Crucial Conversations

Tools for Talking when Stakes are High

Insightful guide to having better, more effective conversations. Somewhat relevant if you interact with other human beings at any point in your life.

30 second summary

Coming soon!

2 more minutes of summary

Coming soon!

So far I only have a collection of quotes and notes. Will break out into a series of posts at some point!

When is something a crucial conversation? When emotions run high, stakes are high, and opinions differ. Be on the look-out for crucial conversations so that you can approach them in a mindful way.

Being able to converse successfully is hugely important. Research finds that people’s ability to have crucial conversations is critical to success – it predicts marriage success, health outcomes, and business success. We want people contributing to the common dialogue and the shared pool of information. This enhances a group’s/team’s/partnership’s ability to solve problems.

But, human beings are wired to perform poorly in crucial conversations; the flight or fight response to stress does not promote patient thinking, calm responses, and other behavior that is conducive to good communication. Also, people are programmed to try to win, and thus people lose sight of their motives throughout a conversation. The motive shifts from what they were trying to actually achieve to just winning and/or defending themselves.

Major Theme: It’s not the content of the communication that makes people afraid to converse or makes them react negatively or defensively…it’s whether they feel safe or not. A good conversation cannot take place unless everyone feels safe.

You must make sure people feel SAFE in conversations. Learn to look for unsafe situations. Recognize when a conversation has become crucial. Look out for people moving to “silence or violence” where they either stop communicating or start attacking (sarcasm, insults, etc.).

Be ready to step out of the content of the conversation. If you sense someone feels unsafe, stop the conversation and focus on reestablishing safety. Then, once safety is restored, step back into the conversation.

Be clear on your motives and keep coming back to them. Focus on what you want for yourself, for the other person, and for both of you. Ask yourself “How would I behave if that is really what I want.”

Provide clarity by saying what you don’t want. This is called adding contrast. “I don’t want you to think that you’re underappreciated or that I think you’re bad at your job.”

Don’t confuse the strategy people are using to achieve their objectives with their objectives. As in, your partner might say that he or she wants to stay in tonight, but that’s just one strategy for achieving a higher purpose (in this example that might be feeling relaxed). Avoid the fool’s choice where you think you have to make a decision among a limited set of strategies. Sometimes you need to keep searching for better strategies of achieving an objective.

You CAN have conversations about difficult topics and maintain respect. It’s possible. Believe it.

The more time you spend upfront getting everyone onboard with a decision saves time down the road via enhanced commitment and unity in support of the decision.



Commit to a mutual purpose (a win-win or something you can both agree upon).

Recognize the objective behind the strategy (the other person may be employing a strategy to get to a higher-level objective).

Invent mutual purpose, if one doesn’t exist.

Brainstorm new strategies; find a solution that serves everyone.

Emotions/feelings do not come directly from what we see and hear. There is an intermediary step called storytelling. We tell ourselves a story about what we see and hear. These stories create feelings. We are in control of the storytelling.

Learn to listen well. The author’s suggest better listening through AMPP:

Ask. Get the other person talking by prompting them.

Mirror. Say things like “I am sensing you are angry or disappointed” to help them clarify their message.

Paraphrase. Put their message into your words and summarize to confirm comprehension.

Prime. If all else fails, guess at what they might be trying to say. “Could it be you resent me for xyz…?”

Another acronym used in the book is STATE, for better communication.

State the facts.

Tell your story. This is different than the facts and involves your perceptions and feelings.

Ask for the other person’s story.

Talk tentatively

Encourage testing. Try to see if you can get to shared meaning.

Here is a good summary on the book.