How you handle conversations has a huge impact on your relationships. Ensuring safety in conversations is essential to allow for the real issues to be discussed. If there's a safe environment you can talk about anything.


Chapter 1: What’s a Crucial Conversation?

Crucial Conversation:

A discussion between two or more people where (1) stakes are high, (2) opinions vary, and (3) emotions run strong

We often back away from Crucial Conversations since we fear we’ll make matters worse. For instance, coworkers send e-mail to each other when they should walk down the hall and talk turkey. People use all sorts of tactics to dodge touchy issues.

Can do one of three things when a crucial conversation comes up:

When we need to perform the best, we are apt to do our worst. As humans we’re designed with a flight or fight response and that does not prepare us to converse effectively. Crucial Conversations are frequently spontaneous and as such we’re forced to conduct very complex human interactions in real time without notes or, often, preperation.

Most have never had any healthy models to emulate and therefore “perfect practice makes perfect.” The strategies most employ defeat our actual purpose. Very often, your behavior creates the very thing that you didn’t want in the first place: a self-defeating loop.

The Law of Crucial Conversations:

At the heart of all chronic problems lie crucial conversations. The key skill of leaders is the capacity to skillfully address emotionally and politcally risky issues.

Most leaders get it wrong. They think that organizational productivity and performance are simply about policies, processes, structures, or systems. The key to real change lies not in implementing a new process, but in getting people to hold one another accountable to the process (employee behavior). Everyone should hold everyone else accountable.

People fall into one of three categories: those who digress into threats and name-calling, those who revert to silent fuming,and those who speak openly, honestly, and effectively.

Chapter 2: Mastering Crucial Conversations

Fool’s Choice: the mistake that most of make in our Crucial conversations is we believe that we have to choose between telling the truth and keeping a friend. The best refuse to make the Fool’s choice.

Dialogue: skilled people find a way to get all relevant information out into the open. At the core of every successful conversation lies the free flow of information. Dialogue is the free flow of meaning between two or more people.

Pool of Shared Meaning: When there is a crucial conversation, by definition our pool of meaning is not shared. People who are skilled at dialogue do their best for everyone to add their meaning to the shared pool. They don’t agree with every idea; they simply do their best to ensure that all ideas find their way into the open. People tend to hold back their opinions rather than risk angering someone in a position of power. The pool of shared meaning is the birthplace of synergy. Since the meaning is shared, people will willingly act on whatever decisions they make.

When people take part in the free flow of meaning, eventually they understand why the shared solution is the best solution. Conversely, when people are not involved, when they sit back quietly during touchy conversations, they’re rarely committed to the final decision. They end up quietly criticizing and passively resisting. When others force their ideas into the pool, people have a harder time accepting the information. They may say they’re on board, but then walk away and follow through halfheartedly.

“He that complies against his will is of his own opinion still.”

When we argue, debate, run away, or otherwise act in an ineffective way, it’s because we don’t know how to share meaning. We play salute and stay mute. We give people the cold shoulder in order to get them to treat us better. We withold meaning from the pool; we go to silence. Or we force meaning into the pool. We use violence in the form of subtle manipulation to verbal attacks.

In order to move to our best, we have to find a way to explain what is in each of our personal pools of meaning and to get others to share their pools.

Chapter 3: Start with Heart

The how of dialogue. To encourage the flow of meaning in the face of differing opinions and strong emotions, use the first principle of dialogue: Start with Heart.

First you need to focus on yourself. If you don’t you’ll have a hard time getting the dialogue right. Best way to work on us is to start with me.


Our problem is not that our behavior degenerates - our motives do. We often do things that contribute to the problems that we’re facing.

Begin high-risk discussions with the right motives by starting with the heart and staying focused no matter what happens.

Dialogue killers:


By transforming your motives, you can transform the way you interact with others even if they do so in a hostile manner. Many times, even hostile questions can lead to chances to influence the conversation in a positive manner by allowing you the opportunity to address sources of resistance.

So ask the question, “what do I really want here?”

Handle your conversations

Before going into a crucial conversation, ask yourself what you really want. Motives change usually without any conscious thought on our part.

While in the middle of a conversation, step away from the interaction and ask yourself:

“What am I doing and what does it tell me about my underlying motive?”

When you name the game you can stop playing it.

When in the middle of a conversation or when preparing for one, ask yourself when you find yourself or there’s the potential for slipping out of dialogue these questions:

Asking what I really want helps you find your bearings despite the temptations to pick a fight and the habit of trying to win. Introducing complex and abstract questions, also allows us to short circuit our body’s natural fight or flight response. It communicates to our brain that we’re dealing with social issues and not physical threats.

