Clippings from Crucial Conversations

Table of Contents


  • the root cause of many—if not most—human problems lies in how people behave when others disagree with them about high-stakes, emotional issues.
  • dramatic improvements in organizational performance were possible if people learned the skills routinely practiced by those who have found a way to master these high-stakes, “crucial” moments.
  • changing the way people handle their crucial moments could produce a better future for organizations, individuals, families, and nations.

What's a Crucial Conversation? - And Who Cares?

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.—GEORGE BERNARD SHAW

  • The crucial conversations we’re referring to are interactions that happen to everyone. They’re the day-to-day conversations that affect your life.
  • What makes one of your conversations crucial as opposed to plain vanilla?
    1. opinions vary.
    2. stakes are high.
    3. emotions run strong.
  • What makes each of these conversations crucial—and not simply challenging, frustrating, frightening, or annoying—is that the results could have a huge impact on the quality of your life.
  • Despite the importance of crucial conversations, we often back away from them because we fear we’ll make matters worse.


  • In truth, when we face crucial conversations, we can do one of three things:
    1. We can avoid them.
    2. We can face them and handle them poorly.
    3. We can face them and handle them well.

When It Matters Most, We Do Our Worst

  • Why is that?
    • We’re designed wrong.
      • emotions don’t exactly prepare us to converse effectively.
      • Countless generations of genetic shaping drive humans to handle crucial conversations with flying fists and fleet feet, not intelligent persuasion and gentle attentiveness.
      • You don’t choose to do this. Your adrenal glands do it, and then you have to live with it.
    • We’re under pressure.
      • Crucial conversations are frequently spontaneous.
      • More often than not, they come out of nowhere.
      • And since you’re caught by surprise, you’re forced to conduct an extraordinarily complex human interaction in real time
    • We’re stumped.
      • You don’t know where to start.
      • you haven’t often seen real-life models of effective communication skills.
      • practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.
      • first you have to know what to practice.
    • We act in self-defeating ways.
      • Unfortunately (and here’s where the problem becomes self-defeating), the more you snip and snap, the less your loved one wants to be around you.
      • Your behavior is now actually creating the very thing you didn’t want in the first place.
      • You’re caught in an unhealthy, self-defeating loop.
      • The more the two of you push each other, the more you create the very behaviors you both despise.

Some Common Crucial Conversations

  • Ending a relationship
  • Talking to a coworker who behaves offensively or makes suggestive comments
  • Asking a friend to repay a loan
  • Giving the boss feedback about her behavior
  • Approaching a boss who is breaking his own safety or quality policies
  • Critiquing a colleague’s work
  • Asking a roommate to move out
  • Resolving custody or visitation issues with an ex-spouse
  • Dealing with a rebellious teen
  • Talking to a team member who isn’t keeping commitments
  • Discussing problems with sexual intimacy
  • Confronting a loved one about a substance abuse problem
  • Talking to a colleague who is hoarding information or resources
  • Giving an unfavorable performance review
  • Asking in-laws to quit interfering
  • Talking to a coworker about a personal hygiene problem


  • Our research has shown that strong relationships, careers, organizations, and communities all draw from the same source of power: the ability to talk openly about high-stakes, emotional, controversial topics.
  • The Law of Crucial Conversations
    • At the heart of almost all chronic problems in our organizations, our teams, and our relationships lie crucial conversations—ones that we’re either not holding or not holding well.
    • the key skill of effective leaders, teammates, parents, and loved ones is the capacity to skillfully address emotionally and politically risky issues.
  • Here are just a few examples of these fascinating findings.
    1. Kick-Start Your Career
      • individuals who are the most influential—who can get things done and at the same time build on relationships—are those who master their crucial conversations.
      • high performers know how to stand up to the boss without committing career suicide.
      • People who routinely hold crucial conversations and hold them well are able to express controversial and even risky opinions in a way that gets heard.
    2. Improve Your Organization
      • More often than not, the world changes when people have to deal with a very risky issue and either do it poorly or do it well.
        • Silence kills. (Nurse and doctor)
        • Silence fails. (people work in silos.)
          • The predictor of success or failure was whether people could hold five specific crucial conversations.
            • For example, could they speak up if they thought the scope and schedule were unrealistic?
            • Or did they go silent when a cross-functional team member began sloughing off?
            • Or even more tricky—what should they do when an executive failed to provide leadership for the effort?
      • Companies with employees who are skilled at crucial conversations:
        • Respond five times faster to financial downturns—and make budget adjustments far more intelligently than less-skilled peers (Research Study: Financial Agility).
        • Are two-thirds more likely to avoid injury and death due to unsafe conditions (Research Study: Silent Danger).
        • Save over $1,500 and an eight-hour workday for every crucial conversation employees hold rather than avoid (Research Study: The Costs of Conflict Avoidance).
        • Substantially increase trust and reduce transaction costs in virtual work teams. Those who can’t handle their crucial conversations suffer in thirteen different ways (backstabbing, gossip, undermining, passive aggression, etc.) as much as three times more often in virtual teams than in colocated teams (Research Study: Long-Distance Loathing).
        • Influence change in colleagues who are bullying, conniving, dishonest, or incompetent. When over 4,000 respondents were asked, 93 percent of them said that, in their organization, people like this are almost “untouchable”—staying in their position four years or longer without being held accountable (Research Study: Corporate Untouchables).
      • Most leaders get it wrong.
        • They think that organizational productivity and performance are simply about policies, processes, structures, or systems.
          • So when their software product doesn’t ship on time, they benchmark others’ development processes.
          • Or when productivity flags, they tweak their performance management system.
          • When teams aren’t cooperating, they restructure.
        • these types of nonhuman changes fail more often than they succeed.
        • the real problem never was in the process, system, or structure—it was in employee behavior.
          • The key to real change lies not in implementing a new process, but in getting people to hold one another accountable to the process.
          • And that requires Crucial Conversations skills.
        • The path to high productivity passes not through a static system, but through face-to-face conversations.
          • In the worst companies, poor performers are first ignored and then transferred.
          • In good companies, bosses eventually deal with problems.
          • In the best companies, everyone holds everyone else accountable—regardless of level or position.
    3. Improve Your Relationships
      • when you ask the average person what causes couples to break up, he or she usually suggests that it’s due to differences of opinion.
      • In truth, everyone argues about important issues. But not everyone splits up. It’s how you argue that matters.
      • people fall into three categories—
        • those who digress into threats and name-calling,
        • those who revert to silent fuming,
        • those who speak openly, honestly, and effectively.
      • helping couples learn to hold crucial conversations more effectively reduced the chance of unhappiness or breakup by more than half!
    4. Improve Your Personal Health
      • the ability to master high-stakes discussions is a key to a healthier and longer life
      • Immune systems.
        • immune systems of couples who had been married an average of forty-two years by comparing those who argued constantly with those who resolved their differences effectively.
        • Those who routinely failed their crucial conversations had far weaker immune systems than those who found a way to resolve them well.
      • Life-threatening diseases.
        • the subjects who learned how to express themselves effectively had a higher survival rate
        • the negative feelings we hold in, the emotional pain we suffer, and the constant battering we endure as we stumble our way through unhealthy conversations slowly eat away at our health.
          • In some cases the impact of failed conversations leads to minor problems.
          • In others it results in disaster.
          • In all cases, failed conversations never make us happier, healthier, or better off.
    • As we learn how to step up to crucial conversations—and handle them well—with one set of high-leverage skills we can influence virtually every domain of our lives.

Mastering Crucial Conversations - The Power of Dialogue

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.—MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.

  • What typically set them apart from the rest of the pack was their ability to avoid what we came to call the Fool’s Choice.
    • A choice between two bad alternatives.
      1. Speak up and turn the most powerful person in the company into their sworn enemy.
      2. Suffer in silence and make a bad decision that might ruin the company.
    • 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.
  • The goal is different from your average person's: “How can I be 100 percent honest (with Chris), and at the same time be 100 percent respectful?”


di·a·logue or di·a·log (dì´ ∂-lôg´´,-lòg) n The free flow of meaning between two or more people.

  • 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.
    • At the core of every successful conversation lies the free flow of relevant information.
    • People openly and honestly express their opinions, share their feelings, and articulate their theories.
    • They willingly and capably share their views, even when their ideas are controversial or unpopular.
  • It’s the one thing that, and precisely what, (Kevin and the other) extremely effective communicators we studied were routinely able to achieve.
  • how does this free flow of meaning lead to success?
  • what can you do to encourage meaning to flow freely? (the rest of the book)

Filling the Pool of Shared Meaning

  • 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.
  • When two or more of us enter crucial conversations, by definition we don’t share the same pool.
  • 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.
  • As the Pool of Shared Meaning grows, it helps people in two ways.
    1. as individuals are exposed to more accurate and relevant information, they make better choices.
      • In a very real sense, the Pool of Shared Meaning is a measure of a group’s IQ.
      • The larger the shared pool, the smarter the decisions.
      • And even though many people may be involved in a choice, when people openly and freely share ideas, the increased time investment is more than offset by the quality of the decision.
      • When people purposefully withhold meaning from one another, individually smart people can do collectively stupid things.
      • Meaning didn’t flow freely because people were afraid to speak up.
        • In every instance where bosses are smart, highly paid, confident, and outspoken (i.e., most of the world), people tend to hold back their opinions rather than risk angering someone in a position of power.
      • As everyone on the team began to explain his or her opinion, people formed a clearer and more complete picture of the circumstances.
      • As they began to understand the whys and wherefores of different proposals, they built off one another.
      • As a result of the free flow of meaning, the whole (final choice) was truly greater than the sum of the original parts.
      • The Pool of Shared Meaning is the birthplace of synergy.
    2. since the meaning is shared, people willingly act on whatever decisions they make—with both unity and conviction.
      • Eventually, they understand why the shared solution is the best solution, and they’re committed to act.
      • (People) didn’t buy into their final choice simply because they were involved; they bought in because they understood.
      • Conversely, when people aren’t involved, when they sit back quietly during touchy conversations, they’re rarely committed to the final decision.
        • Since their ideas remain in their heads and their opinions never make it into the pool, they end up quietly criticizing and passively resisting.
        • Worse still, when others force their ideas into the pool, people have a harder time accepting the information.
        • To quote Samuel Butler, “He that complies against his will is of his own opinion still.”
  • The time you spend up front establishing a shared pool of meaning is more than paid for by faster, more unified, and more committed action later on.
  • We’re simply suggesting that whatever the decision-making method, the greater the shared meaning in the pool, the better the choice, the more the unity, and the stronger the conviction—whoever makes the choice.
  • Every time we find ourselves arguing, debating, running away, or otherwise acting in an ineffective way, it’s because we don’t know how to share meaning.
    • sometimes we move to silence.
    • Sometimes we rely on hints, sarcasm, caustic humor, innuendo, and looks of disgust to make our points.
    • On other occasions, not knowing how to stay in dialogue, we try to force our meaning into the pool.
      • We act like we know everything, hoping people will believe our arguments.
      • We discredit others, hoping people won’t believe their arguments.
      • And then we use every manner of force to get our way or possibly even harm others.
        • We borrow power from the boss;
        • we hit people with biased monologues;
        • we make hurtful comments.
      • The goal, of course, is always the same—to compel others to our point of view.


  • The skills required to master high-stakes interactions are quite easy to spot and moderately easy to learn.

My Crucial Conversation: Bobby R.


the tools people use to help create the conditions of dialogue.
how to create conditions in yourself and others that make dialogue the path of least resistance.
the tools for talking, listening, and acting together.
the key skills of talking, listening, and acting together.
tie all of the theories and skills together by providing both a model and an extended example.
master the tools for talking when stakes are high.

