Thursday, 21 April 2011

Crucial Conversations

As a leader, do you sometimes need to engage in crucial conversations?  Do you avoid them or handle them? 

What's a Crucial Conversation?

The crucial conversation we are referring to....are interactions that happen to everyone.  They're the day-to-day conversations that affect your life. 

Now what makes one of your conversations crucial as opposed to plain vanilla? 
First, opinions vary.....
Second, stakes are high...
Third, emotions run strong...

What makes...these conversations crucial - and not simply challenging, frustrating, frightening, or annoying - is that the results could have a huge impact on the quality of your life. 

By definition, crucial conversations are about tough issues.  Unfortunately, it's human nature to back away from discussions we fear will hurt us or make things worse.  We're masters at avoiding these tough conversations. 

But it doesn't have to be this way.  If you know how to handle (even master) crucial conversations, you can step up to and effectively hold tough conversations about virtually any topic. 

From: Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzer
Published by: McGraw-Hill


  1. Crucial conversations...there have been a lot of those happening this week with staffing assignments given out, especially when a teacher is being given an assignment that they have not requested or may not want. These conversations require a lot of thought, as it is critical that leaders in the school are empathetic and considerate of the feelings of concern, insecurity and anger that may arise in the conversation. Engaging in a meaningful and effective crucial conversation in this situation is of utmost importance because you are setting the stage for the teacher whose assignment has been changed, and ensuring you are setting him/her and the students up for success. Understanding that the conversation may and often will get "heated" and ensuring that you are prepared to handle it in a calm and reasonable manner will allow for the outcome to be productive and beneficial.
    Although, many people would rather avoid crucial conversations, by being a transparent leader and ensuring that you have a "pulse" on the school and positive relationships with the staff will positively help/support the dynamic and outcome of crucial conversations when they arise.

  2. Janice, you have brought forward a very real example of a crucial conversation that could be happening in any school. These conversations certainly fit the criteria outlined above: opinions vary, stakes are high, emotions run strong. Building the skills to manage such conversations is certainly important. I'm assuming that the book would be a really good resource.

    One thing came to mind when reading your example,..... A few years ago someone told me that crucial conversations are also the day-to-day conversations we have where we, as leaders, make our fundamental beliefs and values clear. For example, in the example you provided, ongoing crucial conversations would include commentary that stresses such things as: student needs are always the primary focus, each of us works in service of student needs, our roles serve student needs before they serve our personal needs, etc. I found this idea to be really valuable. If we make our fundamental beliefs transparent on a day-to-day basis, when potentially high-stress situations surface, there is already an understanding of the thinking behind leader decisions. This idea really made a lot of sense to me. It makes me think about my own leadership and whether I make my beliefs and values clear to everyone.

  3. I think the most important aspect of Janice's response was her reference to relationships. Leadership is a relationship-based endeavour. Knowing the people on your team and having a cordial and workable rapport can allow you to build on strong foundations and smooth over rough patches, such as those she describes.

  4. I was also struck by Janice's reference to relationships but also to transparency. Leaders need to ensure that any decisions which may be considered "difficult" are given plenty of 'lead up time', as it were. Context needs to be created long before the decision is actually made so that any individuals affected by the decision are already prepared. As Arthur explained, if you have been clear and consistent about your beliefs then those conversations, while still crucial, are less difficult. In the case of changing a teacher's grade, if you have communicated your vision for the entire school, that teacher may better understand (or even anticipate) that decision. Communication and relationships are the keys!

  5. The style of the crucial conversations is also important depending on the person and the situation. It goes back to having established a relationship based on trust and mutual respect. Strong leaders know how a person is going to react before they sit down face-to-face. He/she will have anticipated the reaction to what the staff member/parent/student is going to say and/or how they will behave. As a leader it means never reacting on a personal level to what is said but instead moving the discussion along to the crucial point. It takes skill to move the person beyond the emotional level to discussing the issue at hand from a more global perspective.

  6. I agree this all ties back to relationships. However I think there will be times that the repect will need to be established during the crucial conversation, we may not of had the time previously to build this. We need to remember it is an issue that is being discussed, not a personality. Another important point made by Taro is that student needs are first and what is best for student achievement.