All posts by Cricket Buchler

Cricket Buchler is a corporate coach and a VitalSmarts Master Trainer. She has helped thousands of people around the globe build dialogue skills, create accountability, and drive behavior change.
Crucial Conversations QA

How to Advocate for Your Direct Report

Dear Cricket,

I have a staff member (let’s call him Tom) who recently began reporting to me, and he has a history of having a bad attitude. I discussed my expectations with him at the onset of our relationship, and his behavior has improved. He even took some of my feedback to his wife, who echoed my sentiments. Since then he has made great strides in forming a positive attitude. He is more cautious with what he says to others, how he responds to issues, and he’s receiving positive feedback from customers. I would like to reward him for his improvements, but in order to do that my higher-ups have to be convinced as well. They still have a bad taste in their mouths due to a high-visibility project he and others didn’t attend to appropriately (this predated my management of him). I am afraid giving him more negative feedback will cause him to backslide. What should I do?

Uncertain Advocate

Dear Uncertain,

I applaud your willingness to advocate for your direct report, and for not shying away from a tough conversation with your management team. I am reminded of the importance of creating Mutual Purpose. Perhaps the CRIB skills could help you navigate this conversation? Or the STATE skills? I’ll outline below what these skills might look like as you attempt to reach agreement with those above you at work.

Share Your Facts, Tell Your Story

First, let your managers know where you are coming from by stating the facts and the story you’ve concluded from the facts. You might try something like this:

“As a manager, I consider it my job to establish clear expectations, give regular and balanced feedback, reward progress and continue to push my employees to high standards. My current goal for Tom is twofold: (1) He needs to attend to high-visibility projects appropriately. He understands this is a priority and we’ve been working through a learning plan to ensure the problems from before never happen again. And (2) it’s important for him to maintain a positive attitude at work. I discussed my expectations with him when I moved into this role, and, from my perspective, his behavior has started to improve. He was able to take some of my feedback to his wife, who echoed my sentiment regarding his previously poor attitude that gave others the perception that he would rather work elsewhere. Since then he has made great strides in forming a positive attitude. He is more cautious with what he is saying to others, how he chooses to respond to issues, and he is receiving a lot of positive feedback from customers.”

Commit to Seek Mutual Purpose

Next, make it clear you care about their interests and motives, too.

“I’d like to reward him for his improvements, but I sense you might not feel comfortable with that, given the lingering impact of what happened on last year’s project. I’d love to see if we can get creative here and come up with a plan that works for everyone.”

Recognize the Purpose Behind the Strategy

Invite your managers to share their ideas first, as that typically creates more safety. But you’ll also want to share where you’re coming from.

“Can you help me better understand what concerns you most about rewarding him for the progress he’s made?”

Perhaps they are concerned that others on the team who consistently perform up to standards might feel slighted by this choice? Or perhaps they worry that giving a quarter-end bonus to someone who has underperformed sends the message that the company rewards shoddy work and doesn’t hold people accountable?

When you clearly understand their motives and concerns, share yours.

“My fear is if I only ever provide negative feedback (without also recognizing and rewarding good behavior), he will start to feel demoralized. He might think we aren’t noticing the strides he’s making and it will be harder for him to maintain the good attitude he’s worked so hard to develop. I don’t wish to gloss over the problems. I want to keep him motivated so that he can continue to progress.”

Invent a Mutual Purpose

Sum up the challenge as you see it, propose a way to work together on a solution, and then see if they agree.

“I’m happy to get creative with you. I’m wondering if there’s a way for us to reward progress while still holding high standards for him and others on the team. If we can find a way to do both of those things, would that work for you?”

Brainstorm New Strategies

Get creative! See if you can find new strategies for recognition that don’t involve a public reward or that allow for a different kind of commitment (like a written thank you note from the V.P. of your department or an Amazon gift card or some extra paid time off instead of a yearly bonus).

Remember, the goal is to try to create a mutual purpose that everyone feels good about. When you can do that, it becomes easier to brainstorm solutions that move everyone in the same direction.

Good Luck!

Crucial Conversations QA

How to Confront a Suspected Thief

Dear Cricket,

Recently, I dressed up for a presentation at school. (I am 14, by the way.) I brought a drawstring bag with me with, an extra set of pants, and my $160 sneakers to change into when my presentation was done. I accidentally left my drawstring bag with my pants and sneakers in the library. I realized this around third period, but because I have fifth period in the library I decided to get my bag then. It wasn’t there. My pants were there, but my shoes were gone. In the two years I’ve spent at this school, I’ve never seen anyone wear similar shoes, but today I spotted a girl wearing the exact same shoes. They were laced how I laced mine, and were stained and in the same condition as mine. I have the same lunch as this girl. How should I go about confronting her about giving them back? I don’t have much free time during the day and I’m afraid if I go up to her when she’s with friends I’ll look stupid. Do I allow her a day or demand them right there?


Dear Shoeless,

How upsetting it must be to have had your beloved belongings disappear like that! It can be so tempting to move into the blame game and conclude that this gal has callously stolen from you for her own gain. Beware the temptation. Remember the principles.

Master Your Stories:

Rather than villainize her, ask “Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do this?” Might she honestly have just found some shoes lying around and felt confused about how to return the items? Or could someone else have found them and gifted them to her?

Start With Heart:

It’s important to consider what you really want. If shame and blame are the goal, you will likely find it hard to maintain conditions that lead to dialogue. Try focusing your energies on the goal of learning what happened and recovering missing items instead. Your tone and delivery will bely your underlying motive, so try and get that in check before you enter into the conversation.