Start with Heart - How to Stay Focused on What You Really Want

  • The truth is, people can change.
    • But it requires work.
    • Instead, you’ll need to take a long, hard look at yourself.
  • The first principle of dialogue: Start with Heart.
    • That is, your own heart.
    • If you can’t get yourself right, you’ll have a hard time getting dialogue right.
    • When conversations become crucial, you’ll resort to the forms of communication that you’ve grown up with—debate, silent treatment, manipulation, and so on.


  • Our problem is not that our behavior degenerates. It’s that our motives do—a fact that we usually miss.
  • So 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.
    • It’s our dogmatic conviction that “if we could just fix those losers, all would go better” that keeps us from taking action that could lead to dialogue and progress.
    • Which is why it’s no surprise that those who are best at dialogue tend to turn this logic around.
    • They believe the best way to work on “us” is to start with “me.”


  • More often than not, we do something to contribute to the problems we’re experiencing.
  • People who are best at dialogue understand this simple fact and turn it into the principle “Work on me first, us second.” They realize
    1. not only that they are likely to benefit by improving their own approach,
    2. but also that they’re the only person they can work on anyway.
      • As much as others may need to change, or we may want them to change, the only person we can continually inspire, prod, and shape—with any degree of success—is the person in the mirror.


  • Skilled people Start with Heart.
    1. begin high-risk discussions with the right motives,
    2. stay focused no matter what happens.
  • They maintain this focus in two ways.
    1. they’re steely eyed smart when it comes to knowing what they want.
    2. skilled people don’t make Fool’s Choices


  • When under attack, our heart can take a similarly sudden and unconscious turn. When faced with pressure and strong opinions, we often stop worrying about the goal of adding to the pool of meaning and start looking for ways to win, punish, or keep the peace.
    • Winning.
      • This desire to win is built into our very fiber before we’re old enough to know what’s going on.
      • This particular dialogue killer sits at the top of many of our lists.
    • Punishing.
      • Sometimes, as our anger increases, we move from wanting to win the point to wanting to harm the other person.
    • Keeping the peace.
      • Sometimes we choose personal safety over dialogue.
      • We’re so uncomfortable with the immediate conflict that we accept the certainty of bad results to avoid the possibility of uncomfortable conversation.


  • Refocus your brain.
    • Our motives usually change without any conscious thought on our part.
      • When adrenaline does our thinking for us, our motives flow with the chemical tide.
    • In order to move back to motives that allow for dialogue, you must step away from the interaction and look at yourself—much like an outsider.
      • Ask yourself: “What am I doing, and if I had to guess, what does it tell me about my underlying motive?”
      • when you name the game, you can stop playing it.
    • Stop and ask yourself some questions that return you to dialogue.
      • 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?
  • There are two good reasons for asking these questions.
    1. the answer to what we really want helps us to locate our own North Star. (Find your bearings.)
      • Despite the fact that we’re being tempted to take the wrong path by (1) people who are trying to pick a fight, (2) thousands of years of genetic hard wiring that brings our emotions to a quick boil, and (3) our deeply ingrained habit of trying to win,
      • our North Star returns us to our original purpose.
    2. When we ask ourselves what we really want, we affect our entire physiology. (Take charge of your body.)
      • As we introduce complex and abstract questions to our mind, the problem-solving part of our brain recognizes that we are now dealing with intricate social issues and not physical threats.
      • When we present our brain with a demanding question, our body sends precious blood to the parts of our brain that help us think and away from the parts of our body that help us take flight or begin a fight.


  • Fortunately, when you refuse the Fool’s Choice—when you require your brain to solve the more complex problem—more often than not, it does just that.
  • You’ll find there is a way to share your concerns, listen sincerely to those of others, and build the relationship—all at the same time.
  • And the results can be life changing.

Search for the Elusive And

  1. First, clarify what you really want.
  2. Second, clarify what you really don’t want.
  3. Third, present your brain with a more complex problem.
    • combine the two into an and question that forces you to search for more creative and productive options than silence and violence.
      • Is there a way to tell your peer your real concerns and not insult or offend him?
      • Is there a way to talk to your neighbors about their annoying behavior and not come across as self-righteous or demanding?
      • Is there a way to talk with your loved one about how you’re spending money and not get into an argument?
    • With surprising regularity, when people are asked: “Is it possible that there’s a way to accomplish both?” they acknowledge that there very well may be.


  • “Are you saying there isn’t anyone you know who is able to hold a high-risk conversation in a way that solves problems and builds relationships?” There usually is.


Here’s how people who are skilled at dialogue stay focused on their goals—particularly when the going gets tough.

  • Work on Me First, Us Second
    • Remember that the only person you can directly control is yourself.
  • Focus on What You Really Want
    • When you find yourself moving toward silence or violence, stop and pay attention to your motives.
    • Ask yourself: “What does my behavior tell me about what my motives are?”
    • Then, clarify what you really want. Ask yourself: “What do I want for myself? For others? For the relationship?”
    • And finally, ask: “How would I behave if this were what I really wanted?”
  • Refuse the Fool’s Choice
    • As you consider what you want, notice when you start talking yourself into a Fool’s Choice.
    • Watch to see if you’re telling yourself that you must choose between peace and honesty, between winning and losing, and so on.
    • Break free of these Fool’s Choices by searching for the and.
    • Clarify what you don’t want, add it to what you do want, and ask your brain to start searching for healthy options to bring you to dialogue.

Learn to Look - How to Notice When Safety Is at Risk

I have known a thousand scamps; but I never met one who considered himself so. Self-knowledge isn’t so common.—OUIDA

  • Always watch two elements, when things start turning ugly
    the content (what)
    the topic under discussion
    the conditions (why)
    what people are doing in response.
  • If you can see why people are becoming upset or holding back their views or even going silent, you can do something to get back on track.
    • The sooner you notice you’re not in dialogue, the easier it is to get back and the lower the costs.”
    • the longer it takes to notice you’re not in dialogue, the harder it is to get back and the higher the costs.


  • It takes both knowledge and practice to know what to look for and then actually see it.
  • It helps to watch for three different conditions:
    1. the moment a conversation turns crucial
    2. signs that people don’t feel safe (silence or violence)
    3. your own Style Under Stress

Learn to Spot Crucial Conversations

  • To help catch problems early, reprogram your mind to pay attention to the signs that suggest you’re in a crucial conversation.
    1. physical
      • their stomach gets tight
      • their eyes get dry.
    2. emotional
      • they are scared, hurt, or angry and are beginning to react to or suppress these feelings.
    3. behavioral.
      • raising their voice, pointing their finger like a loaded weapon, or becoming very quiet.
  • Whatever they are, learn to look at them as signs to step back, slow down, and Start with Heart before things get out of hand.

Learn to Look for Safety Problems

  • People who are gifted at dialogue keep a constant vigil on safety.
    • they watch for signs that people are becoming fearful.
    • they immediately turn their attention to whether or not others feel safe.
  • When it’s safe, you can say anything.
    • nothing kills the flow of meaning like fear.
      • When you fear that people aren’t buying into your ideas, you start pushing too hard.
      • When you fear that you may be harmed in some way, you start withdrawing and hiding.
    • On the other hand, if you make it safe enough,
      • you can talk about almost anything and people will listen.
      • you yourself can hear almost anything and not become defensive.
    • people rarely become defensive simply because of what you’re saying. They only become defensive when they no longer feel safe.
      • The problem is not the content of your message, but the condition of the conversation.
      • If you can learn to see when people start to feel unsafe, you can take action to fix it.
      • That means the first challenge is to simply see and understand that safety is at risk.
    • You felt safe receiving the feedback because you trusted the motives and ability of the other person.
    • On the other hand, if you don’t feel safe, you can’t take any feedback.
      • When you don’t feel safe, even well-intended comments are suspect.
      • When it’s unsafe, you start to go blind.
        • By pulling yourself out of the content of an argument and looking for signs that safety is a risk, you reengage your brain and your full vision returns.
  • Don’t let safety problems lead you astray.
    • Now, since they’re feeling unsafe, you should be thinking to yourself: “Hey, they’re feeling unsafe. I need to do something—maybe make it safer.”
      • We’re asking you to recode silence and violence as signs that people are feeling unsafe.
      • We’re asking you to fight your natural tendency to respond in kind.
      • We’re asking you to undo years of practice, maybe even eons of genetic shaping that prod you to take flight or pick a fight (when under attack), and recode the stimulus. “Ah, that’s a sign that the other person feels unsafe.”
  • This skill is the pivot point for everything that follows.
  • It is also the gateway to gaining all the benefits that come to those who are skilled at crucial conversations.
    • increased influence,
    • enhanced relationships,
    • stronger teams,
    • and more effective leadership.

Silence and Violence

  • As people begin to feel unsafe, they start down one of two unhealthy paths.
    withholding meaning from the pool
    trying to force meaning in the pool
  • Knowing a few of the common forms of silence and violence helps you see safety problems when they first start to happen.
    • 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.
      • Methods range from playing verbal games to avoiding a person entirely.
      • The three most common forms of silence
        1. Masking
          • understating or selectively showing our true opinions.
          • Sarcasm, sugarcoating, and couching are some of the more popular forms.
        2. Avoiding
          • steering completely away from sensitive subjects.
          • We talk, but without addressing the real issues.
        3. Withdrawing
          • pulling out of a conversation altogether.
          • We either exit the conversation or exit the room.
    • 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.
      • Methods range from name-calling and monologuing to making threats.
      • The three most common forms
        1. Controlling
          • 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,
            • using directive questions to control the conversation.
        2. Labeling
          • putting a label on people or ideas
          • so we can dismiss them under a general stereotype or category.
        3. Attacking
          • You’ve moved from winning the argument to making the person suffer.
          • Tactics include belittling and threatening.

Look for Your Style Under Stress

  • the most difficult element to watch closely as you’re madly dual-processing is your own behavior.
  • Low self-monitors.
    • we all have trouble monitoring our own behavior at times.
    • when you fail to monitor your own behavior, you can look pretty silly.

Become a Vigilant Self-Monitor

  • pay close attention to what you’re doing and the impact it’s having, and then alter your strategy if necessary.
  • Specifically, watch to see if you’re having a good or bad impact on safety.

