While I was preparing for this week’s installment of Re-read Saturday, I got into a “discussion” with my wife about people and organizations profiteering during the COVID-19 disaster. When I began to notice I was becoming heated, I realized that this week’s chapter was an appropriate touchpoint to get the dialogue back on track. Chapter 6 of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, Second Edition by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, Switzler is about how to gain control of your emotions during crucial conversations and therefore gain control of the conversation. Keeping your emotions under control allows you to think and use all of the tools at your disposal to stay in a constructive dialogue.

The authors base the ideas in this chapter on two basic premises. The first is that  “emotions don’t settle upon you like a fog.“ The fog metaphor is used to remind us that the occurrences of emotions are recognizable and predictable. The second premise is that once emotions have set in that you only have two options, “you can act upon them or be acted on by them.” The second statement evokes much of Daniel Kahneman’s ideas in Thinking Fast and Slow (a side note – if you have not read Thinking Fast and Slow, it will be useful to read the entries in our re-read that describe System 1 and System 2 thinking).  

The authors point out that it is a very dangerous assumption that our emotions are the only valid response to any situation. The book suggests that people that are “good” at crucial conversations realize that if they don’t control their emotions (rather than being controlled by them) matters will get worse. They fake it if they have to get back to a dialogue. The people who are “best” at crucial conversations act on their emotions to change direction and make it possible to choose behaviors that create better results.

The book provides a process to become better at dialogue. It is:

  1. See and hear,  
  2. Tell a story, 
  3. Feel, then
  4. Act.

Step Two immediately evoked the distinction between System 1 and System 2 thinking described by Kahneman. The stories that automatically pop to mind are a reflection of our mind using all of our learned biases to fill in the gaps. The authors suggest a process to control the story that is created using the lazier but more rational System 2. Controlling the story(s) we tell ourselves is important because they control how we feel and influence how we act. The Shakespeare quote in the book sums up the idea, “nothing in this world is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

The book suggests several mechanisms to control your narrative, including; questioning your feelings, not confusing stories with facts, separating facts from the story, and testing whether what you think are facts are observable in behavior. Questioning the narrative you initially create will increase the chances of using a more logical thinking process which will yield a more constructive narrative.

The section discussing three clever stories is extremely useful even if you are great at crucial conversations. If your internal stories fall into any of these three categories, the outcome will be poor. Note Coaches, it is valuable to learn not only to recognize these stories in yourself but in those you are working with so that you can provide guidance. The three clever stories are:

  1. The Victim Story – It’s not my fault this happened to me.
  2. The Villain Story – Someone else did this to me.  
  3. The Helpless Story – There was nothing else that could have been done. 

The three clever stories allow the teller not to take ownership of their own actions or to take steps to make the situation better. All three stories can lead to withdrawing, sarcasm, anger, or even active subversion. None of these behaviors is conducive to having a dialogue. The section on clever stories ends the ideas to redirect these types of stories to something more useful.  For example in the Victim Story, turn the victim role into someone that has an active role in the story. 

As with each of the previous chapters, practice is necessary to make these behaviors become automatic.

Previous entries

Week 1 – Logistics, Forewards, and Prefacehttp://bit.ly/2wls1Mq 

Week 2 – Chapter 1: What’s a crucial conversation? And who cares?http://bit.ly/3a7Kivp 

Week 3 – Chapter 2: The Power of Dialoguehttp://bit.ly/3aO4cMa  

Week 4 – Chapter 3: Start With Hearthttp://bit.ly/2UbJizK 

Week 5 – Learn To Lookhttps://bit.ly/3djnnPX

Week 6 – Make It Safehttps://bit.ly/39p4Xu4 

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 https://amzn.to/34RuZ6V (using the link helps support the blog and podcast).