Having conversations with employees, coworkers, friends, family members and strangers is an everyday activity by many people. But are these conversations static, dynamic, passing the time or crucial conversations? When we look at crucial conversation (those are conversations that actually hold value and is not “water cooler” chat) we are referring to a conversation that is defined as what needs to be changed, challenged or addressed in a high stake’ situation. These are the conversations that can make or break a company, friendship, family relationship, depending on how the conversations are handled. As owner and director of Hat Trick Training Academy, it is imperative that I converse with everyone in the company and listen to their opinions. How I handle these conversations will impact the direction of HTT.
Crucial Conversations are described as conversations that have, “opposing opinions, strong emotions and high stakes.” (Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, Switzler, 2012) These are the conversations that people dread, but they must be talked about because they have a subject(s) that needs to be addressed. It could be as simple as, “fueling the car up before coming home,” or as complex as, “this could be difference between life and death.” Either which way these conversations must happen. What determines the outcome of the conversations can be attitude and demeanor in the way it is handled. In the book Crucial Conversations Tools For Talking When Stakes Are High (Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, Switzler, 2012), the authors discuss 7 steps in having an effective crucial conversation. These steps are: Start with the heart, Learn to look, Make it safe, Master you story, State your path, Explore other path and Move to action. While it seems like a lot of steps, once understood, these steps will make crucial conversations that can be high stress and bring them down to a normal effective conversation.
In the first step, Start with the heart, the speaker or conversation starter must focus on themselves first and the rest of the team after. My Why Statement, focuses on what I am trying to achieve with HTT and where my passion stands in developing student athletes. While some might not say this is being a team player when someone thinks about their own agenda, the team must understand that when someone doesn’t share the same opinions or goal-oriented outcomes, this person could be detrimental to the objective. Let them speak so the problem can be addressed. The speaker must understand their own agenda and what out comes they are expecting and how their behavior tells what exactly what they want. In this step, the speaker must clarify what they want and what they don’t want. Know what you want and stay focused on that.
Learn to look, refers to watching and listening in the conversation. What is going on? Is this conversation becoming stressful? Has it derived from the original subject? Stay focused on the goal at hand. Pull the conversations back to the subject while keeping calm. This is where two-way dialog starts and is continuous throughout the conversation. When these conversations are held with the groups, look for the ones who are silent and ask if they have any thoughts about the subject. Remind them that it is okay to speak up and it is a safe place to share their thoughts. This rolls into the next, Make it safe.
Make it safe, starts out with realizing that when there is silence, violence could be on its way. This means essentially, those who keep it in without speaking up could become erratic. As a leader this is not a way or path to go along. Keep it professional. Take a step back and make sure the environment is safe and everyone is relaxed. Once this is addressed come back to the mutual purpose with the 4 skills of CRIB:
- Commit to seek mutual purpose.
- Recognize the purpose behind the strategy.
- Invent a mutual purpose.
- Brainstorm new strategies.
If you’re a story teller, much like I am, make sure to Master the stories. Essentially you want to stay on topic and understand that the stories you tell make an impact and have to do with the goals. When creating HTT did I tell stories about my old players and what I did to help encourage and train them for their future? Yes, I did. Did I tell stories about my first car and building it with my grandfather? No, I didn’t because it wasn’t relevant. When telling stories, use examples that make sense and stay within the subject. Watch out for stories that play the victim or helpless stories, as those are not beneficial.
STATE you path, is stating what you believe is right and the right direction to take. Let other talk and tell their stories too. Follow the STATE and keep the conversation going positively.
- Share your facts. HTT implementation is a great example (LINK)
- Tell your story.
- Ask for others path. Others share their story.
- Talk tentatively. Discussing the stories as stories and not facts.
- Encourage testing. Where others share their views.
In the conversations people will stay silent or want speak up. Avoid this from happening. Ask questions to those who are quiet or aren’t speaking up. Ask for their opinions and any stories they might have. The key in the step where we Explore others paths is safety. This means encourage others to express themselves without ridicule or retribution. Speaking with everyone that will be involved with HTT, their opinion matters. I want to hear their stories. As a leader, their stories and opinions will help me influence the board on tough decisions.
The final step, Move to action, is finishing the crucial conversation with an outcome reached. Now it is time to work on or implement the outcome that is a result of the crucial conversations. Accountability will be set in this step and follow through must happen. Without the move to action step, the conversation will fail. End of a great note and send the team out eager to get the goal achieved.
When I was in sales, I was trained to have these types of conversations with the clients I was working with. While we never used the scientific terms that the authors have used, it is still the same. I use these types of conversations in coaching with parents and players. My plan is to continue these types of conversations over into HTT. Thoughts and opinions from others matter. And if I’m not too sure what the outcomes could be hearing other people’s experiences could help decide whether to forward with an idea or not. Although my decisions are backed by the board, it is polite and respectful to listen to others that are involved with the implementation and success of HTT.
Patterson, K. (2002). Crucial conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high. New York: McGraw-Hill.