What Happened: The Gift of Forgiveness

This letter was received in response to a question Joseph Grenny answered in the December 14, 2011 Crucial Skills Newsletter titled, “The Gift of Forgiveness.”

Dear Joseph,

A year ago, you addressed a concern by “Facilitating Forgiveness” about the communication difficulties a family was facing after a grandmother’s extended illness. The family described was my family, and that year, we canceled our family Christmas party.

Your advice included patience and changing stories. In the ensuing months, there was a gradual shift as my son, his cousins, my brother, and myself attempted to patiently do our part to mend the difficult situation.

We had a breakthrough in the summer when my nieces and nephews talked their aunt, the oldest in the story, into resuming her tradition of a 4th of July party (it was also canceled last year). That action led to the softening of some hearts and some progress in communication. When my youngest sister was diagnosed with colon cancer this fall, the rest of the resistance became, in Star Trek terms, futile. My mother’s gradual recovery, and the combination of service and prayers by the rest of the family on behalf of my sister, have done the seemingly impossible. We are having a Christmas party!

A year ago, you pointed out that hate cannot drive out hate and darkness cannot drive out darkness—only love and light can do that. Your gift from me this Christmas is knowing that your advice commending patience, love, and an appeal to what members of the family really wanted was the right path to forgiveness and restoration of family unity.

Thank you!

Editor’s Note: If you would like to share similar feedback about how the authors’ advice has helped you, please e-mail us at editor@vitalsmarts.com.

From the Road

From the Road: So Much Training

Steve WillisSteve Willis is a Master Trainer and Vice President of Professional Services at VitalSmarts.

From the Road

One of my year-end activities is tallying up the total number of training days I delivered (one way to ensure my fingers are ready for any math challenge that comes my way). It gives me a sense of how many individuals were impacted by these sessions as well as of my own learning experiences with the different groups.

This year, as I was right in the middle of reflecting and pondering—in a state of really “deep think” about the year’s experience as a whole—I received an e-mail from a work colleague. Attached was a Wall Street Journal article titled, “So Much Training.” As that was exactly the topic I’d been contemplating, I opened it straightaway.

It wasn’t until I was about three paragraphs in that I realized that, due to the heavy meditative haze I’d been operating under, I’d misread the title. There was a second half that I had overlooked entirely: “So Little to Show for It.” And as you might guess, this second phrase was more indicative of the article’s content.

The article explores why many organizations aren’t realizing the full potential of their training initiatives and makes the point that, in order to receive the full value, what happens before and after training is more important than what happens during training. While this isn’t the first time that I’ve heard this, because I was in the middle of my review exercise it hit me in a different way. It got me thinking of the degree to which I helped and hindered the groups with which I worked.

In training terms, I’m the “during” guy, not the “before” or “after” guy. I arrive to deliver a training session or two, and then I’m off to another organization. But just because I’m not responsible for the “before” and “after” doesn’t mean that I should focus solely on the “during.” I can talk with those who are responsible—ask them what needs the training fulfills in their organization, provide them with learning objective worksheets they can distribute to the managers of those who will participate in the actual session, suggest ways to measure achievement of learning objectives across individuals, recommend post-training practice strategies, etc.

And as the “during” guy, I think there’s a lot I (or anyone in this position) can do in the session that can help support (not replace) “before” and “after” activities. I have activities to use (have the class take two minutes to brainstorm common tough situations they face), commitments to extend (have participants set a date and time to follow up and practice with a partner from the class), questions to ask (“Where and how do you think you’ll be able to use this skill?”), and tools to offer (introduce the contract cards as an easy-access review or checklist).

As you prepare for your 2013 training sessions, consider what you can do to change the title of the Wall Street Journal article to “So Much Training, So Much to Show for It” for your organization.

Trainer QA

What if the other person doesn't change despite my efforts to use the skills?

Justin Hale

Justin Hale is a Master Trainer and Consultant with VitalSmarts.


Q What if the other person doesn’t change despite my efforts to use the skills?

A 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,