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.
Community QA

Why You Shouldn’t Hold a Crucial Conversation

The other day, it seemed the whole family woke up a little rushed and even more crabby. As we all tore around the house looking for socks and lunchboxes and jackets, my eyes began that familiar wander toward all the not-yet-Pinterest-worthy spots in the house. Another unwatered plant! That broken window-pane! This out-of-control closet! And the emergency earthquake kit—with expired provisions—that will certainly be the death of us all when the big one hits!

My tyrannical mental march around the house ended when it was time to take the kids to school. Drop-offs were quick and I soon found myself alone with my thoughts as I headed home to work side-by-side with my husband for the rest of the day. While driving, I planned how I would hold my hubby accountable for his role in contributing to the mountainous collection of things not-yet-done. But I’d had that conversation before and knew how it would surely go. And I didn’t think I would be enjoying the rest of my day very much. So I decided NOT to give voice to my criticism this day. Instead, when I was least in the mood for it, I walked back into the house and invited Gary to go for a walk with me. And he did! As we walked, we held hands. We talked. He even asked if he could take me out for breakfast. A lovely impromptu date with no mention of household tasks. Later that day, I mentioned I thought there was a lot to do and he agreed. We made a list together and started putting tasks on the calendar. Success!

I know Sheryl Sandberg coined the phrase “Lean In” to mean something different, but when I think about how to stop getting in the way of myself at home, it feels like a helpful mantra to lean TOWARD the people I love (when I’m most tempted to give them a good talking-to). Here’s what my new Lean In mantra is teaching me:

When the children whine, don’t tell them to stop. Just lean in for a hug.
When someone complains, don’t tell them to be grateful. Lean in with empathy.
When I feel disrespected, lean in and model respect.
When I want to control outcomes, lean in with choices and flexibility.

As my ever-wise husband likes to gently remind me, not every conversation needs to be a crucial one. As Valentine’s Day approaches, perhaps the best gifts include not just the conversations we need to have, but in some cases, the ones we don’t have. I’m working on it.

How about you? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Community QA

Who's Responsible for Renee Zellweger?

There is so much chatter about Renée Zellweger’s new look. But perhaps it’s time to turn our gaze to an underlying issue that I don’t hear the media addressing in this conversation—how do women talk to each other? For that matter, how do men talk to women? And what does it say about who we are and what we value?

Human beings have this incredible, deep need to be in relationships with other people. We want to engage with each other, but what are we choosing to talk about? I’d like to explore the idea that our conversations affect how we see ourselves, and perhaps even the values we subconsciously espouse.

I’ve been pregnant three times—the last with twins. Each time, I was struck by the outpouring of friendly conversation lavished upon me by strangers and friends alike. People talk to pregnant women because they know the rules for what to talk about with a mommy-to-be. You can ask about the due-date, the name of the baby, chat about food cravings, or the discomfort of pregnancy. Now, when I am out and about with the twins, I experience the same excitement from strangers. They approach me abuzz with questions about what it’s like to raise multiples. I’ve found when traveling alone for work, just sitting on an airplane next to someone invites familiar chatter. When it feels welcome and easy, strangers engage with each other. But it’s not always so welcome and easy, which is why we play on our phones and ignore each other much of the time.

In my work, I have the privilege of teaching thousands of people around the globe how to build relationships and get results through dialogue. I am essentially teaching the rules for holding effective crucial conversations. People are so grateful for these rules. When we know the rules for engagement, we feel more confident and less vulnerable stepping up to these difficult conversations. However, no one teaches us the rules for casual conversations.

I suspect when we greet our friends or turn to strangers to make small talk, we are not consciously connecting to our deeper values in those moments. I fear our friendly and well-intentioned chitchat could very well be contributing to the reasons that beautiful women like, Renée Zellweger, find themselves in search of a new mid-life look.

Here are the kinds of things I hear us saying:

“I can’t believe you just had a baby. You look amazing!”
“Where did you get those shoes?”
“I love your hair.”
“How do you stay so thin? Do you work out?”

If these are the comments a woman hears day in and day out, what does she come to believe society values most about her? The social justice work she does? Her commitment to lifelong learning? The kindness she extends as a friend, a colleague, a neighbor, a wife? The discipline she demonstrates in her work, her studies, and her parenting? No. She learns that she is valued for her body, her clothes, and her image. Perhaps she comes to believe that her vitality is tied to the fleeting physical beauty of youth.

