ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joseph Grenny is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.
Dear Crucial Skills,
I’m currently taking Crucial Conversations Training at work. It has helped me both at home and at work by giving me the confidence to take quite a few bulls by the horns.
I’m wondering how to begin a crucial conversation with someone who can completely dominate every interaction. This person can talk for 45 minutes straight, then in the last 15 minutes ask what’s on your mind and expect you to get through it all. Any suggestions?
Run On Sentence
Dear Run On Sentence,
Do I have suggestions? Oh yes.
You’re raising a classic question–and one all of us should handle better. The broader question you’re asking is, “What if the problem is not a specific problem, but something that happens when we talk about problems?”
We’ve all got our list of “secondary” complaints: annoyances that occur when we are trying to work with others that don’t rise to the level of a crisis, but that tax our ability to get things done. For example, your boss repeatedly takes phone calls during your precious one-on-one time. Or a vendor requires five calls from you before responding. Or your spouse is always running 30 minutes late.
The problem with these secondary complaints is that they never seem to rise to the level of “crucial” because you can function even with these challenges. But after a while these annoyances are kind of like jogging with 10-pound weights on your ankles. You may still get the job done, but it’s a whole lot harder and a lot less fun.
So, here are some suggestions for taking care of these secondary concerns:
1. Talk about them separately. Don’ t wait until you’re in the middle of a conversation about next year’s budget and you’re irritated because you colleague is doing all the talking. Give this issue the separate attention and focus it deserves, and do it when you’re in a respectful state of mind.
2. Master your story. You described the problem as your colleague “dominating every interaction.” That language sounds as though you are making him out to be the source of the problem. I wonder if in describing your interactions if he might say, “She’s pretty timid.”
Think about the problem as a shared one between the two of you and not one he is solely responsible for creating. If you fail to do this, you’re likely to come across as blaming when you bring it up, and he’s likely to feel defensive.
3. Make it safe. The best way to make it safe is to take responsibility. Be sure not to present the issue as his problem, but as yours too. For example, you could say:
“Before we get started with our discussion, there’s something I want to figure out with you. Would that be okay?”
“I’ve noticed over the past few months that when we meet, I’m not participating as much as I’d like. Typically I only weigh-in with my issues during the last 15 minutes or so of the conversation. I think part of the problem is that it takes me longer to form my opinion, or perhaps I’m processing more. You tend to think more quickly and speak pretty energetically, and between the two of us, I’m not getting into the conversation as much as I’d like. I’m wondering if you could let me know what I can do to participate more in the conversation so I can walk away feeling like I’ve accomplished what I need. Can we talk about that?”
Now, I don’t know that this is a perfect approach, but what I’m doing is attempting to make it safe by avoiding blame. I’d encourage you to frame the problem clearly with the purpose you’ve got in mind. Raise the sticky issue by taking a lot of responsibility for it and invite him to share responsibility for the solution.
4. Finally, agree on ground rules. Agree on some cues you can give him when you need to slow down the conversation so you can weigh in, or when you want to have a chance to speak first to set the agenda, etc. Try to agree on one or two things you’ll both do, then conclude by asking if you could check in with him after your next couple of meetings.
The real key to success here will be your attitude toward your colleague. If you can get your frustration and blame toward him out of your system before you approach the issue, you’ll probably do just fine.
Congratulations on your success in the training and keep up the great work!