All posts by Steve Willlis

Crucial Conversations QA

How to Set Boundaries for a Friendship

Dear Steve,

My wife and I have this friend who avoids crucial conversations. It got to a point where so much bad stuff had built up and festered that this individual “put her foot down” and told us “we are changing our friendship,” and “this is how it has to be.” We’ve witnessed a lot of self-absorbed behaviors, like dominating conversations, trying to redirect conversation to what she wants to talk about, and completely ignoring us at social events. Boundaries are being crossed, yet the boundaries are very ambiguous. My wife and I have both read Crucial Conversations. I understand how to create safety to have a conversation and establish Mutual Purpose. But how do we communicate our expectations moving forward, especially if she tries to dictate the terms of our relationship?

Feeling Bound

Dear Feeling Bound,

As you might suspect, this type of situation requires a significant, sustained effort to address. So before you decide to resolve it, you should ask yourself whether this is a friend you want to have in your life. As you consider the question, I encourage you not to say “yes” just because you’ve been friends up to this point. It’s okay to allow your relationship to change and shift.

If you decide not to remain friends, advice from Maya Angelou might be helpful: “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” A “no” means you can stop reading here and back away from the relationship. If, on the other hand, you’ve answered “yes” to the question in question, read on.

First of all, I’m glad you found Crucial Conversations. It offers practical approaches that can make a difference. Let’s start with one skill from the Mutual Purpose skillset: Invent Mutual Purpose. You arrive at this skill once you’ve committed to discover what the other party wants and find a mutual purpose. At this point, you’re ready to define boundaries—though it’s good to double check that you indeed understand what the other person really wants before inventing mutual purpose. And when you’re “inventing,” you’re not just making up purpose arbitrarily. You’re combining your wants with the other’s to come up with something new for the relationship.

Inventing requires effort. It’s not always as simple as merging your individual purposes into one purpose that automatically becomes mutual. It often requires some time to work out. Those who are best at it tend to shift to higher-level, longer-term goals when they become stuck or tempted to compromise, whether values, time, or overall “wants” for the relationship. In practice, this means not getting caught up in negotiating requests like “keep every other Friday open for us,” but rather moving to a higher value like “how can we respect one another’s other commitments and desires and still nurture the relationship?”

A little side-note on compromise. Compromise isn’t necessarily bad, but people often fail to find a more powerful, longer-lasting purpose when they compromise quickly. Working through this all will allow you both to modify and alter your purpose until you both feel good about it. It will also you give you the chance to revisit our initial question: Is this a relationship worth keeping? You may find that your purpose is how to distance yourselves in the healthiest way possible.

Now, if this person doesn’t want to find mutual purpose, it may help to make visible to her what’s currently invisible. Sometimes people don’t see the impact of their behavior, so they continue without regard to how it affects others. You can help see the effects of their behavior by pointing out natural consequences. People don’t always notice all the consequences of their behavior. They act, others respond in a desired way, and that’s all they see. But usually there are multiple consequences, not all of them good.

To successfully inspire a person to change his or her behavior with this skill, you need to show how their behavior is leading to consequences that they find undesirable. In practice, it might sound like, “You may not be aware of this, but when you allow a problem to build up and refuse to talk about it, it makes the problem harder to deal with because there’s a lot more stress and emotions that everyone has to sift through.” You may have to point out different natural consequences before you discover the one, or few, that resonates with the person. And they may need some time to think of things before they are ready to respond.

If you approach this conversation with the intent to understand and love, you’ll compensate for less-than-perfect word choices you might make in the process.

Best of luck,

Getting Things Done QA

An Inside-Out Look at GTD

Most people consider Getting Things Done® (GTD®) a personal development experience. The name itself portends a boost in personal productivity. And yet Getting Things Done is not simply about getting more things done—although it does deliver on that promise. It’s about getting more of the right things done by changing the way you interact with your priorities, should-dos, need-to-dos, and even want- or hope-to-dos.

It’s this promise that hooks people in the beginning, but the benefits aren’t solely confined to individual performance enhancement. When GTD is adopted and fully implemented, its benefits extend to those around the individual practitioner. It changes the way the person engages with their own “to-dos,” and, because of that, it changes the way others engage with that person. Over time, it brings about an inside-out transformation. Here’s how.

GTD principles and practices are based on what we do when in the “productive state.” It helps you look inside to understand exactly what to-dos you are trying to manage in your head. It helps you get clarity about what those things mean to you and the effort required to complete them. It helps you organize these things so you can remember them when you need to, and not before. And it helps you ensure you spend time and effort on your highest priorities given your circumstances.

These practices result in more focused attention on your pressing to-dos, better management of time (more time actually doing than worrying about what needs to be done), a feeling of balance between work and life, and time to spend on higher priorities that normally would get pushed aside in favor of urgent tasks. This all naturally follows from looking inside oneself and making appropriate adjustments.

One of the unintended benefits, however, is that when you become clear on what you will and won’t work on, what your priorities are, and how you’ll spend your time, that information gets communicated out to others. They begin to get the message that when you commit to something, you intend to give it the attention it deserves. This communication starts from the moment you Capture things effectively, in which you communicate “I care about doing a good job on this.” It continues when others see you take time to determine Next Actions, which communicates “I intend to follow through with this.” And as you might imagine, when people consistently get these messages, they start to see and interact with you differently.

