I am 55 years old, and we all know the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” I have worked in engineering and purchasing at the same company for 17 years. Throughout my career I’ve faced recurring interpersonal conflicts that resulted from frequent “blow-ups.” I’d always believed completing the task was the most important thing and relationship damage was collateral damage I could live with.
My immediate superior had attended a Crucial Conversations class for the upper level managers at our company. The next step was to enroll the next level of managers and coaches. I don’t coach anyone, but my supervisor enrolled me in the class anyway.
My initial thought was, “I really don’t have the time for this stuff!” But after the first few minutes, I realized that not only was I in the right place, but there was potential to learn something. I sat intently and absorbed as much as I could, replaying past incidents in my mind and realizing where I had gone wrong. I realized that I paid no attention when interacting with others. I didn’t notice when they went to silence or violence. It was “my way or the highway,” and I would push until others went to silence, which to me signaled agreement.
During the training, I reread chapters and talked with classmates. I met with my learning partner, and he candidly told me that many of my coworkers believed I had a wealth of knowledge but avoided dealing with me because they didn’t know when my next blowup would happen.
Shortly after I completed the class, the director of engineering called me into his office. He placed me on probation because of feedback about my blowups. I had three months to turn things around or I was gone. I thought overnight about what I was going to do. I realized what I had learned about myself in the Crucial Conversations Training gave me the tools to fix the problem. Prior to the class I had no clue about how to turn things around and most likely would have walked out the door. Because of Crucial Conversations, however, I accepted the challenge.
My coach told me this would have to be a “life change” and not a temporary change, and I realized I had some fences to mend within the organization. I knew the road was going to be long and hard. Apologizing was difficult, but I wanted to change myself.
It is now a year later, and I still work for the same company. The things that have happened in the last year amaze me. I have mended all the fences, and at times, individuals have come to me for advice on dealing with situations. I have even had crucial conversations with managers of our company on behalf of others.
My wife tells me the pattern of behavior of the last thirty years has changed. Things that used to cause me to blow up at home no longer do, and she says it’s like being married to a different person. I am a different person—one even I like. Crucial Conversations has definitely changed me, and this old dog has learned new tricks.