Crucial Accountability QA

Regaining Your Ground

Dear Crucial Skills,

A while back, my wife asked if it would be okay with me if her 30-year-old son set up residence in the spare bedroom for three months until he got his own home. I thought that sounded fine. It’s now been three years and the lad is still there.

My wife doesn’t see this as a problem, but it’s driving me crazy. My wife thinks the only reason I want him out is that he’s not my son. The real reason is that I never bargained for a permanent resident in our home. We’re stressing out here. What should I do?

Accidental Landlord

Dear Accidental Landlord,

This is tough. I don’t fault you for finding yourself in an unanticipated dilemma. But in this situation, don’t miss one key learning for the future: always spend more time detailing boundaries than you think you should. When friends ask me for these kinds of favors, I beg their forgiveness and ask their indulgence as I tell them two or three stories of such situations gone badly. This opens up a non-threatening conversation about how we’ll make sure these scenarios don’t happen to us.

But that’s water under your bridge. So let’s start where you are. Here’s some advice I hope will help:

1. Be sure you are as innocent as you think. You say your wife thinks you have it in for her son and you say you don’t. It’s interesting that you refer to him as “my wife’s son” rather than “my stepson.” I understand this could be because you married her when he was far into adulthood. I am also not suggesting you should let a 30-year-old reside in your home. However, I would encourage you to check your own gut and see if you are offering him the loyalty you should given that he is kin to your kin.

2. Deal with the conversation when you’re at your best, not your worst. The crucial conversation you need to have is with your wife, not your wife’s son. And the most common mistake is to discuss what’s bugging you rather than what you really want. When you enter your family room to watch your favorite show and he’s already watching something else; or, when you arrive home and see he failed to do a few simple yard chores you’d asked him to accept—for the seventh time. If you say anything to your wife during these moments—when you are most irritated—then you will dig your own conversation grave. When your wife hears you speak out of resentment, she will have legitimate reasons to believe your agenda is one of hostility toward her son, not assertion of your legitimate desires. To avoid this, schedule a time to talk when there is no pressing complaint. If you’ve made snide comments in the past, you need to clean up that mess before you can have a quality conversation about your desires. For example, you might say:

a. “Sweetheart, I realize I’ve been petty and rude about little problems with your son. I’ve handled it poorly in the past. Particularly because it’s made it appear that I didn’t want to help him. I did. I hope you’ll remember that I readily agreed to the original request. I was happy to help because I knew it was important to you. So I’m sorry to have made it appear that I felt otherwise when problems have come up.”

b.(Pause – be sure she “gets” this point before making your request to talk. Listen to her sincerely and acknowledge anything she needs from you so she’ll know this is not a personal attack on her son).

c. “That’s why I’d like to find a few minutes when we can talk about the future. I want to help but I also have some preferences about our living arrangements and would like to find a way to accommodate both. Could we find a time to figure this out together?”

3. Clarify intent before proposing solutions. As you begin this conversation, steer clear of proposals until you are sure she understands your intentions. Go to great lengths to ensure she knows you want to help her son. You must rebuild her trust that you truly share this intention. And at the same time, don’t apologize for the fact that you also have preferences about your home arrangements.

4. Talk principles before solutions. Ask her to help you identify boundaries. Finally, don’t attempt to propose solutions by yourself. This will turn the conversation into a debate you can’t win rather than a dialogue that leads to an acceptable solution.

For example, if she asks you what you want, the worst thing you can do is propose something like, “I’m thinking it would be good if he were out within a month.” At this point she may say, “There’s no way he can get ready for a move in a month. That’s outrageous!” Now you’re stuck either rolling over or defending your proposal.

Instead, propose solutions only after you’ve jointly agreed on principles or boundaries. When she asks what you want, engage her in a conversation about high-level principles.

For example:
Her: “Okay, what do you want?”
You: “Well, first I’d like to see what we both agree on. What are the limits of your willingness to continue the current arrangement? Are you okay with it continuing indefinitely? Are there any boundaries you want to set?”

If her answer is, “No—there are no boundaries,” consider two things:

1. Is she saying this defensively, because you haven’t made it safe? If so, back up and assure her you want to help her son while also maintaining your own lifestyle. Then ask if you can discuss ways to accomplish both.

