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Crucial Conversations: Change the way you communicate.

Karen Blatter, IKS Director of Support, and Karen Titolo, IKS Academy Director, discuss the tools needed to manage crucial conversations. How can you step up to life's most difficult and important conversations, say what's on your mind, and achieve positive resolutions.

What is a crucial conversation?

Karen Blatter defined a crucial conversation as any time there are strong emotions involved, positive or negative, and there is something at stake or something that could be lost.

Crucial conversations can be stressful.

Typically, there are two ways that we deal with stress. Silence (withdrawing) or violence (becoming verbally aggressive). It's important that you know how you typically respond in these kinds of conversations, so that you can start to see those triggers and avoid them.

Before you start a critical conversation,

Ask yourself 3 questions about what you want from this conversation.

  • 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 those results?

To begin, share your facts.

Start your crucial conversation by building trust with observable facts. To succeed in crucial conversations, we must really care about the interests of others - not just our own.

Review the observable facts (what you saw and heard). But be very careful that you are not confusing how you see things as facts, or your opinion as facts.

Facts tell us what happened and can be proven true or false. Dates and times are facts that can be proven.

Opinions are attitudes or judgments that can’t be proven right or wrong. I like vanilla ice cream.

Next, tell your story in a respectful way.

Our story comes from our personal experiences, perceptions and beliefs and it drives everything that we do. When we see and hear something that affects us, we tell ourselves a story explaining what happened, which then drives how we feel and behave. So, remember your heart and mutual respect. If you move away from those guiding principles, focus the conversation back to those principles.

  • What do I want for myself?

  • What do I want for others?

  • What do I want for the relationship?

  • And am I being respectful while telling my story?

Contrasting statements.

Practicing contrasting statements is one of the most important crucial conversation skills. When someone in a crucial conversation mistrusts your motives, you can use the technique of contrasting to help reassure them and get the dialogue back on track. You do it by first stating what you don’t want or intend, followed by what you do want. I don’t want you to be hurt or us to just argue. I want us to be able to find a conclusion to this.

Talk Tentatively.

When you ask others to share their story, how you phrase your invitation makes a big difference. Not only should you invite others to talk, but you have to do so in a way that makes it clear that no matter how controversial their ideas might be, you want to hear them. Talking tentatively helps build trust. It shows concern for another person and may help address your meaning.

Move to action.

The two riskiest times in a crucial conversation tend to be at the beginning and at the end. The beginning is risky because you have to find a way to create safety or else things go awry. The end is dicey because if you aren't careful about how you clarify the conclusion you can run into violated expectations later on. Decide how to decide. Who will make a decision and when? How will you follow up? Does anything need to be recorded? Focus on your desired result and decide on the next steps. Hold people accountable to their promises.

STATE is an acronym and stands for:

  • State your facts

    • Share your facts

    • Tell your story

    • Ask for the others’ stories

      • Ask

      • Mirror

      • Paraphrase

      • Prime

    • Talk tentatively

    • Encourage testing

      • Agree

      • Build

      • Compare

Patterson, Granny, McMillian, Switzler. (2012). Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high (2nd ed.).


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