Crucial Conversations : Strengthen Relationships & Contribute Better

by Srikant Chellappa Jul 2,2021

The People Strategy Leaders Podcast

with Srikant Chellappa, CEO

From the leader’s desk on the importance of ‘crucial conversations‘ by Engagedly’s Director of Human Resources Preeti Mathur.

Jerry and Vilina were having an argument while on a zoom call. As participants tried to calm them down, they were becoming more and more unmanageable. The host decided to discontinue the meeting abruptly and the agenda remained incomplete.  

Haven’t we come across such scenarios in our day-to-day interactions? Be it professional or personal, many times simple conversations seem to take an ugly turn. This in turn has our relationships impacted negatively, some for a short period of time, while others to last forever! How can we then have conversations that still make sense, despite a difference in opinion? When stakes are high, can we still remain calm and think positively?

One such book that answers all these questions is Crucial Conversations by authors Patterson, Granny, McMillan & Switzler. The approach to handling such sensitive conversations with utmost presence of mind, yet keeping it simple and more grounded with facts, is the essence of the book.

Also Read: Create A Positive Workplace Culture For Your Employees

Engagedly’s book club members read the book and shared their thoughts from their practical experiences. The discussion felt like a journey, interesting to the ears as well as rich in learning. Managers could relate to the tough and sensitive conversations they’ve had with their team members. Team members, on the other hand, could recollect a few past conversations that went into an emotional loop or even strained relationships. One thing that emerged common as an outcome to handling such conversation was the art of ‘keeping cool and still staying alert to what your mind wants to speak

Most crucial conversations fail because one or both the parties weren’t able to have any control over their temper. Even if they did, their egos were too hurt as an aftermath of the conversation, and reconciliation was never undertaken as an option.   

To be able to handle a crucial conversation well, it’s important to first understand what it is. 

A crucial conversation is one in which:

  • Opinions vary
  • Stakes are high, and 
  • Emotions are strong

As a choice on facing a conversation, we can choose to do either of the three things – 

(a) Avoid the conversation, (b) Face the conversation and handle it poorly, or (c) Face the conversation and handle it well.

It is ultimately tuning your mind on how you want to approach a crucial conversation. 

The book talks about an interesting way to handle such crucial conversations. ‘Start from your heart’. As much as others may need to change, as much as you may want them to change, the only person you can continually inspire, prod, and shape is YOURSELF. Hence, we individually need to take charge of our brain and decide how ‘I’, as a person, want to react during a crucial conversation. An overwhelming urge to win or prove “I am right” or refraining from discussing an issue in the hope to remain “safe” will only lead to building a weaker me

Then how do we make a crucial conversation successful? 

The answer is by targeting the mutual purpose. Ask yourself, ‘Does the other person know that I care about his/her/their needs?’ If your objective is to simply get your way, then you won’t achieve the mutual purpose. You will genuinely have to strive to ensure that the needs of both sides are met.

Let’s assume you had the motives right, but how do you tackle emotions arising amidst crucial conversations? You and I play emotional story cards that claim we’re either victims, villains or just helpless. It is crucial to judge these behaviours early in the conversation and separate such stories from facts. Gather your facts right and communicate them clearly and respectfully. Ask for what the other person / people have to say. Listen to oppositions patiently and curiously watch behaviours before you respond further. Provide assurance where you agree and respectfully describe where & why you may want to differ. Don’t forget that you are still bound by results that are mutually binding / impacting. Hence, speak in the interest of the larger good.

Also Read: Importance Of Continuous Feedback In The Post Covid Era

Lastly, a focus on how we get to the final outcome / action is crucial too. You can arrive at a decision using either of the methods like command, consult, vote or consensus. The path you choose will depend on the power of authority and what level of ‘people buy-in’ you are looking for. 

  • If you choose to exercise the ‘command’ option, decisions that require speed are quicker to make, and people respond better if you explain why you made the decision.
  • You can consider the option of ‘consulting’ when you have others with relevant expertise, you want to increase buy-in from key people, when there are many options or when some options are controversial. Be clear that you gather input but decide yourself. Inform all those you consulted about the final decision and the reason why. Thank them for their input. Whenever there is time to consult others, it is best to do so. Outcomes are better when key people are part of the process.
Also read: Top 5 Common OKR Challenges
  • Generally, ‘voting’ is least preferable since it creates winners and losers. You may resort to this option when you think of a conversation not being very crucial. Also, voting methodology is undertaken when participants agree that any of the options up for vote would be acceptable.
  • The option ‘consensus’ is more welcoming when it’s to do with a team’s decision or at a leadership level when you want to have a consensus of being on the same page in order to drive specific business goals. The consensus method is more relevant when stakes are high, issues are complex and support for a decision is critical. This method may sometimes be time-consuming. Hence, it’s important to be sure that all understand that they are selecting a decision for the overall group. This method will see success only when participants commit to supporting the decision.
Also Read: 5 Essential Managerial Tips To Create Employee Engagement

Having understood what a crucial conversation is about and the components that affect its success or failure, we come to the question that most of us have in our minds even after having read the book. 

How do we practice the art of doing well during crucial conversations? 

Despite coming into a conversation with an open & positive mind, some of us weren’t able to have control over our temper, emotions, & anger. Some of us have tried telling ourselves several times that ‘I will not mess this up, I will stay calm and I will be a good listener too’. But we still fail and really are clueless on how to get this right. These behaviours sometimes do not allow us to come across as a mature person and leave us with strained relationships. Our climbing up the career ladder is impacted and sometimes we completely lose out a race and get into our hiding shell, not wanting to face a few people again. 

Then how do we get it right? 

While there are many suggestions around what you could do, it is best suggested that you pick your top three (low hanging fruits, that is easier to practice and achieve) of the laundry list and diligently practice these in the smallest of any crucial conversation. With persistence and consistency, you will gradually begin to see results emerging.

The indicator to watch out for is the change in your own behaviour. Traits like patience, better listening skills, your connection with the larger need/goal, the mutual buy-in factor and respect for the other party will get fine-tuned and you become more approachable. If you’ve been able to get this right, your emotional self will automatically take a back seat and you will come across as someone who makes sense and has a good sense of judgement. This will enhance the power you will wield from how much people will want to hear from you or know what you think.

What is the formula then to have meaningful crucial conversations? That’s simple.

  • Stay calm
  • Respectful and 
  • Think business rather than getting aggressive or angry

Personal & professional relationships improve if we can speak openly and effectively rather than using threats or silent fuming. Be alert for times when you can apply the content and skills. The more opportunities you miss, the more likely you will revert to your old habits.

Want to know how Engagedly can help you with employee engagement? Request for a demo!

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Srikant Chellappa
CEO & Co-Founder of Engagedly

Srikant Chellappa is the Co-Founder and CEO at Engagedly and is a passionate entrepreneur and people leader. He is an author, producer/director of 6 feature films, a music album with his band Manchester Underground, and is the host of The People Strategy Leaders Podcast. He is currently working on his next book, Ikigai at the Workplace, which is slated for release in the fall of 2024.

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