Your Style Under Stress Test

  1. [X] At times I avoid situations that might bring me into contact with people I’m having problems with.
  2. [X] I have put off returning phone calls or e-mails because I simply didn’t want to deal with the person who sent them.
  3. [ ] Sometimes when people bring up a touchy or awkward issue, I try to change the subject.
  4. [X] When it comes to dealing with awkward or stressful subjects, sometimes I hold back rather than give my full and candid opinion.
  5. [X] Rather than tell people exactly what I think, sometimes I rely on jokes, sarcasm, or snide remarks to let them know I’m frustrated.
  6. [ ] When I’ve got something tough to bring up, sometimes I offer weak or insincere compliments to soften the blow.
  7. [X] In order to get my point across, I sometimes exaggerate my side of the argument.
  8. [ ] If I seem to be losing control of a conversation, I might cut people off or change the subject in order to bring it back to where I think it should be.
  9. [X] When others make points that seem stupid to me, I sometimes let them know it without holding back at all.
  10. [ ] When I’m stunned by a comment, sometimes I say things that others might take as forceful or attacking—comments such as “Give me a break!” or “That’s ridiculous!”
  11. [ ] Sometimes when things get heated, I move from arguing against others’ points to saying things that might hurt them personally.
  12. [ ] If I get into a heated discussion, I’ve been known to be tough on the other person. In fact, the person might feel a bit insulted or hurt.
  13. [X] When I’m discussing an important topic with others, sometimes I move from trying to make my point to trying to win the battle.
  14. [X] In the middle of a tough conversation, I often get so caught up in arguments that I don’t see how I’m coming across to others.
  15. [ ] When talking gets tough and I do something hurtful, I’m quick to apologize for mistakes.
  16. [X] When I think about a conversation that took a bad turn, I tend to focus first on what I did that was wrong rather than focus on others’ mistakes.
  17. [X] I’m pretty good at persuading others by helping them understand the reasoning behind my views.
  18. [X] I can tell very quickly when others are holding back or feeling defensive in a conversation.
  19. [X] Sometimes I decide that it’s better not to give harsh feedback because I know that it’s bound to cause real problems.
  20. [X] When conversations aren’t working, I step back from the fray, think about what’s happening, and take steps to make it better.
  21. [ ] When others get defensive because they misunderstand me, I quickly get us back on track by clarifying what I do and don’t mean.
  22. [ ] There are some people I’m rough on because, to be honest, in the moment I feel like they need or deserve what I give them.
  23. [ ] I sometimes make absolute statements like “The fact is . . .” or “It’s obvious that . . .” to be sure I get my point across.
  24. [X] If others hesitate to share their views, I sincerely invite them to say what’s on their mind, no matter what it is.
  25. [ ] I sometimes feel so frustrated or put down that I come across pretty aggressively toward the other person.
  26. [ ] Even when things get tense, I’m good at finding out why people are upset and getting to the root cause of the problem.
  27. [ ] When I find that I’m at cross-purposes with someone, I often keep trying to win my way rather than looking for common ground.
  28. [X] When things don’t go well, in the heat of the moment I’m inclined to think the other person is more at fault than I am.
  29. [X] After I share strong opinions, I go out of my way to invite others to share their views, particularly opposing ones.
  30. [X] When others hesitate to share their views, I listen even more attentively and show more interest in their view.
  31. [X] I often have problems with people failing to do what we agreed to and then the burden is on me to bring it up again.
  32. [X] After conversations, I have additional problems because I have different recollections of what was discussed or agreed to.
  33. [ ] When trying to work out problems with others, I find we either disagree on or have violated expectations about who has the final say on some issues.

My Crucial Conversation: Tom E.


  • When caught up in a crucial conversation, it’s difficult to see exactly what’s going on and why.
  • When a discussion starts to become stressful, we often end up doing the exact opposite of what works.
  • We turn to the less healthy components of our Style Under Stress.
  • To break from this insidious cycle, Learn to Look.
    • Learn to look at content and conditions.
    • Look for when things become crucial.
    • Learn to watch for safety problems.
    • Look to see if others are moving toward silence or violence.
    • Look for outbreaks of your Style Under Stress.

Make It Safe - How to Make It Safe to Talk About Almost Anything


  • The key is to step out of the content of the conversation.
  • Don’t stay stuck in what’s being said.


  • The first step to building safety comes with understanding which of two different conditions of safety is at risk. Each requires a different solution.

Mutual Purpose—the Entrance Condition (Why Talk in the First Place?)

  • Crucial conversations often go awry
    • not because others dislike the content of the conversation,
    • but because they believe the content (even if it’s delivered in a gentle way) suggests that you have a malicious intent.
  • Consequently, 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,
      • you care about their goals, interests, and values.
    • Find a shared goal, and you have both a good reason and a healthy climate for talking.
  • Watch for signs that Mutual Purpose is at risk.
    • 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.
    • Other signs that purpose is at risk include
      • defensiveness,
      • hidden agendas (the silence form of fouled-up purpose),
      • accusations,
      • circling back to the same topic.
  • two crucial questions to help us determine when Mutual Purpose is at risk:
    • Do others believe I care about their goals in this conversation?
    • Do they trust my motives?
  • Remember the Mutual in Mutual Purpose.
    • To succeed in crucial conversations, we must really care about the interests of others—not just our own.
    • Before you begin, examine your motives. Ask yourself the Start with Heart questions:
  • Look for the mutuality.
    • if you try to see the other person’s point of view, you can often find a way to draw the other person willingly into even very sensitive conversations.

Mutual Respect—the Continuance Condition (Will We Be Able to Remain in Dialogue?)

  • you can’t stay in the conversation if you don’t maintain Mutual Respect.
  • respect is like air.
    • As long as it’s present, nobody thinks about it.
    • But if you take it away, it’s all that people can think about.
  • To spot when respect is violated and safety takes a turn south,
    • watch for signs that people are defending their dignity.
    • Emotions are the key.
      • When people feel disrespected, they become highly charged.
      • Their emotions turn from fear to anger.
      • Then they resort to pouting, name-calling, yelling, and making threats.
    • Ask the following question to determine when Mutual Respect is at risk:
      • Do others believe I respect them?
  • Can You Respect People You Don’t Respect?
    • Dialogue truly would be doomed if we had to share every objective or respect every element of another person’s character before we could talk.
    • we can stay in dialogue by finding a way to honor and regard another person’s basic humanity.
    • In essence, feelings 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.
      • When we recognize that we all have weaknesses, it’s easier to find a way to respect others.

        “Lord, help me forgive those who sin differently than I.”

      • When we do this, we feel a kinship or mutuality between ourselves and even the thorniest of people.
      • This sense of kinship and connection to others helps create Mutual Respect and eventually enables us to stay in dialogue with virtually anyone.


  • three hard-hitting skills that the best at dialogue use:
    1. Apologize When Appropriate
      1. Start with an apology
        • An apology is a statement that sincerely expresses your sorrow for your role in causing—or at least not preventing—pain or difficulty to others.
        • An apology isn’t really an apology unless you experience a change in heart
          • To offer a sincere apology, your motives have to change.
          • You have to give up saving face, being right, or winning in order to focus on what you really want
          • You have to sacrifice a bit of your ego by admitting your error.
        • But like many sacrifices, when you give up something you value, you’re rewarded with something even more valuable
          1. healthy dialogue
          2. better results.
      2. Next, watch to see if this sincere show of respect has helped restore safety.
        • If it has, you can now explain the details of what happened.
        • If it hasn’t, you’ll need to use one of the more advanced skills.
        • In any case, first make it safe; then return to the issue.
    2. to Fix Misunderstanding
      • 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:

        the don’t part
        Addresses others’ concerns that you don’t respect them or that you have a malicious purpose.
        the do part
        Confirms your respect or clarifies your real purpose.
        [The don’t part] “The last thing I wanted to do was communicate that I
        don’t value the work you put in or that I didn’t want to share it with
        the VP.
        [The do part] I think your work has been nothing short of spectacular.”
      • Of the two parts of Contrasting, the don’t is the more important because it deals with the misunderstanding that has put safety at risk.
      • Contrasting is not apologizing.
        • It is not a way of taking back something we’ve said that hurt others’ feelings.
        • it is a way of ensuring that what we said didn’t hurt more than it should have.
      • Contrasting provides context and proportion
        • When you’re in the middle of a touchy conversation, sometimes others experience your words as bigger or worse than you intend.
        • If this belief is incorrect, use Contrasting to clarify what you don’t and do 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
        When we’re aware that something we’re about to drop into the pool of meaning could create a splash of defensiveness, we use Contrasting to bolster safety—before we see others going to either silence or violence.
        first aid
        When people misunderstand and you start arguing over the misunderstanding, stop. Use Contrasting. Explain what you don’t mean until you’ve restored safety. Then return to the conversation. Safety first.
    3. Create a Mutual Purpose
      • The worst at dialogue
        • opt for
          either ignore the problem and push ahead
          or roll over and let others have their way
        • Both strategies end up making winners and losers, and the problem continues long beyond the initial conversation
      • The good at dialogue
        • move immediately toward compromise
        • While compromise is sometimes necessary, the best know better than to start there.
      • The best at dialogue
        • Use four skills to create a Mutual Purpose (CRIB)
          1. Commit to Seek Mutual Purpose

            • Start with Heart - How to Stay Focused on What You Really Want
            • In this case, you have to agree to agree
            • We Start with Heart by committing to stay in the conversation until we invent a solution that serves a purpose we both share.
            • This can be tough. To stop arguing, we have to
              1. suspend our belief that our choice is the absolute best and only one, and that we’ll never be happy until we get exactly what we currently want.
              2. open our mind to the fact that maybe, just maybe, there is a third choice out there—one that suits everyone.
              3. be willing to verbalize this commitment even when our partner seems committed to winning
            “It seems like we’re both trying to force our view on each other. I
            commit to stay in this discussion until we have a solution that
            satisfies both of us.”
          2. Recognize the Purpose Behind the Strategy
            • We confuse wants or purpose with strategies
              • We think we'll never find a way out because we equate what we're asking for with what we actually want
              • In truth, what we’re asking for is the strategy we’re suggesting to get what we want.
            • Before you can agree on a Mutual Purpose, you must first know what people’s real purposes are.
            • When you do separate strategies from purpose, new options become possible.
          3. Invent a Mutual Purpose
            • When you cannot discover a Mutual Purpose, you'll have to actively invent one
            • To invent a Mutual Purpose, move to more encompassing goals.
              • Find an objective that is more meaningful or more rewarding than the ones that divide the various sides
              • By focusing on higher and longer-term goals, you often find ways to transcend short-term compromises, build Mutual Purpose, and return to dialogue.
          4. Brainstorm New Strategies
            • If you’ve committed to finding something everyone can support and surfaced what you really want,
              • you’ll no longer be spending your energy on unproductive conflict.
              • Instead, you’ll be actively coming up with options that can serve everyone.
            • If you’re not willing to give creativity a try, it’ll be impossible for you to jointly come up with a mutually acceptable option. If you are, the sky’s the limit.
    • Don’t overwhelm yourself by insisting that you think and act this clearly and professionally during every heated and emotional conversation.
    • Merely consider whether you could think a little more clearly during a few crucial conversations.
    • Remember, when it comes to these high-stakes conversations, a little progress can produce a lot of benefit.
    • Finally, as is the case with most complicated problems, don’t aim for perfection. Aim for progress.

My Crucial Conversation: Dr. Jerry M.


  • Step Out
    • When others move to silence or violence, step out of the conversation and Make It Safe. When safety is restored, go back to the issue at hand and continue the dialogue.
  • 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?
  • Apologize When Appropriate
    • When you’ve clearly violated respect, apologize.
  • Contrast to Fix Misunderstanding
    • When others misunderstand either your purpose or your intent, use Contrasting. Start with what you don’t intend or mean. Then explain what you do intend or mean.
  • Create a Mutual Purpose
    • When you are at cross-purposes, use four skills to get back to Mutual Purpose:
      1. Commit to seek Mutual Purpose.
      2. Recognize the purpose behind the strategy.
      3. Invent a Mutual Purpose.
      4. Brainstorm new strategies.

Master My Stories - How to Stay in Dialogue When You're Angry, Scared, or Hurt

how to gain control of crucial conversations by learning how to take charge of your emotions.


No matter who is doing the button pushing, some people tend to react more explosively than others—and to the same stimulus, no less. Why is that?


