Jenni’s Story

When a tragedy hits home, Jenni discovers her conversation skills do more than just resolve conflict.

In November of 2016, I attended the training to become a facilitator of Crucial Conversations for my organization. I never could have imagined how impactful this training would become in my personal life.

On Saturday, August 12, 2017, my husband and I were at home in Knoxville, Tennessee, paying close attention to the protests happening in Charlottesville, Virginia. My brother-in-law, Berke Bates, was on duty as a Trooper-Pilot for the Virginia State Police, and we felt quite certain he would be heavily involved in efforts to control the escalating violence. That day would turn out to be the most devastating day of our lives. We received a call in the late afternoon that the helicopter Berke was in crashed and that our worst fears had become reality; Berke lost his life in the line of duty.

As the phone conversation continued between my husband and the Virginia State Police, we learned that Tennessee State Troopers were on their way to his parents’ house to inform them of the news. In the next moments, we rushed to my in-law’s home in Knoxville to try to beat the troopers to deliver the news to them ourselves. Even in the face of tragedy, I was able to focus on the skills I learned during Crucial Conversations training. I coached my husband through what we would say to his parents and how we could best support them.

No words can express the heartbreak that we have endured, but I can say with full confidence that what I learned through Crucial Conversations has served me in an ongoing manner throughout this year as we have faced all of the “firsts” without Berke—first Thanksgiving, first Christmas, and so on. My ability to listen, reflect, and help guide others through their grief is a result of Crucial Conversations. The conversation skills bring value to everyone, and learning and practicing them has made them readily available in the most difficult situations. ◼

The opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the storyteller and do not reflect the view of VitalSmarts.

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