STATE Your Path:

Take care to lead with facts and not your conclusions. Help paint a picture for her so that she can better understand why you might be tempted to draw the conclusions you’re drawing here.

As far as your delivery goes . . . perhaps your mother taught you what mine taught me? “Remember, it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it that matters!” I always like to go for a friendly, curious, and open tone as I seek to create safety for others when delivering a sensitive message.

If I were in your shoes . . . or not, as the case may be here (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!), I might try this approach:

“Hello! You don’t know me and I don’t want to bother you, especially in front of your friends. I just have a question for you. Would you mind chatting with me over here for a second?

I saw last week you were wearing a pair of red Nike Air Max sneakers. Please know that I don’t normally hunt girls down to talk about their shoes, but I’ve never seen anyone else at this school wear anything like those. I couldn’t help but notice they look so much like the shoes I recently lost here at school (even down to the way they are laced and the stain on the toes near where the color had rubbed off).

A few months ago, I accidentally left a pair just like those in a drawstring bag (with a pair of pants) in the library and I’ve been looking for them ever since. I know I’d want someone to tell me if something I found may belong to them, so that’s the reason I bring it up. I wonder if you might have been the one to find my shoes?”

The key is to avoid blame and shame. When people feel safe with us, we make it less likely that they will feel a need to deflect, hide, or lie to us.

Good luck, and I hope you and your shoes may be reunited again soon!

Want to master these crucial skills? Attend one of our public training workshops in a city near you. Learn more at

Crucial Conversations QA

How to Tell Your Employees of a Coming Pay Reduction

Dear Cricket,

If I needed to inform employees of a medium-large company that a small reduction in pay is forthcoming due to declining revenues, how could I do this in an email that would be supportive and factual?

Bearer of Bad News

Dear Bearer of Bad News,

Such a tough message! For help with this one, I recommend you draw on ideas from Influencer and Crucial Conversations.

From Influencer:

  • Choice is the Foundation for Motivation. In your case, employees will not be the ones to decide what happens next. But could you find a way for them to be a part of the conversation and have some influence over how things play out?
  • Signal Commitment Through Sacrifice. How might leaders engage in some sort of sacrifice to show their commitment to this initiative?
  • Involve Opinion Leaders in Design and Feedback. Engage your opinion leaders in dialogue as early as possible while there’s still time to incorporate their feedback. If you wait until after your decisions have been finalized, it may be too late for them to feel they can have an impact on your thinking. Engage with them early and incorporate their ideas where you can.
  • Find Your Coyotes (i.e. Engage Your Critics). Rather than working around those who would resist you, run straight towards them. Invite concerns, listen without judgment, and involve them in coming up with ideas. This helps to engage their hearts and minds (and badly needed support).

From Crucial Conversations:

  • Decide How to Decide. In this oft-overlooked chapter from the original book, we learn that when people know ahead of time how decisions are going to be made, it makes it more likely that they will be able to respect the process and get comfortable with what’s ahead.
  • Safety is Key. Take great pains to share as much context as possible when framing the message to avoid any possible misunderstanding of intent. Remember, it’s not the content of the message that makes people feel defensive. People become defensive because of why they think you’re saying it. What do they perceive your intent to be? How might you signal your good intent?

Drawing upon these principles, I imagine a message like this:

“As you know, we continue to experience declining market conditions and face the impact of increased tariffs. As a result, we anticipate a significant decline in revenues this year. In order to ensure continued viability, we are facing some tough decisions as an organization. While other companies in our industry have chosen to engage in layoffs, we remain committed to protecting the jobs of our valued employees as our number one priority. Instead, we have opted to scale back in other ways. You’ve already heard that we have made the decision to eliminate all non-essential travel, halt construction on the new building and freeze all new hiring. Despite this aggressive push for cost-savings, we are still facing a need to cut additional costs.

“It has been proposed that if every employee were to receive a 1% reduction in pay, we will be able to guarantee no layoffs will be needed this year. This is not a decision to be made lightly as we recognize this would place a financial burden on all employees. In recognition of the sacrifice this would impose on our workforce, the executive team has chosen to absorb an even greater reduction in pay (2%) and remains committed to looking for additional cost-cutting ideas wherever possible to minimize impact on our employees.

“We need your help with this. This week, you can expect to be invited by the head of your department to share your ideas, big and small, for how we might (a) minimize impact to our workforce and (b) continue to drive efficiencies and cost-savings within each work group. Additionally, we invite you to share all questions and concerns with your manager by the end of the month. The executive team has promised to take into account all recommendations as we seek to finalize a formal announcement by the beginning of the next quarter.

“We recognize we may not be able to honor every request submitted, but we are committed to transparency in our communication during this tough time. We promise to explain why we make the decisions we are making and commit to helping manage any issues that come up. Our employees are important to us and we want to remain an employer of choice through these difficult times. Please help us find creative solutions to address our challenges. You matter to us. Your ideas matter to us.”

In the absence of steady, reliable information during times of stressful change, I’ve noticed that employees tend to tell ugly stories and catastrophize scenarios in an attempt to prepare themselves for the very worst. In my experience, people respond better to tough messages when they feel their leaders are dedicated to transparency, candor and respect. Communicate early and often. Anything you can do to signal a commitment to these principles should serve you well.

All the best,

Want to master these crucial skills? Attend one of our public training workshops in a city near you. Learn more at