  • two rather bold (and sometimes unpopular) claims.
    1. You and only you create your emotions.
      • Emotions don’t settle upon you like a fog.
      • They are not foisted upon you by others.
    2. Once you’ve created your upset emotions, you have only two options:
      1. act on them (find a way to master them)
      2. be acted on by them (fall hostage to them)
  • The worst at dialogue fall into the trap that their emotions and behavior are the only right and reasonable reactions under the circumstances.
    • The worst at dialogue fall hostage to their emotions,
    • and they don’t even know it.
  • The good at dialogue realize that if they don’t control their emotions, matters will get worse.
    • So they try something else.
      • They fake it.
      • They choke down reactions and then do their best to get back to dialogue.
    • Unfortunately, once these emotionally choked folks hit a rough spot in a crucial conversation, their suppressed emotions come out of hiding.
  • The best at dialogue do something completely different. they act on their emotions.
    • when they have strong feelings, they influence (and often change) their emotions by thinking them out.
    • As a result, they choose their emotions, and by so doing, make it possible to choose behaviors that create better results.
    • This, of course, is easier said than done.

Stories Create Feelings

  • As it turns out, there is an intermediate step between what others do and how we feel.
    • because actions themselves can’t and don’t cause emotional reactions.
    • That’s why, when faced with the exact same circumstances, ten people may have ten different emotional responses.
  • What is this intermediate step?
    • 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 behavior.
      • 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.
  • Path to Action
    1. See & Hear
    2. Tell a Story
    3. Feel
    4. Act
  • Since we and only we are telling the story, we can take back control of our own emotions by telling a different story.
    • We now have a point of leverage or control.
    • If we can find a way to control the stories we tell, by rethinking or retelling them, we can master our emotions and, therefore, master our crucial conversations.


Nothing in this world is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.—WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

  • 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 theories we use to explain why, how, and what.
    • our emotions are directly linked to our judgments of right/wrong, good/bad, kind/selfish, fair/unfair, etc.
  • Even if you don’t realize it, you are telling yourself stories.
    • Storytelling typically happens blindingly fast.
    • You may not remember it, but you tell a story.
  • Any set of facts can be used to tell an infinite number of stories.
  • If we take control of our stories, they won’t control us.
    • We can tell different stories and break the loop.
    • In fact, until we tell different stories, we cannot break the loop.


The best at dialogue find a way to first slow down and then take charge of their Path to Action.

  1. Retrace Your Path
    • First you have to stop what you’re currently doing. Then you have to get in touch with why you’re doing it.
    • How
      1. [Act] Notice your behavior. Am I in some form of silence or violence?
        • looking isn’t enough. You must take an honest look at what you’re doing.
        • When an unhelpful story is driving you to silence or violence, stop and consider how others would see your actions.
        • Not only do those who are best at crucial conversations notice when they’re slipping into silence or violence, but they’re also able to admit it.
          • They don’t wallow in self-doubt, of course,
          • but they do recognize the problem and begin to take corrective action.
      2. [Feel] Get in touch with your feelings. What emotions are encouraging me to act this way?
        • identifying your emotions is more difficult than you might imagine.
          • In fact, many people are emotionally illiterate.
        • Knowing what you’re really feeling helps you take a more accurate look at what is going on and why.
        • When experiencing strong emotions,
          • do you stop and think about your feelings? If so, do you use a rich vocabulary?
          • do you talk openly with others about how you feel? Do you willingly talk with loved ones about what’s going on inside of you?
          • in so doing, is your vocabulary robust and accurate?
      3. [Tell story] Analyze your stories. What story is creating these emotions?
        • Question your feelings and stories.
          • The first step to regaining emotional control is to challenge the illusion that what you’re feeling is the only right emotion under the circumstances.
          • By questioning our feelings, we open ourselves up to question our stories.
        • Don’t confuse stories with facts.
          • You confuse subjective conclusions with steel-hard data points.
        • The facts could mean just about anything.
      4. [See/hear] Get back to the facts. What evidence do I have to support this story?
        • Separate fact from story by focusing on behavior.
          • Test your ideas against a simple criterion:
            • Can you see or hear this thing you’re calling a fact?
            • Was it an actual behavior?
        • Spot the story by watching for “hot” words.
          • They express judgments and attributions that, in turn, create strong emotions.
          • They are story, not fact.
    • By retracing your path one element at a time, you put yourself in a position to think about, question, and change any one or more of the elements.
  2. Watch for Three “Clever” Stories
    • with time and experience we become quite good at coming up with explanations that serve us well.
      • Either our stories are completely accurate and propel us in healthy directions,
      • or they’re quite inaccurate but justify our current behavior—making us feel good about ourselves and calling for no need to change.
    • We call these imaginative and self-serving concoctions “clever stories.”
      • They’re clever because they allow us to feel good about behaving badly.
      • Better yet, they allow us to feel good about behaving badly even while achieving abysmal results.
    • we tend to tell our stories in three very predictable ways.
      1. —“It’s Not My Fault”
        • 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.
        • Within most crucial conversations, when you tell a Victim Story,
          • you intentionally ignore the role you have played in the problem.
          • You tell your story in a way that judiciously avoids whatever you have done (or neglected to do) that might have contributed to the problem.
        • To help support your Victim Stories you speak of nothing but your noble motives.
        • Then you tell yourself that you’re being punished for your virtues, not your vices.
      2. —“It’s All Your Fault”
        • In Villain Stories we overemphasize 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.
        • Not only do Villain Stories help us blame others for bad results, but they also set us up to then do whatever we want to the “villains.”
          • After all, we can feel okay insulting or abusing a bonehead—whereas we might have to be more careful with a living, breathing person.
          • Then when we fail to get the results we really want, we stay stuck in our ineffective behavior because, after all, look who we’re dealing with!
        • Watch for the double standard.
          • When we make mistakes, we tell a Victim Story by claiming our intentions were innocent and pure.
          • On the other hand, when others do things that hurt or inconvenience us, we tell Villain Stories in which we invent terrible motives or exaggerate flaws for others based on how their actions affected us.
      3. —“There’s Nothing Else I Can Do”
        • 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, which justifies the action we’re about to take.
        • While Villian 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.
        • It’s particularly easy to act helpless when we turn others’ behavior into fixed and unchangeable traits.
          • Helpless Stories often stem from Villain Stories and typically offer us nothing more than Fool’s Choices
    • Why We Tell Clever Stories
      • Clever stories match reality.
        • Sometimes the stories we tell are accurate.
        • It’s not common, but it can happen.
      • Clever stories get us off the hook.
        • they conveniently excuse us from any responsibility—when, in reality, we have been partially responsible.
        • However, if we can make others out as wrong and ourselves out as right, we’re off the hook.
        • Better yet, once we’ve demonized others, we can even insult and abuse them if we want.
      • Clever stories keep us from acknowledging our own sellouts.
        • Our need to tell clever stories often starts with our own sellouts.
        • we usually don’t begin telling stories that justify our actions until we have done something that we feel a need to justify.1
        • We sell out when we consciously act against our own sense of what’s right.
        • And after we’ve sold out, we have only two choices:
          • own up to our sellout,
          • try to justify it.
        • if we don’t admit to our errors, we inevitably look for ways to justify them.
        • You didn’t start telling clever stories until after you failed to do something you knew you should have done.
          • You got upset because you sold out.
          • And the clever story helped you feel good about being rude.
        • Sellouts are often not big events.
          • In fact, they can be so small that they’re easy for us to overlook when we’re crafting our clever stories.
          • Here are some common ones:
            • You believe you should help someone, but don’t.
            • You believe you should apologize, but don’t.
            • You believe you should stay late to finish up on a commitment, but go home instead.
            • You say yes when you know you should say no, then hope no one follows up to see if you keep your commitment.
            • You believe you should talk to someone about concerns you have with him or her, but don’t.
            • You do less than your share and think you should acknowledge it, but say nothing knowing no one else will bring it up either.
            • You believe you should listen respectfully to feedback, but become defensive instead.
            • You see problems with a plan someone presents and think you should speak up, but don’t.
            • You fail to complete an assignment on time and believe you should let others know, but don’t.
            • You know you have information a coworker could use, but keep it to yourself.
          • Even small sellouts like these get us started telling clever stories.
            • When we don’t admit to our own mistakes, we obsess about others’ faults, our innocence, and our powerlessness to do anything other than what we’re already doing.
            • We tell a clever story when we want self-justification more than results.
              • Of course, self-justification is not what we really want,
              • but we certainly act as if it is.
  3. Tell the Rest of the Story
    • The dialogue-smart recognize that they’re telling clever stories, stop, and then do what it takes to tell a useful story.
    • A useful story, by definition, creates emotions that lead to healthy action—such as dialogue.
    • 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,
        • about our options.
      • Only by including all of these essential details can clever stories be transformed into useful ones.
    • What’s the best way to fill in the missing details? Quite simply, it’s done by turning victims into actors, villains into humans, and the helpless into the able.
      1. Turn victims into actors.
        • ask:
          • Am I pretending not to notice my role in the problem?
        • Maybe, just maybe, you did something to help cause the problem.
        • Instead of being a victim, you were an actor.
        • By asking what role you’ve played, you begin to realize how selective your perception has been.
        • ask:
          • Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do what this person is doing?
        • This particular question humanizes others.
          • As we search for plausible answers to it, our emotions soften.
          • Empathy often replaces judgment,
          • and depending upon how we’ve treated others, personal accountability replaces self-justification.
        • The purpose of the humanizing question is to deal with our own stories and emotions.
          • It provides us with still another tool for working on ourselves first by providing a variety of possible reasons for the other person’s behavior.
        • In fact, with experience and maturity we learn to worry less about others’ intent and more about the effect others’ actions are having on us.
        • When we reflect on alternative motives, not only do we soften our emotions, but equally important, we relax our absolute certainty long enough to allow for dialogue—the only reliable way of discovering others’ genuine motives.
      2. Turn the helpless into the able.
        • ask:
          • What do I really want? For me? For others? For the relationship?
          • What would I do right now if I really wanted these results? (To kill the Fool's Choice)
        • What should you be doing instead? Openly, honestly, and effectively discussing the problem—not taking potshots and then justifying yourself.
        • When you refuse to make yourself helpless, you’re forced to hold yourself accountable for using your dialogue skills rather than bemoaning your weakness.

My Crucial Conversation: Cathy W.


  • Retrace Your Path
    • Notice your behavior. If you find yourself moving away from dialogue, ask yourself what you’re really doing. Am I in some form of silence or violence?
    • Get in touch with your feelings. Learn to accurately identify the emotions behind your story. What emotions are encouraging me to act this way?
    • Analyze your stories. Question your conclusions and look for other possible explanations behind your story. What story is creating these emotions?
    • Get back to the facts. Abandon your absolute certainty by distinguishing between hard facts and your invented story. What evidence do I have to support this story?
    • Watch for clever stories. Victim, Villain, and Helpless Stories sit at the top of the list.
  • Tell the Rest of the Story. Ask:
    • Am I pretending not to notice my role in the problem?
    • Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do this?
    • What do I really want?
    • What would I do right now if I really wanted these results?

STATE My Path - How to Speak Persuasively, Not Abrasively

  • To help us improve our advocacy skills, we’ll examine two challenging situations.
    1. five skills for talking when what we have to say could easily make others defensive.
    2. how these same skills help us state our opinions when we believe so strongly in something that we risk shutting others down rather than opening them up to our ideas.


  • Adding information to the pool of meaning can be quite difficult when the ideas we’re about to pour into the collective consciousness contain delicate, unattractive, or controversial opinions.
  • When the topic turns from things to people, it’s always more difficult, and to nobody’s surprise, some people are better at it than others.
  • When it comes to sharing touchy information,
    • the worst alternate between bluntly dumping their ideas into the pool of meaning and saying nothing at all.
    • Fearful they could easily destroy a healthy relationship, those who are good at dialogue say some of what’s on their minds, but they understate their views out of fear of hurting others.
    • The best at dialogue speak their minds completely and do it in a way that makes it safe for others to hear what they have to say and respond to it as well.
      1. Totally frank
      2. Completely respectful


How can we speak the unspeakable and still maintain respect? Actually, it can be done if you know how to carefully blend three ingredients—confidence, humility, and skill.

