Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Crucial Conversations - Tips for having, not avoiding, tough conversations

Kari Lewis
MSU Extension - Glacier County

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a Crucial Conversations training led by Paul Lachapelle, an MSU Extension Community Development specialist.  Today I’ll share a bit of that training.

The idea for Crucial Conversations, that if we don’t talk it out, we end up acting it out.  Crucial conversations are talks where there’s opposing opinions, strong emotions, and high stakes. 

The first step in a Crucial Conversation is to identify where you are stuck.  Are there bad results you want to fix, good results you currently aren’t able to achieve, or continual problems?  This is an appropriate time to think CPR: Content (is this a single incidence?), Pattern (what recurring behavior is there?), and Relationship (how is this situation affecting your relationship?). 

Before beginning a conversation, we need to make sure our motives are healthy and seeking truth.  The first thing that deteriorates during a crucial conversation is not our behavior, but our motive.  We tend to see people not as THEY are, but as WE are, and project our wants, needs, experiences, and values on them (good or bad).  We may need to retrain our brain to think about what WE need together, versus just what I want.

It is also crucial to separate fact from story.  The three common story types are “It’s not my fault!” (the victim), “It’s all your fault!” (the villain) or “There’s nothing I can do, anyway!” (The helpless). 

As we talk, we need to state our facts, tell our story, ask for the other person’s ideas and viewpoints, talk tentatively, and encourage feedback.  Some examples of these include phrases such as, “Based on these facts, it leads me to conclude….”  “Can you help me understand….” Or “How do you see it?” instead of “Don’t you think that…”  We should also strive to avoid absolutes such as “The only reasonable option is….” and instead, use phrases such as, “One solution that may meet our goals would be to….” 

To build a safe environment for these conversations, there needs to be mutual purpose (recognizing shared goals) and mutual respect (caring about each other and your relationship), and it helps to paraphrase the other side’s story as you go.

Lastly, it’s critical to move to action.  This is where the issues have been established and you determine who does what by when, a follow-up time is set, and there is accountability for follow up. 
Most everything I’ve talked about today is often easier said than done, but the reality is we only get better at these conversations by having these conversations.  Research shows that nearly 2 in 3 of us say a conversation gone wrong has permanently damaged a relationship, and over half of us say the effects of a life-altering conversation we’ve had will last forever.  I encourage you to apply these ideas in your next crucial conversation, and remember George Bernard Shaw’s quote of, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” 

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