2. Or, is her philosophy that parents should do everything their kids want? If this is the case, then you need to express respect for her view and ask her to find a compromise. For example: “I think it’s wonderful that your loyalty to your children is so deep. I respected that so much that I wanted to allow him to stay with us for a number of months. I still feel that way. It was very inconvenient to me when he moved in, but I wanted to support your desire to be there for your son. At the same time, you made a commitment to me for a three-month term. We have far exceeded that. I hope you see that I allowed him to stay as much for you as I did for him. At this point, I’m asking you to accommodate my desire to find a conclusion to this. How can we draw some boundaries—and stick with them—that give him a smooth transition and at the same time give us back the privacy I think we both value?

If her answer is, “Yes,” then discuss those boundaries and agree on a set of principles.

The line you’re trying to walk is to show support while asserting your desires. The primary way you’ll go wrong is if you make a sucker’s choice and do only one of these.

It’s a tricky conversation, but definitely one you need to have. I suspect it may be in your stepson’s interests to move on with his life as much as it is yours.

Best wishes,

Kerrying On

Kerrying On: The End of Silly Arguments

Kerry Patterson

Kerry Patterson is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything.


Kerrying On

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It’s a miracle my wife ever ended up marrying me. Her first experience with my family was at best awkward. Despite the fact that my mom, dad, and I trotted out our “company” behavior that evening, our attempts at refinement apparently didn’t work. At the end of the meal, Louise asked, “Why were you guys so mad at each other?”

“What makes you think we were angry?” I queried.

“You were arguing the whole evening,” she explained.

“That wasn’t arguing. That’s how we normally discuss matters,” I responded.

“You guys quarreled for five full minutes over whether or not lemmings actually follow each other off a cliff like a bunch of, well, lemmings.”

“They don’t,” I quickly explained. “What kind of genetic advantage is there in mass suicide?”

Louise looked at me in a way that said she was having second thoughts about dating me.

“Surely you don’t buy into the legend that lemmings . . .” I interjected, and Louise’s look of disappointment only grew more pronounced.

Over the years, Louise and I have become better at handling differences of opinion. As you might suspect, we have carefully worked on our conversation skills and that has helped some, but I have to admit that one of the chief contributors to my most recent improvements has been due to, of all things, the advent of search engines. We still debate things, but we now talk about topics of more substance. We’ll argue about whether a new public policy will result in a public benefit, or we’ll even ponder the meaning of life, but we no longer argue about silly things such as Lemmings. The internet now intervenes in all of our debates of fact.

For example, last night we were watching a TV replay of the movie Father of the Bride. When we first see the beautiful home the bride’s family lives in, we argue over where the home is located. Clearly it’s California. That’s easy; but northern or southern? And the debate is on. Only nowadays, the debate doesn’t run very long. My son-in-law, who is watching along with us, jumps to the computer, clicks on a search engine and types in “Father of the Bride House.” A Web site with that very name comes up, he clicks on it, and then shouts, “It’s located at 843 S. El Molino Ave, Pasadena. Do you want to see the map that shows how to get there?”

“Told you it was southern California.” my daughter chimes in.

Moments later my seven-year-old granddaughter walks into the room and reminds her mom that she has to start reading a new book—a nonfiction.

“I have one,” my daughter exclaims as she pulls the book off the side table.

“Let’s see if the book is age appropriate,” I say as I pluck the suspicious manuscript from her hand and open it to the first page of text. As I’m reading from the book, I bark, “Ennui!” Actually, I spit the word out as if it were a piece of raw liver. “This book contains the word ‘ennui.’ What kind of kid knows what ennui is?”

“What is ennui?” my granddaughter asks.

I explain: “It’s kind of a bad, well you know, it’s a French word made of two parts—first the ‘on’ and then the ‘wee.’ Even though the word looks like ‘en-you-eye,’ it’s a trick. It’s actually pronounced ‘on-wee.’ Anyway, ennui is a bad sort of feeling. It’s a French-like bad feeling.”

“Yes,” my oldest son chimes in. “It means you’re in a bad mood or out of sorts.”

“That’s ‘ornery,’” my wife corrects him.

“A feeling of utter boredom,” my daughter reads from the computer screen. This time she merely had hit F12 and a pre-loaded dictionary window came up. “The word is pronounced ‘ahn-wee’ and means utter boredom.”

“I forgot what we’re talking about,” my wife says.

“I was wondering what kind of non-fiction books kids would read and whether or not this one was age appropriate.”

“Look at this,” my daughter interjects. “Here’s a Web site that displays the last fifteen years of nonfiction children’s book award winners.” Now we’re all standing around the computer looking at wonderful nonfiction books we had no idea existed. After three more clicks, we order two.