  1. Confidence.
    • Most people simply won’t hold delicate conversations—well, at least not with the right person.
    • People who are skilled at dialogue have the confidence to say what needs to be said to the person who needs to hear it.
      • They are confident that their opinions deserve to be placed in the pool of meaning.
      • They are also confident that they can speak openly without brutalizing others or causing undue offense.
  2. Humility.
    • Skilled people are confident that they have something to say, but also realize that others have valuable input. They are humble enough to realize that they don’t have a monopoly on the truth nor do they always have to win their way. Their opinions provide a starting point but not the final word. They may currently believe something but realize that with new information they may change their minds. This means they’re willing to both express their opinions and encourage others to do the same.
  3. Skill.
    • They don’t make a Fool’s Choice, because they’ve found a path that allows for both candor and safety.


  • despite your worst suspicions, you shouldn’t violate respect.
    • you shouldn’t kill safety with threats and accusations.
    • what should you do?
      1. Start with heart
      2. Master your story
      3. 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.
        • THE "WHAT" SKILLS (describe what to do)
          • Share your facts
          • Tell your story
          • Ask for others’ paths
        • THE "HOW" SKILLS (tell how to do it)
          • Talk tentatively
          • Encourage testing

THE "WHAT" SKILLS (describe what to do)

  • Share Your Facts
    • The best way to share your view is to follow your Path to Action from beginning to end—the same way you traveled it
    • Unfortunately, when we're drunk on adrenaline, our tendency is to do precisely the opposite.
      • Since we're obsessing on our emotions and stories, that's what we start with
      • Starting with our ugly stories is the most controversial, least influential, and most insulting way we could begin
      • To make matters worse, this strategy creates still another self-fulfilling prophecy:
        1. We’re so anxious to blurt out our unflattering conclusions that we say things in extremely ineffective ways.
        2. Then, when we get bad results (and we are going to get bad results), we tell ourselves that we just can't share risky views without creating problems.
        3. So the next time we've got something sticky to say, we're even more reluctant to say it.
        4. When we do eventually share our horrific story, we do so with a vengeance
        5. The cycle starts all over again
    • Facts are the least controversial
      • Facts provide a safe beginning
      • By their very nature, facts aren't controversial
      • Conclusions, on the other hand, are highly controversial
      • Eventually we may want to share our conclusions, but we certainly don't want to open up with a controversy
    • Facts are the most persuasive
      • Faces form the foundation of belief
      • So if you want to persuade others,
        1. Don't start with your stories. Start with your observations.
        2. Our goal is not to persuade others that we are right. 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.
      • When we start with shocking or offensive conclusions, we actually encourage others to tell Villain Stories about us
        • Since we've given them no facts to support our conclusion, they make up reasons we're saying these things.
        • They are likely to believe we're either stupid or evil.
      • If you aren't sure what your facts are, take the time to think them through before you enter the crucial conversation
    • Facts are the least insulting
      • Your story (particularly if it has led to a rather ugly conclusion) could easily surprise and insult others.
      • If you start with your story (and in so doing, kill safety), you may never actually get to the facts.
      • Begin your path with facts
        • Let others see your experience from your point of view—starting with your facts.
        • This way, when you do talk about what you’re starting to conclude, they’ll understand why.
        • Make sure that as you explain your story, you tell it as a possible story, not as concrete fact.
      • Earn the right to share your story by starting with your facts.
      • Facts lay the groundwork for all delicate conversations.
  • Tell Your Story
    • Sharing your story can be tricky.
      • Even if you’ve started with your facts, the other person can still become defensive when you move from facts to stories.
      • After all, you’re sharing potentially unflattering conclusions and judgments.
    • Why share your story in the first place?
      1. Because the facts alone are rarely worth mentioning
        • It’s the facts plus the conclusion that call for a face-to-face discussion.
      2. If you simply mention the facts, the other person may not understand the severity of the implications
    • It takes confidence
      • it can be difficult to share negative conclusions and unattractive judgments
      • By thinking through the facts and then leading with them, you’re much more likely to have the confidence you need to add controversial and vitally important meaning to the shared pool.
        • if you’ve done your homework by thinking through the facts behind your story, you’ll realize that you are drawing a reasonable, rational, and decent conclusion
        • by starting with the facts, you’ve laid the groundwork
    • Don't pile it on
      • Sometimes we lack the confidence to speak up, so we let problems simmer for a long time
      • Given the chance, we generate a whole arsenal of unflattering conclusions.
    • Look for safety problems
      • As you share your story, watch for signs that safety is deteriorating.
      • If people start becoming defensive or appear to be insulted, step out of the conversation and rebuild safety by Contrasting.
    • Use Contrasting
      • Be careful not to apologize for your views.
        • Remember, the goal of Contrasting is not to water down your message, but to be sure that people don’t hear more than you intend
        • Be confident enough to share what you really want to express.
  • Ask for Others' Paths
    • 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.
      • If your goal is to keep expanding the pool of meaning rather than to be right, to make the best decision rather than to get your way, then you’ll willingly listen to other views.
      • By being open to learning we are demonstrating humility at its best.
    • To find out others’ views on the matter,
      1. encourage them to express their facts, stories, and feelings
      2. then carefully listen to what they have to say
    • Equally important, be willing to abandon or reshape your story as more information pours into the Pool of Shared Meaning.

THE "HOW" SKILLS (tell how to do it)

  • Talk Tentatively
    • Talking tentatively simply means that we tell our story as a story rather than disguising it as a hard fact
    • When sharing a story, strike a blend between confidence and humility.
      • Share in a way
        1. that expresses appropriate confidence in your conclusions
        2. while demonstrating that, if called for, you want your conclusions challenged
      • To do so
        • change “The fact is” to “In my opinion.”
        • Swap “Everyone knows that” for “I’ve talked to three of our suppliers who think that.”
        • Soften “It’s clear to me” to “I’m beginning to wonder if.”
    • Why soften the message?
      • Because we’re trying to add meaning to the pool, not force it down other people’s throats
      • If we’re too forceful, the information won’t make it into the pool.
        • One of the ironies of dialogue is that, when talking with those holding opposing opinions, the more convinced and forceful you act, the more resistant others become.
        • Speaking in absolute and overstated terms does not increase your influence, it decreases it.
        • The more tentatively you speak, the more open people become to your opinions.
    • If being tentative is akin to being manipulative. You’re “pretending” to be uncertain about your opinion in order to help others consider it less defensively.
      • If you are faking tentativeness, you are not in dialogue.
      • The reason we should speak tentatively is because we, indeed, are not certain that our opinions represent absolute truth or our understanding of the facts is complete and perfect.
        • You should never pretend to be less confident than you are.
        • But likewise, you should not pretend to be more confident than your limited capacity allows.
    • Tentative, not wimpy
      • When you begin with a complete disclaimer and do it in a tone that suggests you’re consumed with doubt, you do the message a disservice.
      • It’s one thing to be humble and open. It’s quite another to be clinically uncertain.
      • Use language that says you’re sharing an opinion, not language that says you’re a nervous wreck.
  • Encourage Testing
    • Others need to feel safe sharing their observations and stories—particularly if they differ from yours.
    • Otherwise, they don’t speak up and you can’t test the accuracy and relevance of your views.
    • Safety becomes particularly important when you’re having a crucial conversation with people who might move to silence.
      • Some people make Fool’s Choices in these circumstances. They worry that if they share their true opinions, others will clam up.
        • So they choose between
          1. speaking their minds
          2. hearing others out
      • But the best at dialogue don’t choose. They do both.
        • the only limit to how strongly you can express your opinion is your willingness to be equally vigorous in encouraging others to challenge it.
    • Invite opposing views
      • If you think others may be hesitant, make it clear that you want to hear their views—no matter how different
      • If what they have to say is controversial or even touchy, respect them for finding the courage to express what they’re thinking.
      • If they have different facts or stories, you need to hear them to help complete the picture.
      • 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.”
    • Mean it
      • 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.”
        • “I know people have been reluctant to speak up about this, but I would really love to hear from everyone.”
        • “I know there are at least two sides to this story. Could we hear differing views now? What problems could this decision cause us?”
    • Play devil's advocate
      • Occasionally you can tell that others are not buying into your facts or story, but they’re not speaking up either.
      • Model disagreeing by disagreeing with your own view.

        “Maybe I’m wrong here. What if the opposite is true? What if the
        reason sales have dropped is because . . .”
    • Do it until your motive becomes obvious
      • The real test of whether your motive is to win a debate or engage in real dialogue is the degree to which you encourage testing.


  • Another communication challenge: step into an argument and advocate your point of view
  • Unfortunately, as stakes rise and others argue differing views—and you just know in your heart of hearts that you’re right and they’re wrong—you start pushing too hard.

How Did We Get Like This?

  • It starts with a story
    • When we feel the need to push our ideas on others, it's generally because we believe we're right and everyone else is wrong
    • There's no need to expand the pool of meaning, because we own the pool
    • We also firmly believe it's our duty to fight for the truth that we're holding
  • We feel justified in using dirty tricks
    • We use debating tricks that we've picked up throughout the years
      1. Chief among them is the ability to "stack the deck"
        1. We cite information that supports our ideas while hiding or discrediting anything that doesn't
        2. Then we spice things up with exaggeration

          Everyone knows that this is the only way to go
        3. When this doesn't work, we lace our language with inflammatory terms

          All right-thinking people would agree with me
      2. Appeal to authority
      3. Attack the person
      4. Draw hasty generalizations
      5. Attack a straw man
    • The harder we try and the more forceful and nasty our tactics
      • The greater the resistance we create
      • The worse the results
      • The more battered our relationships

How Do We Change?

  • Start with Heart - How to Stay Focused on What You Really Want
  • Use STATE skills
  • Steps
    1. Learn to Look
      • Watch for the moment when people start to resist you
        • Raise volume
        • overstate the facts behind views
        • retreat into silence
      • Turn your attention away from the topic (no matter how important) and onto yourself
        • Are you leaning forward?
        • Are you speaking more loudly?
        • Are you starting to try to win?
        • Are you speaking in lengthy monologues and using dirty tricks?
      • Remember: The more you care about an issue, the less likely you are to be on your best behavior
    2. Tone down your approach
      • Open yourself up to the belief that others might have something to say
      • Ask them for their views
  • It’s okay to have strong opinions. The problem comes when we try to express them.
  • Catch yourself
    • Realize that if you’re starting to feel indignant or if you can’t figure out why others don’t buy in
    • Recognize that you’re starting to enter dangerous territory.
  • Back off your harsh and conclusive language. But don’t back off your belief. Hold to your belief; merely soften your approach.

My Crucial Conversation: Lori A.


When you have a tough message to share, or when you are so convinced of your own rightness that you may push too hard, remember to STATE your path:

Share your facts
Start with the least controversial, most persuasive elements from your Path to Action.
Tell your story
Explain what you’re beginning to conclude.
Ask for others’ paths
Encourage others to share both their facts and their stories.
Talk tentatively
State your story as a story—don’t disguise it as a fact.
Encourage testing
Make it safe for others to express differing or even opposing views.

Export Other's Paths - How to Listen When Others Blow Up or Clam Up

One of the best ways to persuade others is with your ears—by listening to them.

  • While it’s true that you can’t force others to dialogue, you can take steps to make it safer for them to do so.
    • After all, that’s why they’ve sought the security of silence or violence in the first place.
    • They’re afraid that dialogue will make them vulnerable
    • Somehow they believe that if they engage in real conversation with you, bad things will happen to them.


