Clearly, one of the more difficult conversations in which we engage as leaders is classified as a Crucial Conversation.  Anecdotally I know this is a topic of great interest to leaders as “Engaging in Difficult Dialogue” was my most requested workshop for years… my apology for the shameless self-promotion.

Before I share with you a tip that has benefitted me over the years, let’s start by defining a “Crucial Conversation.” In their book “Crucial Conversations,” the authors identify four factors that elevate a regular conversation to a “Crucial Conversation.”

  1. It’s emotionally charged
  2. There are high stakes
  3. The topic is sensitive in nature
  4. There is more than one opinion present

Even for the skilled communicator, a conversation with all four of those factors present is a conversation that will be challenging to navigate. However, I am convinced that with the right tools (the book is full of them) you can certainly increase your effectiveness during these conversations.

So how about that tip…if you are engaging in a conversation and you find yourself ready to immediately disagree with something that has been said…you know that point where your forehead tightens, your palms get sweaty, and your heart starts racing…take these two preemptive steps.

Step One: Clarify

As simple as this may seem, oftentimes disagreements and debates are directly linked to the fact that we did not hear exactly what was said. At some point while the person was still speaking, our brains started processing information and formulating a response. As a result, we unknowingly missed part of the conversation.

Clarifying is simply taking a step to make sure the words we believe we heard are the words that were actually spoken. It goes something like this, “Just to clarify, did I hear you say that I don’t give people the benefit of the doubt?”

The beauty in clarifying is two-fold. If we missed part of the conversation, the speaker will be given an opportunity to repeat herself. If we heard the words correctly, then we are free to move on to step two.

Step Two: Confirm

The purpose of confirming is to ensure the meaning we have ascribed to the words is the meaning the speaker has in mind. Words often serve as triggers; eliciting a deep emotional response that may or may not be appropriate to the situation.

Confirming goes something like this, “So when you say that I don’t give people the benefit of the doubt, are you saying that I simply jump to conclusions and act without thinking?” Much like clarifying above, if we have misunderstood what was meant the speaker now has an opportunity to clarify himself. If however, the speaker confirms our understanding, we can proceed with discussing my tendency to jump to conclusions…something I rarely do by the way…just ask my family…Well…maybe you shouldn’t ask them.

Do you have any communication tips to share, anything that seems to work well for you? I would love to hear from you.


Interested in purchasing a copy Crucial Conversations, follow this link to do so.