How to Have a Crucial Conversation

Recently we met for dinner with a young couple we love whose marriage is in crisis.

Another friend’s teenage son entered rehab.

Two had to fire employees.

One needs to break up with her boyfriend.

AAAAARRRGGGHHH!  For the love of world peace!

In each of these situations a crucial conversation (or series of them) was called for.  Conversations where emotions ran high.  Sometimes there was a difference of opinion.   Perhaps there was hard truth that needed to be clearly, but gently communicated.

John and I often repeat something our friend Nancy Beach once said: “Leadership is a series of hard conversations.”  I think that might as well be “LIFE is a series of hard conversations.”

In August we took a large group from our church to the annual Leadership Summit at Willow Creek.  The most pertinent talk for many of us was called “Crucial Conversations” by Joseph Grenny.

He said, any time you find yourself stuck, there are crucial conversations you’re not having, or not having well.

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Conflict.  We either talk it out or we act it out.  The problem is we think we have to choose between telling the truth or keeping a friend  Consequently instead of talking, our emotion often comes out sideways in our actions.

The Bible is full of crucial conversations (think Nathan talking to David about his affair with Bathsheba for one).  Crucial conversations like these, according to Grenny can be a path, not a pit.

One of the most important things Grenny talks about in these crucial conversations is starting with the heart.

Grenny says there are two tasks you must do in the first 30 seconds of a crucial conversation.  If you do them, there is a great chance (97% according to Grenny’s research) that you will be heard. Not agreed with necessarily, but heard.

The two tasks he identifies are:

1.  Care about the goals of the other (almost as much as they do.)

2.  Help the other to know you respect them and care about them as a person.

And here was the key quote for me:

“It’s the INTENT, not the CONTENT of crucial conversations that can cause people to be defensive.  We need to create a safe place with commitment to them.”

So I’m thinking that taking some time to pray and examine our heart before we have a crucial conversation is an important step.

Think of someone with whom you need to have a crucial conversation.  Maybe there’s something standing between you.  Or a change needs to happen.  The air needs to be cleared. Truth needs to be told.

Close your eyes and take a minute to think of that person.  Their life.  Their hopes and dreams. Pray for them.  Pray for yourself and for your words to be life-giving… to be, as Grenny says, “a path and not a pit.”

Together we can do this!

What’s been your experience with having hard conversations?  What have you learned?

2 Comments

  1. Laura- I just had the privilege of shepherding a gal I’m mentoring through this very thing.We talked about beginning with humility and the idea that her motivation for the conversation was love and to bring this other person back into the fold (rather than remove her) and also to prevent potential harm to that person. Thanks so much for this post! Lots of wisdom!

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