  • Make It Safe - How to Make It Safe to Talk About Almost Anything
  • One more skill: Explore Others' Paths

Start with Heart—Get Ready to Listen

  • Be sincere
    • When you do invite people to share their views, you must mean it
    • When you ask people to open up, be prepared to listen
    • The "How are you today?" category of inquiries: "Please don't say anything of substance. I'm really just making small talk"
  • Be curious
    • Rather than respond in kind, we need to wonder what’s behind the ruckus.
    • How?
      • Getting at the source of fear and discomfort is the best way to return to dialogue.
        • This calls for genuine curiosity—at a time when you’re likely to be feeling frustrated or angry.
      • Look for opportunities to be curious
  • Stay curious
    • When people begin to share their volatile stories and feelings, we now face the risk of pulling out our own Victim, Villain, and Helpless Stories to help us explain why they’re saying what they’re saying
    • To avoid overreacting to others’ stories, stay curious.
    • Give your brain a problem to stay focused on: Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person say this?
      • This question keeps you retracing the other person's Path to Action until you see how it all fits together
    • And in most cases, you end up seeing that under the circumstances, the individual in question drew a fairly reasonable conclusion.
  • Be patient
    • Even if we do our best to safely and effectively respond to the other person’s verbal attack, we still have to face up to the fact that it’s going to take a little while for him or her to settle down.
    • While it’s natural to move quickly from one thought to the next, strong emotions take a while to subside.
      • Once the chemicals that fuel emotions are released, they hang around in the bloodstream for a time—in some cases, long after thoughts have changed.
    • So be patient when exploring how others think and feel.

Encourage Others to Retrace Their Path

  • Every sentence has a history
    • When others are in either silence or violence, we’re actually joining their Path to Action already in progress.
    • Consequently, we’ve already missed the foundation of the story and we’re confused.
    • If we’re not careful, we can become defensive.
      • After all, not only are we joining late,
      • but we’re also joining at a time when the other person is starting to act offensively.
  • Break the cycle
    • People who know better cut this dangerous cycle by stepping out of the interaction and making it safe for the other person to talk about his or her Path to Action.
    • They perform this feat by encouraging him or her to move away from harsh feelings and knee-jerk reactions and toward the root cause.
    • In essence, they retrace the other person’s Path to Action together.
    • When we help others retrace their path to its origins, not only do we help curb our reaction, but we also return to the place where the feelings can be resolved—at the source, that is, the facts and the story behind the emotion.

Inquiry Skills

  • When?
    • If we don’t get at the source of their feelings, we’ll end up suffering the effects of the feelings
    • Our cues are simple: Others are going to silence or violence
      • We can see that they're feeling upset, fearful, or angry
  • How?
    • whatever we do to invite the other person to open up and share his or her path, our invitation must be sincere.
  • What?
    • In a word, it requires listening.
      • In order for people to move from acting on their feelings to talking about their conclusions and observations, we must listen in a way that makes it safe for others to share their intimate thoughts
      • They must believe that when they share their thoughts, they won’t offend others or be punished for speaking frankly.

Ask, Mirror, Paraphrase, or Prime (AMPP)

Four power listening tools

  • Ask to Get Things Rolling
    • Invite them to express themselves
    • When we show genuine interest, people feel less compelled to use silence or violence.
    • If you’re willing to stop filling the pool with your meaning and step back and invite the other person to talk about his or her view, it can go a long way toward breaking the downward spiral and getting to the source of the problem.
    • Common invitations include:
      • “What’s going on?”
      • “I’d really like to hear your opinion on this.”
      • “Please let me know if you see it differently.”
      • “Don’t worry about hurting my feelings. I really want to hear your thoughts.”
  • Mirror to Confirm Feelings
    • In mirroring, we take the portion of the other person’s Path to Action we have access to and make it safe for him or her to discuss it.
    • When we mirror, as the name suggests, we play the role of mirror by describing how they look or act.
    • Mirroring is most useful when another person’s tone of voice or gestures (hints about the emotions behind them) are inconsistent with his or her words
    • When reflecting back your observations, take care to manage your tone of voice and delivery.
      • We create safety when our tone of voice says we’re okay with them feeling the way they’re feeling.
      • So as we describe what we see, we have to do so calmly
    • Examples of mirroring include:
      • “You say you’re okay, but by the tone of your voice, you seem upset.”
      • “You seem angry at me.”
      • “You look nervous about confronting him. Are you sure you’re willing to do it?”
  • Paraphrase to Acknowledge the Story
    • When you get a clue about why the person is feeling as he or she does, you can build additional safety by paraphrasing what you’ve heard.
      • Be careful not to simply parrot back what was said.
      • Instead, put the message in your own words—usually in an abbreviated form.
    • The key to paraphrasing, as with mirroring, is to remain calm and collected.
      • Stay focused on figuring out how a reasonable, rational, and decent person could have created this Path to Action. This will help you keep from becoming angry or defensive.
      • Simply rephrase what the person has said, and do it in a way that suggests that it’s okay, you’re trying to understand, and it’s safe for him or her to talk candidly.
    • Don't push too hard
      • The person is still upset, but isn’t explaining his or her stories or facts. At this point, we may want to back off.
        • After a while, our attempts to make it safe for others can start feeling as if we’re pestering or prying.
        • If we push too hard, we violate both purpose and respect
      • Rather than trying to get to the source of the other person’s emotions, we
        1. either gracefully exit
        2. or ask what he or she wants to see happen.
          • Asking people what they want helps them engage their brains in a way that moves to problem solving and away from either attacking or avoiding.
          • It also helps reveal what they think the cause of the problem is.
  • Prime When You're Getting Nowhere
    • Prime when you believe that the other person still has something to share and might do so with a little more effort on your part.
    • The power-listening term “priming” comes from the expression “priming the pump.”
      • With a pump, you often have to pour some water into it to get it running.
      • When it comes to power listening, sometimes you have to offer your best guess at what the other person is thinking or feeling before you can expect him or her to do the same.
      • You have to pour some meaning into the pool before the other person will respond in kind.
    • This is not the kind of thing you would do unless nothing else has worked.
      • You really want to hear from others, and you have a very strong idea of what they’re probably thinking.
      • Priming is an act of good faith, taking risks, becoming vulnerable, and building safety in hopes that others will share their meaning.

But What If They're Wrong?

  • Remember we’re trying to understand their point of view, not necessarily agree with it or support it.
    • Understanding doesn’t equate with agreement.
    • Sensitivity does equate to acquiescence.
  • By taking steps to understand another person’s Path to Action, we are promising that we’ll accept their point of view.



  1. Agree
    • Violent agreement
      • They actually agree on every important point, but they're still fighting
      • They've found a way to turn subtle differences into a raging debate
      • You had to step back and listen to what you were both saying to realize that you weren't really disagreeing, but violently agreeing
    • Most arguments consist of battles over the 5 to 10 percent of the facts and stories that people disagree over.
      • And while it’s true that people eventually need to work through differences, you shouldn’t start there.
      • Start with an area of agreement.
    • Agree when you agree. Don’t turn an agreement into an argument.
  2. Build
    • The reason most of us turn agreements into debates is because we disagree with a certain portion of what the other person has said.
    • We’re trained to look for minor errors from an early age.
      • we learn in kindergarten that if you have the right answer, you’re the teacher’s pet. Being right is good.
      • Of course, if others have the right answer they get to be the pet. So being right first is even better.
      • You learn to look for even the tiniest of errors in others’ facts, thinking, or logic. Then you point out the errors. Being right at the expense of others is best.
    • When you watch people who are skilled in dialogue, they’re looking for points of agreement.
      • As a result, they’ll often start with the words “I agree.”
      • Then they talk about the part they agree with.
      • Rather than saying: “Wrong. You forgot to mention . . .,” they say: “Absolutely. In addition, I noticed that. . .”
    • If you agree with what has been said but the information is incomplete, build.
      1. Point out areas of agreement,
      2. and then add elements that were left out of the discussion.
  3. Compare
    • if you do disagree, compare your path with the other person’s
      • 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.
      • instead of pronouncing “Wrong!”, start with a tentative but candid opening, such as “I think I see things differently. Let me describe how.”
      • Then share your path using the STATE skills

My Crucial Conversation: Daryl K.


  1. To encourage the free flow of meaning and help others leave silence or violence behind, explore their Paths to Action. Start with an attitude of curiosity and patience. This helps restore safety.
  2. Then, use four powerful listening skills to retrace the other person’s Path to Action to its origins.
    Start by simply expressing interest in the other person’s views.
    Increase safety by respectfully acknowledging the emotions people appear to be feeling.
    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.
    If others continue to hold back, prime. Take your best guess at what they may be thinking and feeling.
  3. As you begin to share your views, remember:
    Agree when you share views.
    If others leave something out, agree where you share views, then build.
    When you do differ significantly, don’t suggest others are wrong. Compare your two views.

Move to Action - How to Turn Crucial Conversations into Action and Results

To do nothing is in every man’s power.

  • Having more meaning in the pool, even jointly owning it, doesn’t guarantee that we all agree on what we’re going to do with the meaning.
    • For example, when teams or families meet and generate a host of ideas, they often fail to convert the ideas into action for two reasons:
      1. They have unclear expectations about how decisions will be made
      2. They do a poor job of acting on the decisions they do made
    • It's time we add two final skills
      1. Turn crucial conversations into Actions (make decisions)
      2. Turn Actions into Results (act on the decisions)


  • The two riskiest times in crucial conversations
    the beginning
    you have to find a way to create safety or else things go awry
    the end
    if you aren't careful about how you clarify the conclusion and decisions flowing from your Pool of Shared Meaning, you can run into violated expectations
  • Two problems with decision making?
    1. People may not understand how decisions are going to be made.
    2. No decision gets made
      • ideas slip away and dissipate
      • people can't figure out what to do with them
      • everyone is waiting for everyone else to make the decisions


  • Don’t allow people to assume that dialogue is decision making.
    • Dialogue is a process for getting all relevant meaning into a shared pool.
    • simply because everyone is allowed to share their meaning—actually encouraged to share their meaning—doesn’t mean they are then guaranteed to take part in making all the decisions.
    • To avoid violated expectations, separate dialogue from decision making.
  • Make it clear how decisions will be made— who will be involved and why.
  • When the line of authority is clear
    • When you’re in a position of authority, you decide which method of decision making you’ll use.
    • It’s part of their responsibility as leaders
  • When the line of authority isn't clear
    • deciding how to decide can be quite difficult
    • use your best dialogue skills to get meaning into the pool.
    • Jointly decide how to decide.

The Four Methods of Decision Making

These four options represent increasing degrees of involvement. Increased involvement, of course, brings the benefit of increased commitment along with the curse of decreased decision-making efficiency.

  1. Command
    • No involvement
    • This happens in one of two ways
      1. Outside forces place demands on us
        • With command decisions, it’s not our job to decide what to do.
        • It’s our job to decide how to make it work.
      2. We turn decisions over to others and then follow their lead
        • we decide
          1. either that this is such a low-stakes issue that we don’t care enough to take part
          2. or that we completely trust the ability of the delegate to make the right decision
        • More involvement adds nothing.
        • In strong teams and great relationships, many decisions are made by turning the final choice over to someone we trust to make a good decision.
  2. Consult
    • decision makers invite others to influence them before they make their choice.
    • Consulting can be an efficient way of gaining ideas and support without bogging down the decision-making process
    • They gather ideas, evaluate options, make a choice, and then inform the broader population.
  3. Vote
    • Voting is best suited to situations where
      1. efficiency is the highest value
      2. you’re selecting from a number of good options
    • should never be used when team members don’t agree to support whatever decision is made.
  4. Consensus
    • Consensus means you talk until everyone honestly agrees to one decision.
    • If misapplied, it can also be a horrible waste of time.
    • It should only be used with
      1. high-stakes and complex issues
      2. issues where everyone absolutely must support the final choice.