And so it goes in the Patterson household. Thousands of years of science, art, literature, and daily civilization lay before us, and this massive output is actually starting to find its way into our daily conversation. Equally important, armed with more data than ever before, we tend not to argue the facts; instead we discuss bigger issues. For instance, stimulated by one of my latest Web searches, I discussed with my grandkids how such legends as “lemmings commit suicide” are created in the first place. That conversation is far more interesting and enlightening than the traditional “No they don’t jump off cliffs!” “Yes they do!” battle that went on for decades.

The world is changing—and in this case for the better. We can now be a more careful, scientific, and fact-based people—without all that much effort (which suits us just fine). Whether at work or home, we can enter a discussion with most of the facts we need at hand. And if we find ourselves arguing the facts, we can stop mid-discussion and seek data. Instead of calling the meeting to a halt, we can find the information we need in only a few seconds.

It’s hard to imagine where this amazing portal is going to take us. One thing’s for sure: people who set their home computer near their easy chair and an office computer in meeting rooms will step to the portal more rapidly than those who have to drive to a library or walk downstairs or back to their office in order to conduct a data search. I’m sure we’ll overcome this problem as well. The day will come when people who now walk around with a tiny phone riding atop their ear will have the entire internet riding there. Perhaps they’ll embed a search engine under a flap of skin, much like a pacemaker and then Wi-Fi it to a tiny speaker buried behind an ear.

One day you’ll be sitting at the boarding gate waiting to climb on a plane and you’ll hear from the person seated next to you, “Search, lemming.” (Pause) “Next.” (Pause) “Next.” (Pause) “Play lemming legends.” Then the stranger will sit there and hear the paragraphs explaining how lemmings flee to find more space and sometimes even jump into the water to swim to a nearby island.

People who once rode atop camels for days on end to arrive at the Great Library of Alexandria would surely look on with awe should they see us use a search engine. They’d probably wonder why we use this grand tool to find the address of a house we see on TV or to read about the social patterns of a rodent, but it doesn’t matter how we use the tool, only that we use it. Imagine working in a company where people stop pooling ignorance and start jumping out of an argument and onto the Web where they can find legitimate sources of scientific evidence. Imagine living in a family where people pause briefly to check their facts before they launch into a silly argument. My first at-home date with Louise certainly could have used such help.

Crucial Conversations QA

Conversations vs. Accountability

Dear Crucial Skills,

I work in a situation where we have a reputation for being ‘nice’ to employees and not having crucial conversations when needed. This leads to inconsistent messages, inconsistent productivity and our missing of several key goals. Which do you think would be better to try first; a roll out of Crucial Conversations with a focus on creating safety and dialogue or Crucial Accountability with a focus on creating personal accountability? Both will be rolled out, the question is where to begin.

Which Way?

Dear Which Way,

If your plan is to roll out both training programs, then by far the best strategy is to start with Crucial Conversations.

Crucial Conversations is a powerful set of skills that will train people to deal with any emotionally and politically charged conversation they face. Sometimes these involve high stakes disagreements (The boss is asking me to cut my budget by 25 percent and is expecting the same level of service from my team—it just ain’t gonna happen!). Sometimes they involve disappointments (Your colleague promised to stick to his budget this year but has exceeded it by 10 percent—again!). In Crucial Conversations we learn to deal with both high stakes disagreements and disappointments by learning foundational skills for just these kinds of situations.

In Crucial Conversations people learn to clarify their goals, monitor the conversation for risks to healthy dialogue, create safety, manage emotions, speak candidly without provoking defensiveness and make it safe for others to share even risky views.

If your people have these foundational skills, they will derive even more from Crucial Accountability.

Crucial Accountability dives deep into one of these two areas, accountability. When people deal with disappointments—situations where others break promises, violate expectations or behave badly—a more focused skill set is often needed. In Crucial Accountability, we build on the Crucial Conversations skill set and equip people with the ability to diagnose why problems occur, hold the right level of conversation, deal with motivation problems and respond to ability barriers. In addition, we give people skills to deal with the explosive, defensive and distracting issues that sometimes emerge when you attempt to hold others accountable.

The beauty of Crucial Accountability is that these skills can be used to hold a peer, a direct report or a boss accountable—in a way that not only addresses the real issue, but also strengthens the relationship.

So I congratulate you on your decision to offer both of these vital skill sets to your people. I would urge you to take it slow. Space out the lessons over time. Use the contract cards so that people are held accountable not just to learn the skills, but also to apply them. Engage them in a powerful follow up process like Mastery Mission to turn your training experience into a profound developmental process that will influence change for good.

Lay the foundation with Crucial Conversations. Build on it with Crucial Accountability. And keep in touch—we’d love to learn from your experience.