Are you a Master of Difficult Conversations? If not, Crucial Conversations can help

Life is full of difficult situations that require not-so-fun conversations with the people around us, both at home and at work. Written by a team of expert communicators, Crucial Conversations will teach you how to handle difficult interpersonal situations with poise and skill.

Arguing with others is counter-productive and avoiding the conversation doesn’t resolve the issue. By reading this book and mastering the principles it teaches, you can diffuse or avoid many unpleasant and unproductive situations before they occur. By setting expectations, listening with your full attention, and showing respect for the other party, you’ll be able to keep moving forward in a productive and enjoyable way instead of getting bogged-down in disagreement and strife.

The main concepts described in the book are:

  •  Stay focused on what you really want
  •  Notice when you are no longer in dialogue
  •  Make the situation emotionally safe for both parties
  •  Stay in dialogue even when angry, scared or hurt
  •  Persuade others without being abrasive or pushy
  •  Listen when others blow up or clam up
  •  How to move to action steps

This book came highly recommended from a leader within the organization I was working in after he claimed it completely changed his life. He spoke with such passion about how much he changed as a leader from this one simple experience so I had no choice but to dive in and see what he was talking about! And while I did find some of the concepts over complicated with flowerly language, I took away more insights into myself from this book than any other.

Are you focused on what you really want?

The first concept explained in the book is about looking inside yourself to determine if you are truly focused on what you really want. And after reflecting myself, most of the time I was not. I couldn’t get myself right so how on earth would I ever get dialogue with someone else right?

My key reflection was that while I claimed to be focused on problem solving or really getting to the root of an issue, I wasn’t. I simply wanted to win. I was not in dialogue with constructive feedback and listening – I was trying to convince the other participant that I was right and they were wrong. And I was supposedly a leader in the industry? How embarrassing!

After reading the book (and actually taking the course), I’m able to self-trigger before things escalate into unhealthy motivations. I ask myself a few key questions in order to check myself on my intent and then ensure my conversation is structured accordingly:

  •  What do I really want for myself?
  •  What do I really want for others?
  •  What do I really want for the relationship?

Are you engaged in productive dialogue?

If you able to catch signs that the conversation is starting to turn crucial – before you get sucked so far into the actual argument that you can never withdraw from the content – then you can control the conversation and make sure you stay in dialogue. And how do you catch the signs? You need to find your personal triggers before it is too late. Because once you are into the argument, your emotions have possessed your mind and body and you can no longer control what the outcome is.

For me personally, I was able to identify that my emotions were starting to take over when I lean forward at a table or desk and my index finger comes out and starts wagging. For others, it may be sweating, blood pressure, or bouncing legs. Once my finger starts wagging, it is go-time and I pity the person on the other end! After my experience with the book, as soon as I feel myself leaning forward, I force myself to lean back and open myself up to what the other person is saying. I control my emotions and make sure that I’m maintaining control of the conversation without blowing my top and ruining relationships.

And now, as a coach, I can help others identify these triggers to control their emotions. Recognizing and planning on how to adapt when your triggers hit is what separates a good leader who can control situations from an emotional basket case.

Do you tell yourself clever stories when angry, hurt or scared?  It is amazing what our human psyche will do to protect ourselves.  This is why, when faced with the exact same circumstances, ten people may have ten different emotional response. Basically, we make up a story about the other persons intentions, those made-up intentions make us feel a certain way, we add judgement and then our body responds with an emotion – good or bad. All caused by a story that we dreamt up in our heads!

For example, at the time I was struggling with a manager that I felt was micromanaging me. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t trust me and felt like he thought I was incapable of doing my job. After my experience with Crucial Conversations, I actually approached him about it to discuss it using my new skills. Well, it turns out that he completely trusted me but was under immense pressure from his boss to turn the business around but was not sharing that information with his team because he didn’t want to stress us out. So my entire emotional drama that my manager didn’t trust me and felt I was incompetent was completely made up in my head.

I still run into these “clever stories” when working with clients in my coaching business on a regular basis. It’s actually the most common issue that I work on with people. We are able to go back to the facts or the “See and Hear” part below and rework the stories we tell ourselves to separate the facts from made up stories.


While the book can be difficult to follow at times as some concepts aren’t well explained and it seems to over-complicate simple items, every reader will get some new skill or awareness from reading it. Because of the somewhat jumbled nature but still life changing information, I recommend reading the book fully and then concentrate on the specific topics you personally related to the most.

What books have you read that have shaped who you are as a leader?