  • Four Important Questions
    1. Who cares?
      • Determine who genuinely wants to be involved in the decision along with those who will be affected
      • Don’t involve people who don’t care.
    2. Who knows?
      • Identify who has the expertise you need to make the best decision
      • Try not to involve people who contribute no new information.
    3. Who must agree?
      • Think of those whose cooperation you might need in the form of authority or influence in any decisions you might make.
      • It’s better to involve these people than to surprise them and then suffer their open resistance.
    4. How many people is it worth involving?
      • Your goal should be to involve the fewest number of people while still considering the quality of the decision along with the support that people will give it.
      • Ask:
        • Do we have enough people to make a good choice?
        • Will others have to be involved to gain their commitment?
  • a great exercise for teams or couples, particularly those that are frustrated about decision making.
    1. Make a list of some of the important decisions made in the team or relationship.
    2. Then discuss how each decision is currently made, and how each should be made—using the four important questions.
    3. After discussing each decision, decide how you will make decisions in the future.


  • To avoid common traps, make sure you consider the following four elements:
    1. Who?

      Everybody’s business is nobody’s business.

      • When it's time to pass out assignments, remember, there is no "we."
        • "We," when it comes to assignments, actually means, "not me."
        • Even when individuals are not trying to duck an assignment, the term "we" can lead them to believe that others are taking on the responsibility.
      • Assign a name to every responsibility
        • This especially applies at home.
        • If you assign two or three people to take on a task, appoint one of them the responsible party.
          • Otherwise, any sense of responsibility will be lost in a flurry of finger-pointing later on.
    2. Does what?
      • Be sure to spell out the exact deliverables you have in mind
      • The fuzzier the expectations, the higher the likelihood of disappointment
      • Better to spend the time up front clarifying exactly what you want rather than waste resources and hurt feelings on the back end.
      • To help clarify deliverables, use Contrasting.
        • If you’ve seen people misunderstand an assignment in the past, explain the common mistake as an example of what you don’t want.
        • If possible, point to physical examples.
          • Rather than talk in the abstract, bring a prototype or sample.
    3. By when?
      • With vague or unspoken deadlines, other urgencies come up, and the assignment finds its way to the bottom of the pile, where it is soon forgotten.
      • Assignments without deadlines are far better at producing guilt than stimulating action.
      • Goals without deadlines aren’t goals; they’re merely directions.
    4. How will you follow up?
      • Always agree on how often and by what method you’ll follow up on the assignment.
      • Remember, if you want people to feel accountable, you must give them an opportunity to account
      • Build an expectation for follow-up into every assignment.


One dull pencil is worth six sharp minds

  • Don’t leave your hard work to memory
  • Write down the details of conclusions, decisions, and assignments.
  • Remember to record who does what by when
  • Revisit your notes at key times (usually the next meeting) and review assignments.
  • As you review what was supposed to be completed, hold people accountable.
    • When someone fails to deliver on a promise, it’s time for dialogue
    • STATE My Path - How to Speak Persuasively, Not Abrasively
    • By holding people accountable,
      1. not only do you increase their motivation and ability to deliver on promises,
      2. but you create a culture of integrity.


Turn your successful crucial conversations into great decisions and united action by avoiding the two traps of violated expectations and inaction.

  1. Decide How to Decide
    Decisions are made without involving others.
    Input is gathered from the group and then a subset decides.
    An agreed-upon percentage swings the decision.
    Everyone comes to an agreement and then supports the final decision.
  2. Finish Clearly
    • Determine who does what by when.
    • Make the deliverables crystal clear.
    • Set a follow-up time.
    • Record the commitments and then follow up.
    • Finally, hold people accountable to their promises.

Yeah, But - Advice for Tough Cases [17/17]

  • people can think of a dozen reasons why the skills we’ve been talking about don’t apply to the situations they care about.
  • In truth, the dialogue skills we’ve shared apply to just about any problem you can imagine.
  • we’ve chosen seventeen tough cases. We’ll take a moment to share a thought or two on each.


  • Generally speaking, a vast majority of these problems go away if they’re privately, respectfully, and firmly discussed.
  • If you put up with this behavior for too long, you’ll be inclined to tell a more and more potent Villain Story about the offender.
  • If you can be respectful and private but firm in this conversation, most problem behavior will stop.


  • Often couples come to an unspoken agreement during the first year or so of their marriage that affects how they communicate for the rest of their marriage.
  • This is generally a problem of not knowing how to STATE Your Path.
  • When something bothers you, catch it early.
  • Contrasting can also help.
  • Learn to Look for signs that safety is at risk, and Make It Safe.
    • When you STATE things well and others become defensive, refuse to conclude that the issue is impossible to discuss.
    • Think harder about your approach.
    • Step out of the content, do what it takes to make sure your partner feels safe, and then try again to candidly STATE your view.
  • When spouses stop giving each other helpful feedback,
    • they lose out on the help of a lifelong confidant and coach.
    • They miss out on hundreds of opportunities to help each other communicate more effectively.


  • The Danger Point
    • The worst teams walk away from problems like these.
    • In good teams, the boss eventually deals with problem behavior.
    • In the best teams, every team member is part of the system of accountability
      • If team members see others violate a team agreement, they speak up immediately and directly.
      • It’s dangerous to wait for or expect the boss to do what good teammates should do themselves.
  • The Solution
    • If your teammate isn’t doing what you think he or she should, it’s up to you to speak up.
    • When teams try to rally around aggressive change or bold new initiatives,
      • they need to be prepared to address the problem when a team member doesn’t live up to the agreement.
      • Success does not depend on perfect compliance with new expectations, but on teammates who hold crucial conversations with one another when others appear to be reverting to old patterns.


  • The Danger Point
    • When leaders face deference—or what feels like kissing up—they typically make one of two mistakes.
      1. they misdiagnose the cause (fear)
        1. Often, leaders are causing the fear but denying it.
          • Learn to Look - How to Notice When Safety Is at Risk
        2. Often, people treat their leaders like celebrities or dictators, regardless of the fact that they’ve done nothing to deserve it.
      2. they try to banish deference with a brash command.
        • If you don’t say something, it’ll probably continue.
        • If you do say something, you may be inadvertently encouraging it to continue.
  • The Solution
    • Work on me first
      • Discover your part in the problem
      • Don't ask your direct reports.
        • If they're already deferring to you, they'll whitewash the problem.
        • Consult with a peer who watches you in action.
      • Ask for honest feedback
        • Are you doing things that cause people to defer to you?
        • If so, what?
      • Jointly develop a plan of attack, work on it, and seek continued feedback.
    • If the problem stems from ghosts (the actions of previous leaders), go public.
      • Describe the problem in a group or team meeting and then ask for advice.
      • Reward risk takers. Encourage Testing.
        • When people do express an opinion contrary to yours, thank them for their honesty.
        • Play devil’s advocate.
      • If you need to, leave the room. Give people some breathing space.


  • The Danger Point
    • People often assume that trust is something you have or don’t have.
    • Trust doesn’t have to be universally offered.
      • In truth, it’s usually offered in degrees and is very topic specific.
      • It also comes in two flavors
        1. motive
        2. ability
  • Solution
    • Deal with trust around the issue, not around the person.
      • When it comes to regaining trust in others, don’t set the bar too high.
        • Just try to trust them in the moment, not across all issues.
      • To Make It Safe for yourself in the moment, bring up your concerns
      • Tentatively STATE what you see happening
      • If they play games, call them on it
    • Don't use your mistrust as a club to punish people.
      • If they’ve earned your mistrust in one area, don’t let it bleed over into your overall perception of their character.
      • If you tell yourself a Villain Story that exaggerates others’ untrustworthiness, you’ll act in ways that help them justify themselves in being even less worthy of your trust.
      • You’ll start up a self-defeating cycle and get more of what you don’t want.


  • The Danger Point
    • It’s common to blame others for not wanting to stay in dialogue as if it were some kind of genetic disorder.
    • If others don’t want to talk about tough issues, it’s because they believe that it won’t do any good.
  • The Solution
    • Work on me first.
      • Start with simple challenges
      • Don't go for the really touch issues
      • Do your best to Make It Safe
      • Separate intent from outcome
      • In short, start simply and then bring all your dialogue tools into play.
    • Exercise patience
      • Don't nag
      • Don't lose hope and then go to violence
      • If you’re constantly on your best dialogue behavior, you’ll build more safety in the relationship and your spouse will be more likely to begin picking up on the cues and start coming around.
    • When you see signs of improvement, you can accelerate the growth by inviting your spouse to talk with you about how you talk.
      • Your challenge here is to build safety by establishing a compelling Mutual Purpose.
      • You need to help your partner see a reason for having this conversation—a reason that is so compelling that he or she will be willing to take part.
        1. Share what you think the consequences of having or not having this conversation could be (both positive and negative).
        2. Explain what it means to both you and the relationship.
        3. Then invite your spouse to help identify the topics you have a hard time discussing.
        4. Take turns describing how you both tend to approach these topics.
        5. Then discuss the possible benefits of helping each other make improvements.
      • Sometimes if you can’t talk about the tough topics, you can more easily talk about how you talk—or don’t talk—about them. That helps get things started.


  • The Danger Point
    • If people simply bother you at some abstract level, maybe what they’re doing isn’t worthy of a conversation.
    • Perhaps the problem is not their behavior but your tolerance.
    • When actions are both subtle and unacceptable, then you have to retrace your Path to Action and put your finger on exactly what others are doing or you have nothing to discuss.
  • The Solution
    1. Retrace your Path to Action to its source.
    2. Identify specific behaviors that are out of bounds and take note.
    3. When you’ve done your homework, consider the behaviors you noted and make sure the story you’re telling yourself about these behaviors is important enough for dialogue.
    4. If it is, then Make It Safe and STATE Your Path.


  • The Danger Point
    • Most people are far more likely to talk about the presence of a bad behavior than the absence of a good one.
      • When someone really messes up, leaders and parents alike are compelled to take action.
      • However, when people simply fail to be excellent, it’s hard to know what to say.
  • The Solution
    • Establish new and higher expectations
      • 12 Superpower #4: Stretch for Amazing (OKRs empower us to achieve the seemingly impossible.)
      • Don’t deal with a specific instance; deal with the overall pattern.
      • If you want someone to show more initiative, tell him or her.
      • Give specific examples of when the person ran into a barrier and then backed off after a single try.
      • Raise the bar and then make it crystal clear what you’ve done.
      • Jointly brainstorm what the person could have done to be both more persistent and more creative in coming up with a solution.
    • Pay attention to ways you are compensating for someone’s lack of initiative.
      1. Have you made yourself responsible for following up? If so, talk with that person about assuming this responsibility.
      2. Have you asked more than one person to take the same assignment so you can be sure it will get done? If so, talk to the person originally assigned about reporting progress to you early so you only need to put someone else on the job when there’s a clear need for more resources.
    • Stop acting out your expectations that others won’t take initiative.
      • Instead, talk your expectations out and come to agreements that place the responsibility on the team members while giving you information early enough that you aren’t left high and dry.


