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What is a crucial conversation?

According to the authors, opinions vary, the stakes are high, and emotions run strong. This can involve ending a relationship, asking a friend to repay a loan, giving the boss feedback about bad behavior, critiquing a colleague's work, or giving an unfavorable performance review.

You have three choices about such conversations. You can avoid the conversations, face them poorly, or face them well.

This book focuses on the last, providing practical advice about how to keep your own cool while encouraging everyone else to do she same. You can save a lot of time in reading and understanding the book if you look at figures 10-1 through 10-4 beginning on page 182 before you get very far. It's a helpful overview of the authors' point of view.

The book's strengths come in the authors' sympathy with those who have trouble holding such conversations, the many examples and advice on how to deal with difficult situations.

The book's main weakness comes in a desire to encapsulate the key lessons into ACRONYMS like STATE and ABCs. While they are nifty acronyms, I couldn't remember what they stood for by the next page. Something more visual at each stage would have helped me out.

I also think that the book would have benefited from more advice on how to be empathic with the other people involved.

But if you normally handle such situations by running the other way, screaming or slamming the door, this book will help you develop much more constructive habits that will leave you feeling better about yourself.
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on June 11, 2004
I bought this book after I heard Dr. Glickman, the author of Optimal Thinking-How To Be Your Best Self, recommend it during an Optimal Thinking seminar. When I read that Dr. Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, recommended this book too I knew that this was going to be a life-changing book for me. I was right. This book has given me a formula for handling myself and others correctly during tough interactions. I am embarrassed to admit that I sometimes yelled and degraded people when I did not get what I wanted from them. Now I use optimal thinking to put my best self in charge, start with heart, look for safety problems, make it safe, retrace my path, and take the other steps recommended in this book. The steps are simple and clear. I am not perfect at them yet, and might never be, but I have already come a long way. You can't go wrong with this book, so press the "Buy" button right now, and if you want to optimize your effectiveness in all areas of life, buy the other books I mentioned.
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on July 12, 2013
I am still around chapter 8, but I find it extremely useful and I wanted to second others' recommendations for checking out this book. I never thought that I was an expert on conversations, but I had the impression about myself that I was at least "ok". So, I didn't experience it as an enjoyable reading (especially at first), because it reminded me of so many crucial conversations in my life where I did all the wrong things, injured relationships, and got exactly the opposite results of what I intended out of a conversation or for not having the conversation at all. So it was more of an emotionally painful but sobering reading, and with some hope at the end of the tunnel, as I continue to read. If nothing else, I am now more aware than before that my skills in this area are certainly in need for improvement.

And the authors' entire premise and set of techniques are described very simply and clearly, without all the heavy wordiness and theorizing that social scientists usually use in their books. It's very practical, short sweet and to the point, which I personally appreciate very much. I understood better through this little book what Kaheman tried to bring across in his large book "Thinking Fast and Slow" regarding the interaction of System 1 and System 2, even if the authors did not use these terms at all.

I am not promising that we won't be struggling with improving our crucial conversations for as long as we live even after reading the book, but even if we are able to remember even a couple of the tips and implement them during our next high-stakes conversation, it might make a big difference to an important relationship in our lives. And there lies my hope.
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on August 2, 2009
I ran across this book in the business section of my local bookstore while looking for help in having some difficult conversations with people who I like very much. I noticed that the forward to the book was written by Stephen R. Covey, authour of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People which made me more comfortable in reading this.
This book brings interesting insights and easy readability together. Some many years ago, Howard Hughes hired a group of gifted engineers and told them that he wanted them to create a steam-driven car. After working for a number of years on the project they came up with a car which had a large piping system throughout the vehicle so that it could travel long distances. When they presented it to Mr. Hughes, his first question was 'What happens to the passengers if there is an accident?' The answer was that they would be scalded to death. Mr. Hughes had them cut up the prototype into pieces no bigger than three inches across.
We all have trouble starting and maintaining important conversations. Do you think the fault was in Mr. Hughes instructions or in the engineers forgetting that this was to be used by human beings? This intriguing book walks us through good crucial conversations, better crucial conversations and best crucial conversations.
It discusses to all kinds of situations from talking to your teenager to telling the boss something unpleasant about his/her behaviour. There are many actual tools to help you start the conversation, make it safe for everyone involved, ways to actually get a consensus of everyone's opinion and how to use the results to make better, more compatible relations with those concerned.
The reason that these conversations are so difficult is that the human system has been wired for survival. When we are faced with stressful situations we physically pour adrenaline into our systems in the fight or flight response. When that happens adrenaline sends blood and energy to our arms and legs and actually sends less to our brains. Our ability to think rationally is lessened and we don't control ourselves well. Humans tend to either become silent or violent when threatened. Neither of these helps to solve a problem or find a solution.
There are a number of tools to take back the situation so that you can all feel safe and take the time needed to find real solutions which work.
In this mode we also tend to extrapolate a lot of things from very little evidence and then make stories in our heads about the other person's motives. What about the wife who sees a bill on their credit card from the Good Night Motel? Her first thought may be that her husband is having an affair. If she allows herself to become upset and continue this story in her mind then she may be very angry when her husband comes home. The conversation will not be very logical or pleasant and may affect their lives for many years to come. What if the truth is that the same person who owns a Restaurant elsewhere in town also owns the motel and uses the same credit card system for both? That would be a very different situation.
To become a master at talking about the really important things and help you get the things you really want in life, this book is a must read. Prepare for high-stakes situations and transform anger and hurt feelings into powerful dialogue while making it safe to talk about almost anything.
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on June 11, 2004
Wanna argue? Nope. Then you need Kerry Patterson and his co-writers, who describe techniques for effective negotiation and conflict resolution in the context of important, potentially life-changing conversations. Examples include talking yourself into a promotion, bringing up important information at meetings and working out problems with your spouse. Some tips will sound familiar, such as knowing what you really want and being open to alternatives. However, the book also highlights some themes that are often forgotten in negotiations, such as making it safe for others to express their true feelings and desires. The authors explain how to avoid getting forced into false either-or choices and tell you how to remain alert for unstated alternatives or possibilities. This lively book includes many examples drawn from business and personal relationships. We recommend it in particular to those are new to negotiations and conflict resolution, though it teaches solid skills that any manager - or any marriage partner, for that matter - could benefit from mastering.
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on February 4, 2004
The reviews here led me to believe the book could be a valuable asset to me in my career and overall life. Unfortunately the authors have such a loose grasp of their own message they cannot convey it in any manner except contrived scenarios that are reminiscent of a high school sociology class.
I am not saying this to insult the authors or those who find the book useful. I simply expected a higher level of information presented, well, differently. I will keep looking, in the meantime my copy will return to for sale.
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on January 1, 2008
This book was a most enjoyable read but left me with a touch of ambivalence. As a handbook for communicating more effectively, it's helpful but perhaps a bit simplistic.