While you’ll experience many of these inside-out benefits as a natural result of adopting and practicing GTD, there are some things you can do to accelerate their realization.

First, think big, but start small. To fully implement all of GTD into your daily and weekly routines requires time. So, while adopting GTD is your goal, the best place to start is with one skill. Work it into your daily routine until you have a two-week span where you consistently use your new skills. Then add another skill to what you’re already doing. Soon, you’ll be experiencing the inside-out benefits of GTD.

Telegraph your moves. I worked with a manager not long ago who was very skilled at this. She would tell people what she was about to do and then do it. And it was mostly around behavioral expectations. She would say things like, “I’ll review all the ideas we captured tomorrow and drop you an email about what items I can fit into the current workload and which ones will require outside support.” In doing this she established trust and a sense of mutual purpose. People didn’t have to guess at what to expect, or when to expect it.

Activate team support. Take time to talk with your teammates, and perhaps others in the organization, about your GTD system. Ask for their support as you transition to a more efficient and effective way of interacting. For example, one of my colleagues uses email as his primary capture tool. One time, during a meeting, he asked those present to send him all requests via email. He said it was ok to chat about a task in the hallway or breakroom, but that a follow-up email would ensure it got the appropriate attention from him.

When you consistently send these messages, you provide others with information about how to interact with you as well as what to expect in your work. It’s a two-fer—it benefits you and the people around you.

That’s the inside-out benefit that’s waiting for you and your team.

Trainer QA

Outside the Classroom: Navigating a National Crisis Using VitalSmarts Skills

Q. I am not actively training due to COVID-19 restructuring, but I still want to use the VitalSmarts skills I value and love to help my co-workers, company leaders, community and family members navigate the tumultuous changes we are experiencing. Can you offer some tips to help me get started?

A. If you’re like me, you’ve felt unsure and disconnected over the last four months. The COVID-19 pandemic became an all-consuming topic of concern and conversation. Everyone started self-isolating almost overnight, places of work cleared out, travel dropped way off, businesses shut down—everything changed. Then we discovered that it wasn’t going to be a temporary situation that would pass as we hunkered down for a month or two. People’s response to the initial shockwave has been varied—some more effective than others.

Shockwaves like this can cause trauma in people’s lives. They might not recognize it as such, but each disruption, restriction, and change can cause micro-traumas. And while not overwhelming on their own, they have an impact as they start to accumulate. They show up as frustrations, anxieties, helplessness, and, in some cases, anger. How people respond to these crucial moments is the best predictor of what their experience will be in the recovery phase.

During the reaction phase (where I feel many people currently are), people tend to feel disconnected. The nature of how they do their work has shifted and, in some cases, many other aspects of their lives have shifted. People are feeling alone and uncertain.

So, what can you do to as a certified trainer to not only help those you train, but also help your friends, family, and communities to navigate the stress? Here are some tips that might help:

Use your skills to bring comfort. As a certified trainer, you are not limited to the classroom to help people. In a time when everything feels so disconnected, you can help others connect to their new work circumstances by helping them dialogue with colleagues about what to expect from each other. You can help your management teams and co-workers better fulfill their responsibilities to one another and to clients and customers by using your skills to help them adapt and work through the changes. In many cases, you’ve already taught people the skills they need to manage a crisis. You just need to remind them how and where to apply the skills they already have.

Use your after-training resources. One of the easiest ways to remind people is to share the resources that come with each VitalSmarts course. You can share the various articles, podcasts, and instructional videos to help people remember what they learned in class. Some Certified Trainers have shared resources with participants along with a challenge. For example, you might refer people to the post-training tips on the Trainer Zone or share the Keystone Habits from The Power of Habit and ask them to identify what keystone habits help them work from home effectively. You could use the post-training tips sheet on the Trainer Zone from Master Trainer Justin Hale as a refresher for those that have already been through training. You can visit the How Do I Say That? videos on YouTube or download them on the Trainer Zone and share them with your leadership. You can also share Joseph Grenny’s “Be Safe. Feel Safe.” webinar with your management and leadership teams to help them think about their plans in new ways. There are many resources available to you as a trainer that can help you empower others to be prepared and safe.

Use single-point lessons. Create a two-minute video or write a paragraph or two highlighting a single skill along with a single idea on how to apply it. For example, you might highlight the AMPP skills from Crucial Conversations and encourage others to use them to create safety in online meetings when discussing things like racial equality, diversity, or COVID-19 safety and health precautions. Or you might feature Identify Next Actions from GTD so people conclude brainstorm meetings with clear actions they can take. Make these lessons short and provide just a couple of examples of how to apply the skills, and people will find them useful.

Crowdsource it. There are probably many people you have trained who are figuring out how to use their new skills. Previous participants are generally more than happy to share what they have learned about using their skills, so invite them to do so. For example, you might invite people to share how they’re using skills from Influencer to address bias in the workplace, or how they’ve used Make it Motivating from Crucial Accountability to address a performance gap with a remote worker. Once you have some examples, share them with your company. Doing this allows you and your peers to discover new and different ways to apply the skills you’ve learned.

These are just a few ideas to get you thinking about how you can contribute as a trainer, colleague, leader, manager, or family and community member. We’d love to hear other ways you’re helping people connect to the VitalSmarts skills.


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