Imagine there are consultants nosing around your company asking questions like: “Which individuals in your workplace have the ability to really get things done?”
Would people mention your name? Being seen as a person who knows how to get things done is a good thing. Even if you don’t work in an organization, having your clients and business partners describe you as a person who can get things done is ideal. What does it take to be that person that gets things done?
The answer is unexpected as the consultants who wrote, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High discovered. Authors, Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillian, and Al Switzer were surprised when people in one organization consistently mentioned a VP named Kevin as “exceedingly influential.” They started observing Kevin and didn’t notice anything in his behavior that stood out. They were ready to categorize people’s experience of him as being a matter of popularity. Then they followed him into a meeting between his peers and Chris, the CEO of the company. Together this group was deciding where to locate a new office. There were formal presentations and then Chris started to pitch his choice. People shut down when they pushed back and Chris became defensive toward his position.
That’s when Kevin spoke up. His words were simple enough—something like, ‘Hey Chris, can I check something out with you?’
The reaction was stunning—everyone in the room stopped breathing. But Kevin ignored the apparent terror of his colleagues and plunged on ahead. In the next few minutes he in essence told the CEO that he appeared to be violating his own decision-making guidelines. He was subtly using his power to move the office to his hometown.
By reading the book, I learned that the exchange between Kevin and Chris proceeded to a point where Chris eventually was silent for awhile and then acknowledged Kevin’s point. The authors, upon reflection and further study of other individuals like Kevin, now call this a Crucial Conversation. When this book was published in 2002, the book hit boardrooms, training rooms, and cubicles with a storm. I personally witnessed the hunger we seem to have for solving the dilemma of what most of us call difficult conversations. I also noticed that we tend to assume it is difficult people that create these kinds of conversations.
Crucial Conversations or what I have been calling Honest Truth Conversations include a difference of opinion. A difference of opinion in running a business is a good thing. Information needs to flow freely so the best choices can be made. However, differences of opinions lead to trouble. We see the other person, with the other opinion as difficult. I am reminded of Daniel Goleman’s writing in 1996 about our brain and emotion. He explained a reaction he called an amygdala hijack. Which is essentially an emotional response triggered by a perceived threat. In the workplace threats are more emotional than true physical threats. Our brain is designed to notice threats and get us out of danger. The challenge with this physical response in the brain is the neocortex, the thinking part of the brain shuts down so we end up doing and saying things that might not make sense when our brain is calm or less threatened. While we can’t necessarily prevent a physical response to an emotional threat we can learn to notice strong emotional reactions and learn strategies for dealing with them.
The book, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when the Stakes are High is a book that reminds us that having the courage to speak up is not enough. In fact when you do speak up you will probably trigger that strong emotional reaction in another person. So we need to have to have the skill and finesse to speak up and maintain respect at the same time. The only person that we can control is ourselves. Understanding and practice can move you closer to achieving what you want in your work and in life.
Every week during 2014 I look forward to sharing books that I am reading. The lens of the leadership process will be the filter for which I recommend books. Books are powerful vehicles for providing us with inspiration and new ideas.