"Crucial conversations" are defined as those in which opinions vary, the stakes are high, and emotions run strong. The book targets situations in business and personal life, and is extremely readable with its many illustrative dialogues from both sectors. An extensive vocabulary is introduced and I've had some of the terms floating like a ghostly subtext under my own conversations: Sucker's Choice; Safety; Salute and Stay Mute; Silence or Violence; Freeze Your Lover; Pool of Shared Meaning. It's all useful even if reductionist.

The techniques offered for effective negotiation are generally quite obvious, yet they bear repeating and codifying. They are, however, techniques, and as such they probably won't give earth-shaking results without an understanding of what's making people tick. Conversation and negotiation are so much more than technique.

CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS is an ideal offering for the best-seller market and would be a great springboard for leadership development workshops.

My two picks for the best advice in this book:

(1) Stay focused on what you really want.
(2) If you give this book to a partner or business associate, don't take a yellow highlighter to the parts you think they need before you give it; better to work on your own side of the crucial conversations.

Linda Bulger, 2008
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on August 22, 2003
I bought this book after undergoing a first, miserable mediation session with my soon-to-be-exhusband. The stakes are high--it's our property settlement, and my husband had been cashing out the savings and spending them, while leaving me to take care of the 2 mortgages and other obligations. It was easy, but not very productive, to point out where I felt he was wrong.
I started reading Crucial Conversations and using the tools as well as I could, while watching our mediator model them. I stopped participating in the accuse/counter-accuse game, and focused on bringing information to the table, while I used the crucial conversation tools to keep our discussions productive.
The book starts out with a self-assessment to determine your own communications strengths and weaknesses.
My biggest faux-pas with my husband was to cause Respect violations. The CC tools gave me a usable set of actions to take to set things back on track:
* Apologize (I'm sorry if that sounded disrespectful.)
* Contrast (I don't want to make you out to be the bad guy, I'm just concerned that I won't have any funds left to cover the emergencies.)
- Commit to seek mutual purpose (I'll stay in this process as long as it takes for us to reach agreement.)
- Recognize the purpose behind his strategy (It's understandable that you're unhappy with our situation and that you're trying to do something to feel better.)
- Invent a mutual purpose (I want us both to be happy and secure after the divorce.)
- Brainstorm new strategies (Maybe we can just focus on the numbers for now, and put off worrying about how we're going to divide things until later.
Using these tools has kept the dialogue moving forward, and we're very close to agreement, after just two more sessions.
The Crucial Conversations tools won't change another person who's determined to be unreasonable into a perfectly cooperative person, but they will give you a sane way to stay in dialogue and still hold the other person accountable for his or her own irrational attitudes and behavior.
I think this book is a must-have for anyone who has had a hard time dealing with conflict. I'll be reaching for it again, I know.
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on March 2, 2003
Most books deliver well on the "what." Crucial Conversations delivers on the "how." Those "how to skills" are helping my direct reports and me change the culture of our division. More importantly, it is helping me to generate useful techniques that I can use at work, at home, and during my volunteer work with community service organizations. It has assisted me in identifying what I really want as I dialog with others and lays out the necessary steps to achieve my outcome(s) while maintaining good and positive human relationships.
This book is a "must read" for organizational personnel and individuals who have become casual communicators in high stakes conversations, thus missing out on valuable and collaborative resolutions to problems, assisting in negatively labeling others, and settling on mediocre business and personal relationships.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon December 31, 2014
Brilliant! I have been looking for ways to improve my interpersonal skills and my communication skills. This book is written well, its an easy read and offers great examples to accompany the text. It also has links to free online resources (videos) but I didn't try them.

If you're looking for a way to make difficult conversations easier to tackle, I'd highly recommend this book. There is room for improvement in everyone.

I gave it one less star than perfect as it gets a bit redundant at times, but this could be a plus for some as repetition makes concepts stick better.
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