Refuse The Fool’s Choice

The most talented at dialogue are those who are continually trying to improve their dialogue skills. Despite constant invitations to slip away from their goals, they stick with them. Skilled people also don’t make Fool’s Choices. We assume we have to choose between getting results and keeping a relationship but that simply isn’t true.

The best ask: “what do I want for myself, the other person, and the relationship?”

Refuse the fool’s choice by searching for the elusive and - set up new choices.

Chapter 4: Learn to Look

Content and Conditions

Oftentimes we become so caught up in the content of the conversation that we become blind to the conditions. Therefore you should watch the content of the conversation along with the conditions. Look at the what and why behind why people are becoming upset or holding back or going silent so that you can get a conversation back on track.

Spotting Crucial Conversations

Watch for the signs that a conversation is changing from normal one into a crucial one. When you anticipate entering into a crucial conversation, pay head to the fact that you’re about to enter the danger zone.

Some people notice physical signals. Others emotions; they realize that they are scared, hurt, or angry and they are beginning to react to and or suppress these feelings. Others notice behavioral things like an out-of-body experience.

Look for Safety Problems

“When it’s safe, you can say anything”

Fear kills the free flow of dialogue since it invokes our flight or fight response. The first challenge is to see and understand when safety is at risk. When you don’t feel safe, even well-intended comments are suspect. Those who are talented in dialogue keep a constant vigil on safety. While they pay attention to safety, they are equally if not more attentive at watching for signs that people are becoming fearful.

What you’re saying rarely causes a person to become defensive. The problem is not the content but the condition of the conversation. You failed to help the other people to feel safe while they were hearing the message. You feel safe in a conversation because you trust the motives and the ability of the other person.

“When it’s unsafe, you start to go blind”

When emotions come into play, key brain functions start shutting down. When you feel threatened you can scarcely beyond what is right in front of you. Pulling yourself out of the content of an argument when safety is at risk allows your full vision to return.

“Don’t let safety problems lead you astray”

When you see silence or violence, see them as signs that people are feeling unsafe. Don’t respond in kind: do something to make it safe.

Silence and Violence

Look for your style under stress. When you fail to monitor your own behavior, you can look pretty silly. Pay attention to what you’re doing and the impact is having , and then alter your strategy if necessary. Most people toggle between holding back and becoming too fearful.

Some think that completing the task is the most important thing and the relationship damage is collateral damage that we can live with.

We usually lose any semblance of social sensitivity when we become so consumed with the ideas and causes that we lose track of what we’re doing.

Chapter 5: Make it Safe

When you spot safey risks, you need to start building safety immediately: step ouf of the conversation, make it safe, and then step back in.

When safey risks arise, you may need to set aside the current issue for a bit. The worst at dialogue ignore the need for safety. The good realize that safety is at risk but they fix it in the wrong way. The best don’t play games: they solve their problem by talking about their problem with no pretending, sugarcoating, or faking. They step out of the conversation, make it safe, and then step back in.

“Can we change gears for a minute…? It would be good if we could… and I certainly don’t want to make you defensive… I’d really like for us to come up with a solution… to x.

The First & Entrance Condition of Safety: Mutual Purpose

When you trust someone’s purposes, you are generally willing to listen to tough feedback. Conversations often go awry because the content suggests malicious intent. Therefore, the first condition of safety is Mutual Purpose.

Mutual Purpose means that others perceive that you’re working toward a common outcome and that you care about their goals, interests, and values. And vice versa.

Debate comes about because mutual purpose is at risk. People start forcing their opinions into the pool of meaning when they believe we’re trying to win. Other signs include defensiveness, hidden agendas, accusations, and circling back to the same topic.

Ask yourself the Start with Heart questions to make sure your motives are in the right place.

Find a mutual purpose that is motivating so that they’ll want to hear your concerns.

The Continuance Condition: Mutual Respect

“Do others believe I respect them?”

You can’t stay in the conversation if you don’t have mutual respect. If people perceive that there’s disrespect then it becomes unsafe and the conversation becomes about defending dignity.

Watch for signs that people are defending their dignity: emotions. When people feel disrespected they become highly charged.

Feelings of disrespect often come when we dwell on how others are different. Counteract these feelings by looking for ways that we are similar. Without excusing others’ behavior, we try to sympahtize, even empathize, with them. When we recognize that we all have weaknesses, it’s easier to find a way to respect others.

Stepping Out and Breaking the Cycle

You both are fighting for respect: break the cycle. Recognize their aggressive behavior for what it is: a safety violation. Here are a few ways to break out of the cycle:

Chapter 6: Master My Stories

You create your emotions and you can choose to act on them or be acted on by them. The worst at dialogue are controlled by their emotions and don’t realize it. The good know that emotions