Joseph Grenny is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything.
One of the most humbling—and to me, sacred—experiences I’ve had over the past thirty years has been hearing stories like those of Laura and Jim below. I say “sacred” because I realize more fully now that when we founded VitalSmarts, our mission meant entering some of the most intimate areas of people’s lives. Our goal was to discover key skills and insights that would assist people in solving the important human problems they faced.
Since then, we’ve heard stories from many of the millions who have given us the privilege of entering those places with them. Through our work, we’ve been part of conversations between parents and struggling teens, couples on the brink of divorce, managers struggling with problem employees, and leaders agonizing over how to lead change.
To those of you who have offered us this honor, thank you. And to those who are just entering this wonderful community of learning and growth, welcome!
When Laura met with her father in April of 2012, she had no idea what a lucrative meeting it would be! They had a great relationship and she had no complaints about her childhood. But when they met that day he unburdened his heart about several incidents in her childhood that weighed on him.
As a teenager, Laura found a well-paying job and her dad directed her to buy a car using the money she earned. However, both of her sisters used the family car and did not purchase cars of their own until much later. As Laura prepared to enter college, she decided to attend a local community college while her sisters both attended universities with significantly higher tuition and fees. Laura was the first of her sisters to get married and she paid for her own wedding. However, when both of her sisters were married, her parents made financial contributions to both of their weddings.
Laura’s father handed her a check for $3,000 as a way to compensate her for these three areas where he felt she was not treated equally. Laura was taken aback by both the check and the issues that so greatly concerned her father. But the next thing he said blew her away—he told her he would give her cash every year until he felt she was fully compensated! She was very grateful, as finances had been a struggle recently.
A year passed, and it was now spring of 2013. April came and went without a check, then May, then June. Laura started feeling angry. She recognized that she wasn’t mastering her emotions and began telling herself stories about why her father had not kept his word. And, instead of facing the conversation, she merely dropped hints. But after completing training in Crucial Accountability, Laura decided she would not slip into awkward silence and instead used her new skills. After all, the compensation plan was her dad’s idea and she wanted to speak to her father in a way that would resolve the issue without causing a new one.
Laura mustered the courage to talk to her dad. She felt it was important to deal with her violated expectations without damaging their close relationship. She was living with a failed promise and needed to find resolution and understanding. Through the course of her accountability discussion, she explained her expectations and then allowed him the opportunity to explain his actions.
How Laura used her skills:
Describe the Gap: Laura identified what she expected to happen versus what actually happened.
Choose What and If: She unbundled the situation using CPR and addressed this as a content and relationship issue. Laura wanted her father to follow through on his promise, and she valued the relationship and herself enough to not want to experience this frustration again the next year.
Master My Story: She stopped telling herself negative stories about her dad and listened to what he had to say.
Make it Motivating/Easy: Laura reminded her father of his previous promise and held him accountable to it by addressing it with him.
Move to Action: They agreed on a plan for when she would receive the money and she followed up with a thank you call once she received it.
Because of the skills she learned in Crucial Accountability, Laura not only received the compensation she was promised, but she preserved her relationship with her father—something of infinite value.
In November of 2011, Jim attended a training conference in Scottsdale, AZ. As it happened, David Maxfield, coauthor of Change Anything, was also there. Jim attended David’s presentation and felt it was one of the most valuable experiences of his life.
He received a copy of Change Anything and remembers eagerly reading it on his long flight home. He decided he needed to know more and signed up for a local Change Anything Training. He was so impressed by the change model he learned, he decided he would like to share this newfound knowledge with others. Even though he was not in a training role by profession, he received special permission from his manager to become a trainer and bring the course back to his team.
In the course of Jim’s learning, he decided to test the Change Anything principles in his own life. He began a personal weight loss journey that drastically improved his health, energy levels, and outlook on life.
At the author’s recommendations, Jim took a hard look at his default future. He recalled an experience in 1999 when his father underwent triple bypass surgery after struggling with several health issues; one of these issues was weight management. Jim had to sign the paperwork regarding who would be the decision maker if his father did not regain consciousness after surgery. Jim reflected on his own children—two teenage girls. Did he want them to face such an experience?
So Jim put Change Anything to the test. He found that his crucial moments were getting to the gym after work, his lunch selections, and what he snacked on before dinner. He recognized that getting motivated to go to the gym after work left room for him to make excuses not to go. For lunch, he often went with friends to a location that had a Chinese buffet, an Indian buffet, and a Five Guys Burger and Fries. He visited each restaurant at least once a week. He also noticed that he drank soda with his lunch and ate more food as a result. When he got home from work, he snacked on chips or cookies before dinner.
Jim focused on the following vital behaviors to counterattack these crucial moments. If he was going to fit a workout into each day, he would have to do it first thing in the morning. For lunch, he’d visit his company’s recently revitalized salad bar—keeping his head down and walking straight to the salad bar without glancing at the other tempting options. He also chose water instead of soda to accompany his meals. Before dinner, he made sure that fresh fruit and almonds were available to snack on.
Jim reviewed the Six Sources of Influence and found ways to plan for each.
Personal Motivation: Jim wanted to be around for his wife and daughters. He also wanted to stop taking cholesterol medication. In order to stay motivated, he kept pictures on his phone depicting his starting weight. He also created a personal statement, reminding him of how he felt when his father went in for surgery. He didn’t want his daughters to have to face a similar situation with him.
Personal Ability: Jim began using an online tracking tool called myfitnesspal.com to assist him in tracking his calories as well as to better understand how many calories he was actually consuming. He finally realized what his mindless eating was doing to his health after seeing that one meal from his favorite burger joint totaled 1500 calories.
For exercise, he found videos he could do that were very structured, like INSANITY and P90X. He was much more motivated to complete his daily exercise because he didn’t have to go to a gym and try to create his own workout regimen. He was able to use the spacious workout facility at work before he reported to work for the day, ensuring he actually got his workout in.
Social Motivation & Ability: Jim’s wife was very encouraging and they planned a cruise for the following summer. He knew he wanted to be in better shape before donning a swimsuit in public. He also used the message boards on the myfitnesspal.com where he read other’s contributions; he saw what others struggled with, and what methods they used to overcome those challenges.
Structural Motivation: As a reward for reaching his goals, Jim allowed himself a favorite dessert at the end of the week if he stayed on track. As he lost weight, he recognized the need for new clothing and bought nice shirts to reward his hard-earned efforts.
Structural Ability: Jim also used myfitnesspal.com to track his weight loss. He entered his starting weight into the tool and made sure to weigh himself often in order to keep on top of any fluctuations he noticed.
Results: By using the Six Sources of Influence, Jim lost over forty pounds in eight months. More importantly, he no longer has to take cholesterol medication! All of his health numbers have improved, he has more energy, and his friends and family have commented on how much healthier and happier he looks.