This week we continue our re-read of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, Second Edition by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, Switzler with Chapter 3, Start With Heart.  This chapter begins to teach the reader “how” to dialog. The chapter is subtitled how to stay focused on what you really want. Start with heart means that we have to establish our goal before getting involved in a dialog.

Crucial conversations by definition are stressful, which makes it very easy to wander off course.  People that are good at crucial conversations have a goal and stay focused on that goal. A quote from the book I find useful to summarize the base idea in the chapter is, “If you can’t get yourself right, you’ll have a hard time getting dialog right.” 

Reminder – Chapter 2 defines dialog as the free flow of meaning between two or more people.

There are two important items that make people good at dialog. The first is that they know what they want, and secondly, they don’t make fool’s choices (see Chapter 2). The authors note that under stress our motives often change from establishing a free flow of meaning to something else such as winning, retaliating, or keeping the peace (my father calls that “going along to get along”).  Shifting your goal to winning kills healthy dialog and often drives things into the weeds. Punishing or retaliating shifts the goal from dialog to delivering pain – not terribly effective for facilitating a free flow of information. Finally, keeping the peace or going along to get along allows bad decisions to go without discussion. These three reactionary goals are rarely the real reasons you entered into a dialog.

The solution (after knowing what your goal of a crucial conversation is) is to ask yourself “what do I really want here?” Asking yourself this simple question is a redirection/refocusing technique. When reacting, mentally asking what you want will help you from falling into a fool’s choice and destroying any possibility of dialog. 

One idea for refusing a fool’s choice I see as being useful is to set up a new choice by asking yourself two questions. The first question is “what you want from the dialog” and the second question is “what do you really not want” from the conversion. Last year, I was asked to assess a team’s behavior by an executive. But the team really did not want me to get involved. The “want” question for refusing a fool’s choice might have been, “I want to discuss getting involved with the team and I don’t want to shut them down by making it an ultimatum.”  Coupling the two questions together with an and shifts us away from an either/or scenario. Perhaps more complex but more useful. 

The chapter ends with a summary — I suspect that after reading the entire book, browsing the chapter summaries will be a great way to refresh the ideas in the book. 

Previous installments:

Week 1 – Logistics, Forewards, and Preface 

Week 2 – Chapter 1: What’s a crucial conversation? And who cares? 

Week 3 – Chapter 2 The Power of Dialogue 

If you do not have a copy or have tossed it at someone during a crucial conversation, it is time to buy a copy. Please use the link (using the link helps support the blog and podcast).


Jon M Quigley and I are starting an online book club to read and discuss the classic books that underpin the lean, quality and agile movements.  The name is a nod to “Quality, Agile, and Lean Classic Books: Greatness in the Workplace” to the content. The first book is Out Of The Crisis by Deming (don’t have a copy —

We are starting our dialog on Friday, April 10th and the event will run over 7 sessions (we will avoid as many religious and national holidays as possible). We are only opening 10 seats for each group of sessions. We are changing a one time fee of $3.13 which equates to 4.95 (ish) once Eventbrite factors in their fees to encourage people that sign up to show up.

Each session will be outlined in the supplemental material provided for the book club. The materials will include definitions of keywords and a series of questions to ponder for each chapter as you read through the book. We are limiting the book club to 10 participants to facilitate ease of discussion of the text and to allow interaction. Tom Cagley and Jon M Quigley will be your guides through the material, posing follow on questions that guide you through the exploration of the work.

Note, we will record each of the sessions in case everyone will not be able to attend every week.

Sign up at