Today we tackle Chapter 5, Make It Safe – How to Make It Safe to Talk About Almost Anythingof Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, Second Edition by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, Switzler.  This is the next step in the journey to help the reader participate and guide crucial conversations into dialogues by ensuring that the interaction is safe. The chapter uses an example of a husband and wife’s conversation to present a structure that includes entry and continuation criteria. The example is not a high point of the chapter for me. However, the idea of safety and how to create that safety is an important part of the chapter. One somewhat random point I did take away from the example was the use of sarcasm as a form of silence. Sarcasm does not add to the pool of information and shuts people down. Relatively early in my career, I fell in love with the use of sarcasm. A boss of mine, Dave Campbel,l pointed out that sarcasm was easy to misinterpret and could backfire. I learned my lesson but had never connected understood sarcasm to be a form of silence during a dialogue.   

The authors present two different conditions of safety. They are: 

  • Mutual purpose, which is an entry condition for dialogue.  Mutual purpose means that the parties perceive they are working toward a common outcome and that each person cares about each other’s goals, interests, and values.

One of the excellent features of the book is how the authors translate an idea like mutual purpose in something actionable by providing questions for the reader to consider.  In this case, they provide two questions to test whether mutual purpose exists. The questions ask you to consider whether the other person in the conversation believes you care about their goals and if they trust your motives. This is where practicing is important because, in the heat of the moment, it will be hard to remember to reflect on the questions provided in the book. 

  • Mutual respect, a continuance condition, is the perception that everyone respects everyone else in the dialogue. 

Lack of respect makes a dialogue unsafe and is easily recognizable. Examples include rolling your eyes while listening, sarcastic responses, or doing your email in the middle of a conversation. 

When either one of these conditions is breached, you need to fix the problem. Ignoring it is never a great option.  The authors when there are problems the authors suggest:

  1. Apologizing. Apologize for anything that ever happened that took the dialogue off track. Remember apologies are not real unless you experience a change of heart.  As my wife says, apologizing and then doing the same thing again does not count. 
  2. Contrasting.  Contrasting (this was new to me) uses a two-part statement which the authors call a “don’t/do” statement.  The first part of the statement addresses the other’s concern that you don’t respect them or that you have a malicious purpose (the “don’t” part), and the second part confirms your respect or clarifies your real purpose (the “do” part). The book includes some worksheets on creating don’t/do statements, I highly recommend doing the exercises.
  3. Create a mutual purpose. The authors use the acronym, CRIB, for a four-step process to generate mutual purpose.

Commit to seek mutual purpose.

Recognize the purpose behind the strategy. 

Invent a mutual purpose. 

Brainstorm new strategies.

Generating safety is a hard process that requires practice (I also suspect that I will need to re-read this chapter). Safety does not magically happen, and even if it does it needs to be monitored and maintained. Practice and patience are essential; in the most complicated scenarios you should aim for progress rather than perfection.

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  

Week 4 – Chapter 3: Start With Heart 

Week 5 – Learn To Look 

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).