villain Stories-“It’s All Your Fault”
We create these nasty little tales by turning normal, decent human beings into villains. We impute bad motive, and then we tell everyone about the evils of the other party as if somehow we’re doing the world a huge favour.
In Victim Stories we exaggerate our own innocence. In Villain Stories we overemphasise the other person’s guilt or stupidity. We automatically assume the worst possible motives or grossest incompetence while ignoring any possible good or neutral intentions or skills a person may have.
Labeling is a common device in Villain Stories. For example, “I can’t believe that bonehead gave me bad materials again.” By employing the handy label, we are now dealing not with a complex human being, but with a bonehead.
Helpless Stories,”There’s Nothing Else I Can Do”
Finally come Helpless Stories. In these fabrications we make ourselves out to be powerless to do anything healthy or helpful. We convince ourselves that there are no healthy alternatives for dealing with our predicament.
While Villain and Victim stories look back to explain why we’re in the situation we’re in, Helpless stories look forward to explain why we can’t do anything to change our situation.

How to turn your stories into more useful ones:

And what transforms a clever story into a useful one? The rest of the story. That’s because clever stories have one characteristic in common: They’re incomplete. Clever stories omit crucial information about us, about others, and about our options. Only by including all of these essential details can clever stories be transformed into useful ones.
Turn victims into actors. If you notice that you’re talking about yourself as an innocent victim (and you weren’t held up at gunpoint), ask: Am I pretending not to notice my role in the problem?
Turn villains into humans. When you find yourself labeling otherwise vilifying others, stop and ask: Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do what this person is doing?

How to talk about sensitive topics:

Once you’ve worked on yourself to create the right conditions for dialogue, you can then draw upon five distinct skills that can help you talk about even the most sensitive topics.
These five tools can be easily remembered with the acronym STATE. It stands for:
Share your facts
Tell your story
Ask for others’ paths
Talk tentatively
Encourage testing
The first three skills describe what to do. The last two tell how to do it.

Sharing your facts:

Facts are the least controversial. Facts provide a safe beginning. By their very nature, facts aren’t controversial. That’s why we call them facts. For example, consider the statement:
“Yesterday you arrived at work twenty minutes late.” No dispute there. Conclusions, on the other hand, are highly controversial.
For example: “You can’t be trusted.” That’s hardly a fact. Actually, it’s more like an insult, and it can certainly be disputed.
Eventually we may want to share our conclusions, but we certainly don’t want to open up with a controversy.
While we’re speaking here about being persuasive, let’s add that our goal is not to persuade others that we are right. We aren’t trying to “win” the dialogue. We just want our meaning to be added to the pool to get a fair hearing. We’re trying to help others see how a reasonable, rational, and decent person could end up with the story we’re carrying. That’s all.

Tell you Story:

Why share your story in the first place? Because the facts alone are rarely worth mentioning. It’s the facts plus the conclusion that call for a face-to-face discussion. In addition, if you simply mention the facts, the other person may not understand the severity of the implications.

Ask for Others Parts:

The key to sharing sensitive ideas is a blend of confidence and humility. We express our confidence by sharing our facts and stories clearly. We demonstrate our humility by then asking others to share their views-and meaning it.
So once you’ve shared your point of view-facts and stories alike-invite others to do the same.

Talk Tentatively:

We careful to describe both facts and stories in a tentative, or nondogmatic, way.
For example, “I was wondering why …”
Talking tentatively simply means that we tell our story as a story rather than disguising it as a hard fact.
“Perhaps you were unaware….” Suggest that you’re not absolutely certain.
“In my opinion…” says you’re sharing an opinion nothing more.

Encourage Testing:

Make sure they have the opportunity to share by actively inviting them to do so: “Does anyone see it differently?” “What am I missing here?” “I’d really like to hear the other side of this story.”
Don’t turn an invitation into a veiled threat. Invite people with both words and tone that say, “I really want to hear from you.” For instance: “I know people have been reluctant to speak up about this, but I would really love to hear from everyone.” Or: “I know there are at least two sides to this story. Could we hear differing views now? What problems could this decision cause us?”

Encourage others to share their paths:

To encourage others to share their paths we’ll use four power listening tools that can help make it safe for other people to speak frankly. We call the four skills power listening tools because they are best remembered with the acronym AMPP – Ask, Mirror, Paraphrase, and Prime.

What to say when you disagree:

If you do disagree, compare your path with the other person’s. That is, rather than suggesting that he or she is wrong, suggest that you differ. He or she may, in fact, be wrong, but you don’t know for sure until you hear both sides of the story. For now, you just know that the two of you differ. So instead of pronouncing “Wrong!” start with a tentative but candid opening, such as “I think I see things differently. Let me describe how.”
In summary, to help remember these skills, think of your ABCS. Agree when you agree. Build when others leave out key pieces. Compare when you differ. Don’t turn differences into debates that lead to unhealthy relationships and bad results.


Four Powerful Listening Skills:

Then, use four powerful listening skills to retrace the other person’s Path to Action to its origins.
Ask. Start by simply expressing interest in the other person’s views.
Mirror. Increase safety by respectfully acknowledging the emotions people appear to be feeling.
Paraphrase. As others begin to share part of their story, restate what you’ve heard to show not just that you understand, but also that it’s safe for them to share what they’re thinking.
Prime. If others continue to hold back, prime. Take your best guess at what they may be thinking and feeling.