  • The Danger Point
    • Some crucial conversations go poorly because you’re having the wrong conversations.
    • If you continue to return to the original problem (coming in late) without talking about the new problem (failing to live up to commitments), you’re stuck in “Groundhog Day.”
    • If you return to the same initial problem, you’re like Bill Murray in the movie—you’re forced to relive the same situation over and over rather than deal with the bigger problem.
    • Nothing ever gets resolved.


  • The Solution
    • you shouldn’t let serious problems go unresolved.
    • It’s perfectly okay to suggest that you need some time alone and that you’d like to pick up the discussion later on—say, tomorrow.
  • As a side note on this topic, it’s not such a good idea to tell others that they need to calm down or that they need to take some time out.
    • They may need the time, but it’s hard to suggest it without coming off as patronizing.
    • With others, get back to the source of their anger. Retrace their Path to Action.


  • It’s easy to be lulled into a series of never-ending excuses—particularly if the other person
    • doesn’t want to do what you’ve asked
    • learns that as long as he or she can give you a plausible reason, all bets are off.
  • The Solution
    • With “imaginative” people, take a preemptive strike against all new excuses.
    • Gain a commitment to solve the overall problem, not simply the stated cause.
    • Ask the person to deal with the problem
    • Then remember, as the excuses accumulate, don’t talk about the most recent excuse; talk about the pattern.


  • The trouble is, insubordination is so rare that it takes most leaders by surprise.
    • So they buy time to figure out what to do.
    • And in so doing, they let the person get away with something that was way out of line.
    • Worse still, their perceived indifference makes them an accomplice to all future abuses.
  • The Solution
    • Show zero tolerance for insubordination.
      • Speak up immediately, but respectfully.
      • Change topics from the issue at hand to how the person is currently acting.
    • Catch the escalating disrespect before it turns into abuse and insubordination.
      • Let the person know that his or her passion for the issue at hand is leading down a dangerous trail.
    • If you can’t catch it early, discuss the insubordination and seek help from HR specialists.


  • The Danger Point
    • when we tell ourselves an ugly story and then sit on it, it only gets worse.
    • Stories left unattended don’t get better with time—they ferment.
    • Then, when we eventually can’t take it anymore, we say something we regret.
  • The Solution
    1. don’t repress your story. Use your STATE skills early on, before the story turns too ugly.
    2. Set aside a time when you can discuss it in a calm fashion.
      • if you have let the problem build, don’t hold the crucial conversation while angry.
      • Then, using your STATE skills, explain what you’ve seen and heard, and tentatively tell the most simple and least offensive story.
    3. If you do say something horrible, apologize.
      • You can’t unring the bell, but you can apologize.
      • Then STATE Your Path.


  • The Danger Point
    • Most people avoid sensitive issues
      • When fear and misapplied compassion rule over honesty and courage, people can go for years without being given information that could be extremely helpful.
      • When people do speak up, they often leap from silence to violence.
    • Also, the longer you go without saying anything, the greater the pain when you finally deliver the message.
  • The Solution
    • Use Contrasting
    • Establish Mutual Purpose
      • Let the other person know your intentions are honorable.
      • Also explain that you’re reluctant to bring up the issue because of its personal nature, but since the problem is interfering with the person’s effectiveness, you really must.
    • Tentatively describe the problem.
      • Don’t play it up or pile it on.
      • Describe the specific behaviors and then move to solutions.
      • Although these discussions are never easy, they certainly don’t have to be offensive or insulting.


  • The Danger Point
    • Not only do these inventive people have the ability to conjure up creative excuses, but they also have the energy and will to do so incessantly.
    • Eventually they wear you down.
    • As a result, they get away with doing less or doing it poorly,
  • The Solution
    • Tentatively STATE the pattern of splitting hairs and playing word games.
    • Let them know they aren’t fooling anyone.
    • In this case, don’t focus exclusively on actions, because creative people can always find new inappropriate actions,
    • Talk about both behaviors and outcomes.
      • Use previous behavior as an example, and then hold them accountable to results.
      • Don’t get pulled into discussing any one instance. Stick with the pattern.


  • The Danger Point
    • Leaders who are constantly being surprised allow it to happen.
      • The first time an employee says, “Sorry, but I ran into a problem,” the leaders miss the point. They listen to the problem, work on it, and then move on to a new topic.
      • In so doing, they are saying: “It’s okay to surprise me. If you have a legitimate excuse, stop what you’re doing, turn your efforts to something else, and then wait until I show up to spring the news.”
  • The Solution
    • Make it perfectly clear that once you’ve given an assignment, there are only two acceptable paths.
      1. Employees need to complete the assignment as planned
      2. or if they run into a problem, they need to immediately inform you. (No surprises)
    • Clarify the “no surprises” rule.
      • The first time someone comes back with a legitimate excuse—but he or she didn’t tell you when the problem first came up—deal with this as the new problem.
      • “We agreed that you’d let me know immediately. I didn’t get a call. What happened?”


  • The Danger Point
    • When you look at a continuum of dialogue skills, most of us (by definition) fall in the middle.
    • The danger, of course, is that the other person isn’t as bad as you think—you bring out the worst in him or her
    • or that he or she really is that bad, and you try to address all the problems at once.
  • The Solution
    • How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
    • Choose your targets very carefully. Consider two dimensions
      1. What bothers you the most?
      2. What might be the easiest to work on?
    • Deal with one element, one day at a time.

Putting It All Together - Tools for Preparing and Learning

  • This chapter will help with the daunting task of making dialogue tools and skills memorable and usable.
    1. simplify things by sharing what we’ve heard from people who have changed their lives by using these skills.
    2. lay out a model that can help you visually organize the seven dialogue principles.
    3. walk you through an example of a crucial conversation where all the dialogue principles are applied.


  • Over the years, people often tell us that the principles and skills contained in this book have helped them a great deal. But how?
    • some people make progress by picking one skill that they know will help them get to dialogue in a current crucial conversation.
    • others focus less on skills and more on principles.
  • two high-leverage ways of getting started with increasing your capacity to get to dialogue by becoming more conscious of these two key principles.
    1. Learn to Look
      • people who improve their dialogue skills continually ask themselves whether they’re in or out of dialogue.
        • They may not know exactly how to fix the specific problem they’re facing, but they do know that if they’re not in dialogue, it can’t be good.
        • And then they try something to get back to dialogue.
        • As it turns out, trying something is better than doing nothing.
      • Many people get additional help in learning to look from their friends.
        • As they share concepts and ideas, they learn a common vocabulary.
        • This shared way of talking about crucial conversations helps people change.
      • Perhaps the most common way that the language of dialogue finds itself into everyday conversation is with the expression, “I think we’ve moved away from dialogue.”
        • This simple reminder helps people catch themselves early on, before the damage is severe.
    2. Make It Safe
      • When you notice that you and others have moved away from dialogue, do something to make it safer. Anything.
      • If you simply realize that your challenge is to make it safer, nine out of ten times you’ll intuitively do something that helps.
      • virtually every skill we’ve covered in this book, from Contrasting to Priming, offers a tool for building safety.


Principle Skill Crucial Question
1. Start with Heart (Chapter 3) Focus on what you really want. What am I acting like I really want?
    What do I really want?
    - For me?
    - For others?
    - For the relationship?
    How would I behave if I really did want this?
  Refuse the Sucker's Choice. What do I not want?
    How should I go about getting what I really want and avoiding what I don't want?
2. Learn to Look (Chapter 4) Look for when the conversation becomes crucial. Am I going to silence or violence? Are others?
  Look for safety problems.  
  Look for our own Style Under Stress  
3. Make It Safe (Chapter 5) Apologize when appropriate. Why is safety at risk?
  Contrast to fix misunderstanding. - Have I established Mutual Purpose?
  CRIB to get to Mutual Purpose. - Am I maintaining Mutual Respect?
    What will I do to rebuild safety?
4. Master My Stories (Chapter 6) Retrace my Path to Action. What is my story?
  Separate fact from story. Watch for Three Clever Stories.  
  Tell the rest of the story. What am I pretending not to know about my role in the problem?
    Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do this?
    What should I do right now to move toward what I really want?
5. STATE My Path (Chapter 7) Share your facts. Am I really open to others' views?
  Tell your story. Am I talking about the real issue?
  Ask for others' paths. Am I confidently expressing my own views?
  Talk tentatively.  
  Encourage testing.  
6. Explore Others' Paths (Chapter 8) Ask. Am I actively exploring others' views?
  Agree. Am I avoiding unnecessary disagreement?
7. Move to Action (Chapter 9) Decide how you'll decide. How will we make decisions?
  Document decisions and follow up. Who will do what by when?
    How will we follow up?

My Crucial Conversation: Afton P.

  • it is possible to be both candid and respectful with the right set of skills.
  • Knowledge of Crucial Conversations skills helped me turn an intimidating experience into a memorable and meaningful opportunity to stand up for something I believed in.


  • identify crucial moments
    • moments when people’s actions disproportionately affect their organizations, their relationships, and their lives
    • The current quality of your leadership and your life is fundamentally a function of how you are presently handling these moments.
  • Our sole motivation in writing this book has been to help you profoundly improve the results you care about most.
    • Take action.
    • Identify a crucial conversation you could improve now.
    • Use the tools in this last chapter to identify the principle or skill that will help you approach it in a more effective way than you ever have.
    • Then give it a try.
  • you need not be perfect to make progress.

Afterword - What I've Learned About Crucial Conversations in the Past Ten Years

The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes of mind.


  1. We teach that “when it matters most, we often do our worst.” I’ve learned that sometimes when it hardly matters at all, we can do our worst.
  2. We have to find and ask the right question to get the right solution.
  3. Crucial conversations belong to the first person to see them. I don’t solve the issues; I just make sure they are brought up in a safe way.
  4. There are a lot of people who are teaching me new lessons about crucial conversations.


  • I have become more and more aware of
    1. how true emotions can feel during crucial moments
    2. how false they really are
  • how much these emotions can corrupt my view of those closest to me
    • When I am in the grip of Victim, Villain, and Helpless Stories, when my motives degenerate and I am driven by a desperate need to be right—I don’t see others as they really are.
    • Even my precious son can look like a monster.
  • Our emotions are incredibly plastic.
    • In crucial moments they are almost always wrong.
    • With practice, we can gain incredible power to change them.
    • And as we change them, not only do we learn to change how we see those around us, but we learn to change our very lives as well.



  • If you do everything we tell you to do in this book, exactly the way we tell you to do it, and the other person doesn’t want to dialogue, dialogue will not take place.
    • The other person has the ability to choose how to respond to your efforts.
    • These skills are not techniques for controlling others; they are not tools for manipulating behavior or eliminating others’ agency.
    • These skills have limits and do not guarantee that other people will behave in exactly the way you desire.
  • The title of the book is Crucial Conversations; “conversations” is plural, meaning many, not one.
    • The temptation is to think of a crucial conversation as “my one chance to solve this problem” or as “the one conversation needed to save a relationship” or as “the one opportunity to make everything right.”
    • See the single crucial conversation as the beginning of a dialogue
      • the first step toward making a negative relationship positive,
      • the first of many steps necessary to right a wrong
    • Seek to have not just a conversation based on Mutual Purpose and Mutual Respect, but rather a rich relationship based on these conditions
    • To see these principles and skills as ways of building relationships, teams, and families over time is to take a longer-term perspective.
    • The wisest use of these skills is to develop habits, lives, and loves, not to use them just occasionally in single interactions.
    • Consistently applied principles can have a strong influence over time.
  • If you use these skills exactly the way we tell you to and the other person doesn’t want to dialogue, you won’t get to dialogue. However, if you persist over time, refusing to take offense, making your motive genuine, showing respect, and constantly searching for Mutual Purpose, then the other person will almost always join you in dialogue.