All posts by Joseph Grenny

Crucial Accountability QA

Lessons in Accountability, Police Culture, and Social Change

Dear Joseph,

In the opinion article “Accountability is a Key to Changing Police Culture,” you outline many of the issues of police culture that are ingrained in the fabric of law enforcement. You refer to the “warrior mentality” culture in some police departments as well as the demand placed on police to address societal issues that were never meant to be handled by law enforcement. You suggest that one of the requirements for real change is creating a culture of peer accountability, something you call “200% Accountability.” How does a department develop a plan of 200% accountability and regain the trust and buy-in from the public?

Policing Ourselves

Dear Policing Ourselves,

Thanks for your question. Related to your question, two days ago I witnessed a remarkable conversation—one that ought to offer hope to all of us that positive change is possible. First, let me give a little background to those who aren’t familiar with the context of your question.

There is a place in Salt Lake City, Utah, called The Other Side Academy (TOSA). It is home to around 100 adult men and women ages 18 to 60, men and women who have been arrested an average of 25 times. Most came because they had been arrested yet another time and were on their way to lengthy jail or prison sentences. They were admitted on the condition that they commit to stay a minimum of 30 months as an alternative to incarceration. All have been addicted to drugs or alcohol most of their adult lives. Many started in childhood.

If you were to drive by The Other Side Academy you would begin to doubt my description of the students. You’d see one of the best kept properties in town. You’d see the home of The Other Side Movers, the #1 rated moving company in the entire state. You’d see the entire campus being run by the very students who came to learn a new way of living. They handle the money, manage the website, book the moves, staff the thrift stores, run food services, and engage the media. No one pays to come to The Other Side Academy. And the Academy receives no government or insurance payments. The student body generate all the revenue needed to run the campus. Imagine that! If all these students were to serve the prison sentences they received it would cost the State of Utah over $30 million. Instead, they are generating over $4 million annually to pay their own way while learning to live a life of decency and integrity.

How does this happen? Through a rigorous culture of peer accountability.

In the article you refer to, I made the point that if the Minneapolis police had this kind of culture, George Floyd would still be alive. His death required not just the violent action of one officer, but the passive consent of three others who witnessed the crime.

The reason no student has ever failed a drug test at The Other Side Academy, the reason rival former gang members live together on campus without a single act of violence in over five years of operation, the reason former castoffs are able to run world class businesses, is because everyone lives a principle of 200% accountability. That means everyone is 100% responsible for their own moral rectitude, and 100% accountable for addressing the actions of everyone else around them. And it works!

Now to the unlikely meeting of two days ago. It was Tuesday night. Twenty students of The Other Side Academy sat in a circle participating in “Games.” Games is a group process in which students give raw and candid feedback to one another about behaviors that concerned them in previous days. Nothing is off limits. Everyone who sits in a Game is as likely to be called out as anyone else. I am the Chairman of the Board of The Other Side Academy and have been “gamed” many times over the years. Games is the foundation of trust at the Academy because it is there that students understand that the supreme value in the community is not power but truth. Your title doesn’t protect you from feedback.

Sitting in Games on this particular Tuesday night was Mayor of Salt Lake City Erin Mendenhall and Salt Lake City Chief of Police Mike Brown, as well as a handful of his lieutenants. They sat in awe as they watched some of Salt Lake City’s former outcasts address sensitive interpersonal issues with breathtaking honesty. The Mayor and Chief of Police are now studying the Academy in order to find ways to build a culture of 200% accountability in the police and other city departments.

Salt Lake City Mayor and Chief of Police (in masks) with students at The Other Side Academy

In what world would you have ever expected the police to sit at the feet of long-time criminals to learn about leadership and accountability? Well, welcome to that world.

You asked how this kind of culture is created? There are multiple elements to my answer, all of which take more space than we have here. So, for the curious, here is a good starting point. For others who want to learn more, I invite you to reach out to The Other Side Academy.

It is possible to change the world for good. The principles found in Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change and Crucial Conversations:Tools for Talking When Stakes are High are at the heart of rapid, profound, and sustainable change in any social system. I thank you and all of our readers for the way you carry these ideas to the places that need them most.



Crucial Conversations QA

How to Keep Performance Feedback on Track

Dear Joseph,

I’m having a tough time giving performance feedback to an employee who is very much overconfident. I don’t want to diminish her contributions or discourage her. But when I give feedback, she deflects it. And when she is asked what she could have done better, she has nothing to offer. Due to this disconnect, she feels I don’t value her as an employee—which is NOT the case! We just need to close the gap! Any ideas?

Above Average

Dear Above Average,

Sounds like you’ve been having the wrong conversation. You’re caught in a dance, trying to talk about weaknesses while not hurting her feelings. We call this a “Content Conversation.” A content conversation is one in which you discuss the immediate presenting problem. For example, your client emails often have bad grammar. Or you show up late sometimes to critical meetings.

But content isn’t your real issue. Your issue is a “Pattern.” It’s not the weaknesses themselves that frustrate you most, but the pattern of behavior you see when discussing those weaknesses.

The best next step for you will be to schedule a separate opportunity to discuss this pattern. Don’t confuse the conversation with other performance feedback. Make it solely about your difficulty in having performance discussions. As you describe the pattern, be sure to do so factually. Don’t use inflammatory judgment words. Just recall specific behaviors that support your contention that there is a pattern.

You might begin like this:

“Hi Kara. I’d like your help with a challenge I have in sharing performance feedback with you. I’ve tried to pay attention so I could communicate it well. The basic pattern is that when I point out something that didn’t go well, you immediately respond by pointing out things that did go well. For example, in our one-on-one yesterday, I pointed out that you didn’t give Trevor a heads-up before turning off power in the old server room. You said, ‘And the project came in under budget.’”

