Justin Hale is a Master Trainer and Consultant with VitalSmarts.
What if the other person doesn’t change despite my efforts to use the skills?
Great question. I hear someone ask this almost every time I teach. While it’s true that Crucial Conversations skills don’t fix everything, there are a few things I have found helpful when feeling at a loss on how to improve a relationship with a challenging person:
- Don’t forget motive — The best place to start when the conversation goes badly is with our heart, our motive. What is that you REALLY want? Do you want the other person to “change?” Or do you want to stay in dialogue and build a relationship? If you are hoping, wishing, and praying for the other person to change (believe me, I’ve been there), chances are your behavior might become more forceful, coercive, and maybe even manipulative (I’ve been there too). When we can focus on good goals (dialogue, results, relationships), we’re more likely to have a more open approach to others, which in turn allows us to get what we really want.
- It takes work — a lot of work. Not too long ago I asked a Crucial Conversations graduate what she had learned from the course and how she’d benefited. Her answer changed my perspective completely. She said, “I had a thirty-year-long relationship that was struggling significantly. I learned the skills and went to work on it. I worked and I worked and I worked . . . and I can honestly say it’s gotten better.” Isn’t that interesting? What she didn’t say was, “The other person is finally fixed,” or, “Everything is perfect now.” She saw progress for what it was—progress. She wasn’t looking for perfection in the other person but for improvement. Often we need to shift our expectations of what “progress” really looks like.
- Make it safe — I’ve come to realize that creating safety can take time . . . a lot of time. Sometimes safety is created quickly in just one conversation and other times it requires more effort over a longer period of time. When we think of safety as more than a few quick-fix tactics and see it as a true principle of creating mutual purpose and mutual respect between two people, we realize how much time (and work) it really requires to establish a safety zone that allows for healthy dialogue. As much as we’d like situations that are causing us pain, grief, and frustration to be resolved overnight, that’s not always the case. These things take time, so remember safety is conversational and relational.
- If all else fails — Sometimes we give a relationship all we’ve got and things still don’t improve. That’s the reality of life. In cases like this we may choose to end the relationship (personal or professional), and move forward with our lives. Sometimes that means moving departments or not interacting anymore with a friend; either way that decision is personal. I find that if I care about the relationship at all, even if things are not going well, I owe it to myself and the other person to come back tomorrow and give it another shot…hopefully a better shot.
Best of luck,