The Importance of Crucial Conversations
Jacquelyn Ferguson, MS
Do you avoid difficult workplace (or personal) conversations where you fear the outcome will be uncomfortable? If so, read “Crucial Conversations” by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler (McGraw-Hill, 2002.)
According to these authors an organization’s effectiveness is strongly determined by its employees’ willingness to have crucial conversations. They found in the worst organizations poor performers are ignored then transferred. In good organizations supervisors eventually handle problem situations. In high performing organizations’ employees willingly and effectively speak to someone who fails to deliver on promises. Everyone is held accountable regardless of their level.
Difficult conversations usually trigger your stress cycle; therefore defensive behavior (my words not theirs,) bring out your worst behavior (their words). What’s your worst behavior? It’s not pretty, is it? You’d probably be as embarrassed as I to have people you respect see you behave that way.
To move beyond your automatic, defensive reactions and your worst behavior determine what – or whom – is actually causing your problem. Is it really that co-worker who aggravates you so, or might it your own interpretation of that person?
I’ve frequently written about how negative judgments of others trigger your worst behavior. These authors approach this formula differently, which may help you see that your own interpretations determine your emotional reactions and behavior.
Their advice is to ask yourself why the other person is behaving as he is. A simple example from a program I recently presented, “Collaborative Communication.” During our lunch break an attendee had to wait a long time at a Subway shop where there was only one employee working. He was doing his best and actually, according to my attendee, was doing quite well. He waited on four people at a time, taking each sandwich through the same steps together. All four customers had to wait for all four sandwiches to be made together.
Upon his return to our classroom, my attendee explained his own impatience was because the employee was disorganized (negative judgment). In my attendee’s mind, it was the employee’s disorganization that made the attendee impatient. Another attendee offered a different perspective. She suggested that the Subway employee probably didn’t want to take off and put on his plastic gloves repeatedly, so he made multiple sandwiches together. My attendee thought this seemed a likely explanation and said he probably wouldn’t have been impatient if he’d looked at it that way.
In other words, the label “disorganized” is what caused the attendee to become impatient, not the Subway employee’s system.
Who drives you the most nuts? Why is that person doing what he’s doing? Your explanation, your “why,” triggers your emotions therefore you reaction. The other person doesn’t make you feel as you do, therefore cannot be responsible for your reaction.
To have an important conversation that you’re now avoiding, prepare for it by asking yourself, “What’s your problem person’s behavior and why is he acting that way?” Next week I’ll address how to handle your negative why.
Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple.