Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High

Benjamin Dunford

Dr. Benjamin Dunford, Associate Professor of Management, Krannert Graduate School of Management, Purdue University 

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High (2nd edition) by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, Switzler, & Roppe, 2013

Have you ever struggled to know how to have a productive confrontation with someone over a sensitive, complex or controversial matter? Have you ever struggled with deficiencies in your interpersonal skills? I certainly have, and I am always eager to learn how to improve relationships and influence people. In my quest, I found a number of life-changing insights in the book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High.

Two insights especially resonated with me. The first is that we can influence our behavior by being more selective and intentional about the stories we tell ourselves when making attributions or observations about events we experience or statements made by others. Patterson and colleagues use the term “clever stories” to identify narratives we think, write or tell that are self-serving, justify our own bad behavior and impede needed change in ourselves.

A second key insight from the book is a step-by-step model about how to effectively confront others. This model suggests that effective confrontation starts with stating a specific fact, event or behavior and then describing its outcomes as you perceive them, being careful not to make inferences about the person. There is more to the model I won’t duplicate here, but Patterson and colleagues suggest that as we talk through this sequence with others, seeking their perspectives without judgement, we are less likely to put them on the defensive and more likely to come to a workable solution.

As a result of reading this book, I have become more skilled at eliminating counterproductive narratives and have noticed improvements in the long-term outcomes of difficult conversations. I strongly recommend this book to anyone seeking to be more effective in interpersonal relationships.

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