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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.


Joseph Grenny

Joseph Grenny is a New York Times bestselling author, keynote speaker, and leading social scientist for business performance. For thirty years, Joseph has delivered engaging keynotes at major conferences including the HSM World Business Forum at Radio City Music Hall. Joseph’s work has been translated into twenty-eight languages, is available in thirty-six countries, and has generated results for three hundred of the Fortune 500.

The ideas expressd in this article are base on the skills and principles taught in Crucial Conversations. Learn more about Crucial Conversations

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