Holding that Crucial Conversation

August 25th, 2014 · by Tom Stuart · Communication, Relationships

“The health of an organization is measured by the number of crucial conversations not being held or not being held well.” That is a quote from Joseph Grenny, a speaker at this year’s Global Leadership Summit. Undoubtedly most of the people listening were impacted as I was by the underlying truth that this statement applies not only to companies and churches, but also to families and marriages.

In fact, the reality is that the health of virtually every relationship depends upon whether or not crucial conversations are being held and the degree to which they are being held well.

Arguing couple  Back to back Couple Silhouette

A crucial conversation is any conversation between two or more people where opinions vary, emotions are running strong and the stakes are high. It is a conversation that will either hinder a relationship or help it, put it in a pit or on a path, lead to talking it out or acting out. As distinguished from a casual conversation, a crucial conversation requires skill in navigating the first 30 seconds because that often will either make or break all that follows. Grenny calls this the “hazardous half-minute.”

As you can imagine, he did a masterful job of holding everyone’s attention as he elaborated on this subject based upon his bestselling book by the same name “Crucial Conversations, Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High.” It was readily evident that the critical relevance of his talk was instantly measured by the number of people flocking to the book table in the lobby after his talk and snatching up the “Crucial Conversations” book and audio companion.

The topic was not unfamiliar to the bulk of Christian leaders in attendance, many themselves pastors, teachers and counselors who have spoken and written voluminous words on this exact subject. New Testament biblical injunctions about truth telling are numerous and oft quoted: from “go privately and point out the offense” to “restore that person gently” to “speaking the truth in love.” (Matthew 18:15, Galatians 6:1, Ephesians 4:15) Reconciliation and healing of relationships is at the heart of the Gospel message.

So why do so many of us still struggle with this truth telling thing and why did so many rush to buy yet one more book on the topic?

I believe it is because Grenny unlatched a dungeon door when he said that there is myth out there, a dirty little secret if you will, that way too many people believe, but may not be willing to admit. And that myth is this, “you can’t tell the truth and keep a friend.” When he said that, I could palpably see and feel a ray of hope flooding into the prison cells all around the room holding back crucial conversations.

In addition to offering hope, Grenny also provides practical guidance in navigating the crucial conversation. He points out that people get defensive in crucial conversations when they feel as though their intentions are being questioned. The tendency in an intense conversation is to focus on crafting our content rather than conveying our intent. That, says Grenny, is a mistake. It’s not “what” you are saying that is going to register with another so much as “why” you are saying it. For that reason in the “hazardous half minute” of starting a crucial conversation it is important to aim to do two things. First, establish a Mutual Purpose in the conversation by seeking to help those to whom you are talking know you care about their concerns and are trying to understand them. Second, seek to convey an ongoing attitude of Mutual Respect, treating them in such a way that communicates you genuinely care about them as a person.

How is that for starters? If this is a hot topic for you, I would recommend you pick up Joseph Grenny’s book.

Any other tips or resources you can recommend on this topic is always welcome.

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