And if one day she stops receiving a steady stream of these comments (or if the comments she hears are of the more disparaging, critical kind to begin with), she is left wondering how valued she really is.

She might be tempted to believe that society will value her more if she could just “get a little work done” or drop a few pounds or cover the gray.

It seems to me that people are hungry, maybe even desperate for human connection and face-to-face conversation. Delightful, spontaneous, kind words from strangers, friends, and acquaintances can be some of the best kind.

What if, for just this week, we all tried to refrain from commenting on each other’s looks and just celebrated each other’s gorgeous spirits and beautiful ideas instead?

To the mom juggling four young children with grace and humor in a crowded restaurant, “You make it look easy.”

To the young girl reading, “I love books, don’t you? What’s your favorite?”

To the woman in the work meeting who’s holding back her contributions, “We haven’t heard from you today. I always love what you have to say. Is there anything you’d like to share?”

To the older woman holding hands with her husband walking through the mall, “You guys are the sweetest. What an inspiration you are!”

It’s been said that our sense of self stems from the narrative we tell about our lives. That narrative is nothing but a collection of memories. Perhaps each of us could change that collective narrative by changing what we see, what we talk about, and what we find beautiful about each other. And maybe even in ourselves.

Crucial Skills Readers: What are your thoughts? How could we better prioritize the importance we place on physical beauty?

Trainer QA

How do I handle participants who do not appear to be engaged in class?

Cricket BuchlerCricket Buchler is a Master Trainer.

Q How do I handle participants who do not appear to be engaged in class?


It’s so easy to get triggered by participant behavior in class, believing the way she’s acting is proof that she’s not taking the class seriously or that he doesn’t mind that his problem behavior is negatively impacting those around him. I’ve learned to give benefit of the doubt up front. Need some help? Here are some ideas to get you moving in that direction:

  • Not taking notes? They don’t have a pen. (This happens more than you think. Bring extra pens).
  • Refuses to engage? They feel worried about exposing a sensitive issue with colleagues.
  • Texting or leaving class a lot? Their managers could be pinging them with urgent issues they do not feel empowered to ignore.
  • Having side conversations? They’re talking about their insights and all the ideas that are sparking for them in an effort to really put the concepts into practical context.

Set expectations up front. Don’t underestimate the power of ground rules. Try asking the group for their help in building ground rules by saying early on to the group:

“Have you ever been in a class that disappointed you for some reason? Consider your pet peeves in a training environment and let’s see if we can avoid hitting those triggers for each other. What advice would you offer each other to ensure the highest quality learning environment? Let’s build some ground rules together.”

I always pre-write my ideas on a flipchart. Then after the group comes up with their ideas I show them my list and add any additional ideas they come up with to it. Mine looks something like this:

 Our Promise to Each Other

Maintain confidentiality

Return from breaks on time

Silence phones/ Turn off computers

Avoid texting under the table

Avoid side conversations

Take regular breaks (Ask, “If we pause every 1.5 hours, is it fair to ask that you reserve texting/emailing/calling for the breaks? Will that work?)

Have fun!

 After displaying the list of ideas I ask the group if they are willing to commit to this list of ideas saying, “Is there any reason any of you might have a hard time committing to these promises? Ok, then. So if we run into challenges with these, I’ll be sure to have a crucial conversation with you about that. And in fact, since this session is all about driving accountability, I’d like to challenge any of you to speak up to each other should anything be getting in the way of your learning. Ok? It’s a great way to practice what we’re learning in here!”

Once you have permission to have a crucial conversation with them later, it’s easier to approach any issues that might come up.

Speak Up Using Your Skills

  • “I noticed you haven’t been writing. Are you having a hard time coming up with ideas?”
  • “I’ve noticed you’ve returned late from the breaks this morning. Can you help me understand what’s going on?
  • (when addressing a side conversation in front of the whole class) “Sara and Kate… Questions? Thoughts to share?”
  • “I’m seeing that you’re on your phone in class. Something going on?”

Use the Power of Tools and Space

  • Display ground rules on the wall and refer back to it, checking back with the group to see how it’s going.
  • Change where people sit each day. Move them around for exercises to break up chatty groups.
  • Display the timer in your presentation software for breaks and tell them you’ll get started the second the timer dings. Always start on time.
  • Download VitalSmarts viral videos from YouTube and display them after breaks to entice people back on time.