Now, odds are that as you do this, she might pivot to saying she doesn’t feel valued. But don’t be diverted. Finish what you started before you deal with her emotional needs. Let me be clear about something: Your job is not to manage her emotions. That is her job. You are, I repeat, you are responsible to communicate how much you value her contribution. And you must do so persuasively and consistently in proportion to the truth about her contribution. However, if she chooses not to hear it, that is her responsibility. Surrender the need to manage her emotions. But retain the responsibility to communicate clearly. And for now, stay on topic.

If she tries to pivot to her emotional needs, address that as part of the pattern as well.

“Kara, this is a second thing that happens when I try to address performance issues. In the last three performance discussions we had, each time I shared improvement opportunities you said some version of, “It seems like all you do is point out my mistakes. You don’t notice how much I do right!” Honestly, Kara, that seems like an attempt to shut down my concerns. Whether I value what you do well and whether you can do better are two separate issues. When I raise concerns, I’d like you to stay focused on them and not raise unrelated issues.”

Finally, ask for a commitment and agree on “Who does what by when.” For example:

“Next time I want to discuss improvement opportunities, would you please avoid pointing out other things or asking whether I value your strengths?”

If she agrees, say, “Okay, in our one-on-one at the end of the month, I’ll let you know if this seems to be improving. Does that work for you?”

This is all doable. The key is to stay on track. Tee up the right conversation, call out attempts (even unintentional) to divert from it, and you’ll be on the road to better days.


Crucial Conversations QA

My Coworker Cuts Me Off, Doesn’t Listen, and Always Says No. What Now?

Dear Joseph,

I am a new director in a healthcare environment. I am struggling to collaborate with another director who reports to a different administrator. She and I have very different leadership and communication styles, and it feels as if she does not respect my role. She does not listen, cuts me off mid-sentence, and is constantly trying to find a way to undermine me or say “no” to any new idea. No matter how hard I try to present something in a way that puts us on the same team, she will find a way to argue. Prior to my arrival she had already created a toxic environment and had lost the respect of her direct reports. This behavior has been allowed to continue over many years. Help! She will be the reason I quit this job!

On the Edge

Dear On the Edge,

For the sake of my response to you I am going to make two assumptions:

  1. You are accurately describing your peer’s behavior and its frequency.
  2. The behavior is not a reaction to some of your own behavior.

I will often challenge people to examine both of these assumptions. But for today, I’ll set that aside. Instead I will assume this person consistently interrupts people, opposes their ideas, and in other ways demonstrates disrespect to peers and direct reports. And it has nothing to do with you.

I have three suggestions for your consideration:

  1. Have it out. The highest risk action you can take is to completely level with her. This sometimes works. And sometimes it doesn’t. But you should at least consider having a completely honest crucial conversation in which you: a) let her know you are dissatisfied with the relationship, want a much better one, and are willing to work at it if she is; b) give her fully honest feedback about the range of behaviors that don’t work for you; c) invite the same level of candid feedback in return. I have had both success and failure with this approach. I have had relationships completely turn around when I stopped silently fuming against people and demonstrated an authentic desire to connect honestly. But I have had the opposite occur as well: I’ve had people resent my honesty, deny any of my concerns, and begrudge my attempt. However, I can honestly also say things were rarely worse than they were before I tried.
  2. Let it go. Another option is to work on your tolerance muscles. Do the “inner work” of sorting through the ways you emotionally amplify her unhelpful behaviors by personalizing them. For example, when she cuts you off do you feel slighted or belittled? If so, this is your stuff. Just because another person gives offense doesn’t mean you need to take it. The central task of life, in my view, is to learn to live happily with imperfect people. There are times when I conclude that a person’s weaknesses are so habitual that the amount of energy I am willing to invest is unlikely to produce change. In these instances, I can still choose to stay connected to them, weaknesses and all. I can learn to focus on the virtues I search for in them. But let me warm you: If you take this approach, you must do it honestly. This means that any time your resentments flare again, you will have to remind yourself that you chose to accept this. Choosing this route means you surrender the option of fuming about the weaknesses you chose to accept.
  3. Hold boundaries for the things you aren’t willing to let go. For example, perhaps you will decide that her reflexive negativity is something you can accept, but that it’s not okay with you that she cuts you off. If so, set a boundary. And remember rule number one about boundaries: Your boundaries are your job. It is up to you to enforce them. Let her know that this is a problem. It’s best not to do this in the moment when she is cutting you off. Make it a separate conversation. This takes more courage, but it is more fair and helpful in the end than ambushing her the next time she clips you. Let her know that you’d like her to be more aware of this. Invite feedback about ways you might be crowding her in conversations as well. For example, perhaps she thinks you take too long to make a point. Or that you repeat yourself. Her interruptions might be a signal that she isn’t getting anything new and wants to move on. Then next time you are speaking and she interrupts, hold the boundary! Politely say, “I’m not finished yet. I’ll try to be brief.” Then do so. When others cut you off and you say nothing, the problem is not that they are disrespecting you, it is that you are disrespecting you.
  4. Make a decision. Your final option is to move. If, on the whole, working with her compromises your quality of life in a way you aren’t willing to accept, then don’t accept it. Move. But if you don’t move, take responsibility for that choice. If you choose to stay, then you are choosing to use 1–3 above. Don’t blame her for being who she is. The worst kind of dishonesty is lying to ourselves. We do that when we claim we are victims rather than agents in our own choices.

Life is full of tradeoffs.

I hope this gives you a way of thinking clearly about yours.