Category Archives: Q&A

Crucial Accountability QA

How to Make Virtual Meetings More Engaging and Effective

Dear Justin,

We are learning how to use videoconferencing as our new meeting platform. Do you have tips for facilitating meetings to promote participation and feedback, as many people seem uncomfortable because they can’t read non-verbal cues from others? Also, do you have effective methods for guiding people with interaction? No one is using the “raise hand” feature, so we often end up speaking at the same time and it’s awkward. We aren’t communicating as well as we did with in-person meetings. I’ve also noticed that people tend to rush, maybe because they’re uncomfortable speaking and seeing themselves at the same time. How can we ensure conversations flow more smoothly in a teleconferencing format? How can we encourage everyone to share their questions and concerns?

Needing Ideas

Dear Needing Ideas,

Thanks for your question. I’m guessing many of our readers share your concerns. It’s hard to get people to pay attention in any meeting, but when people aren’t in the same room, it can be especially difficult. And it’s particularly annoying when you make a nine-minute argument, pause for a reaction, and get “I’m not sure I followed you,” which might as well mean, “I was shampooing my cat and didn’t realize I would be called on.”

Meetings are often ineffective because there’s little to no accountability for engagement. There are four primary reasons to hold a meeting: to influence others, to make decisions, to solve problems, or to strengthen relationships. Since all of these are active processes, passive passengers in a meeting rarely do quality work. The precondition for effective meetings—virtual or otherwise—is voluntary engagement. Here’s what works.

1. The 60-second Rule. First, never engage a group in solving a problem until they have felt the problem. Do something in the first 60 seconds to help them experience it. You might share shocking or provocative statistics, anecdotes, or analogies that dramatize the problem. No matter what tactic you use, your goal is to make sure the group understands and appreciates the problem (or opportunity) before you try to solve it.

2. The Responsibility Rule. When people enter any social setting, they tacitly work to determine their role. For example, when you enter a movie theater, you unconsciously define your role as observer—you are there to be entertained. When you enter the gym, you’re an actor—you’re there to work out. The biggest threat to engagement in virtual meetings is allowing team members to unconsciously take the role of observer. Many already defined their role this way when they received the meeting invite and determined to work on something else while they “check in.” To counteract this implicit decision, create an experience of shared responsibility early in your presentation. Don’t do it by saying, “Okay, I want this to be a conversation, not a presentation. I need all of you to be involved.” That rarely works. Instead, create an opportunity for them to take meaningful responsibility. This is best done using the next rule.

3. The Nowhere-to-Hide Rule. If everyone is responsible, then no one feels responsible. Avoid this in your meeting by giving people tasks that they can actively engage in so there is nowhere to hide. Define a problem that can be solved quickly, assign people to groups of two or three (max). Give them a medium with which to communicate with one another (video conference, Slack channel, messaging platform, audio breakouts). If you’re on a virtual meeting platform that allows for breakout groups, use them liberally. Give participants a very limited timeframe to take on a highly structured but brief task.

4. The MVP Rule. Nothing disengages a group more reliably than assaulting them with slide after slide of mind-numbing data. It doesn’t matter how smart or sophisticated the group is, if your goal is engagement, you have to mix facts and stories. Determine the Minimum Viable PowerPoint (MVP) deck you need. In other words, select the least amount of data you need to inform the group. Don’t add a single slide more.

5. The 5-Minute Rule. Never go longer than five minutes without giving the group another problem to solve. Participants are in rooms scattered, who knows where, with dozens of tempting distractions. If you don’t sustain a continual expectation of meaningful involvement, they will retreat into that alluring observer role, and you’ll have to work hard to bring them back. Consider wrapping up a presentation or brainstorming meeting with a group-generated list of options, then throw out a polling or voting opportunity to determine the team’s opinion about where to begin.

I adapted these tips from an article I recently co-wrote with Joseph Grenny for Harvard Business Review. You can review the full article here. I hope this helps.

Best of luck,

Crucial Conversations QA

How to Speak Up in a Pandemic

Dear Joseph,

Where I live, concern about COVID-19 seems lax. I’m often surrounded by people who have already thrown social distancing and mask-wearing out the window. Just the other day, while in line at the grocery store, the man behind me blatantly ignored the big sticker on the floor telling him where to stand and I found him practically breathing down my neck as I was checking out. I wanted to say something, but I didn’t. I wasn’t sure exactly what to say to someone who clearly has no regard for the current situation. Any advice for how to navigate this weird world we’re living in?


Dear Tongue-tied,

What you described is a quintessential crucial moment: a moment with huge downstream consequences. And we’ve all been there. And, yes, I do have some advice. Speak up. Please!

We’re in the middle of one of the greatest influence challenges of our day. Medical science can’t yet solve our global problem. All we have to rely on is human behavior for now. So, success in the next several months will not actually hinge on masks and sanitizer, rather, it will be getting people to use these simple measures, every time, for however long it takes. And frankly, that won’t happen unless those who see someone drop the ball speak up and remind them.

But you’re not alone in feeling nervous about speaking up. We asked Crucial Skills Newsletter subscribers about their COVID-related fears. Three out of four said they are nervous about infection risk when interacting with others. Nine out of ten said they feel downright uncomfortable around strangers. Forty percent expressed the same nervousness about being infected by coworkers. Nearly one in four even admitted to being nervous around their extended family members. And yet almost three-fourths of us say we often say less than we should when others lapse into risky behavior.

Why do we fail to speak up? Some of the reasons you told us include:

  1. I don’t feel it is my place to tell others how to behave or act (33 percent)
  2. I don’t know how to speak up in a way that won’t feel offensive (33 percent)
  3. I worry that speaking up won’t do any good anyway (31 percent)
  4. I don’t feel I am an authority on the matter (29 percent)
  5. I am unsure on exactly what to say (28 percent)

So two things are clear:

First, we know that a few simple behaviors are the key to saving lives for the foreseeable future. For example, research shows that if employees wash their hands five times during a work shift, transmission risk is reduced by as much as 45%. Even more promising, a review of multiple studies concludes that if just two-thirds of us wore even marginally effective masks consistently, the epidemic could be stopped.

And second, we know that the only way we can create strong social norms for safe behavior is if people remind those who lapse.

So, what does that mean for you and for me? It means that when we observe people disregarding the rules that will keep us all safe—not to mention move economies and businesses toward recovery—then it’s our job to speak up. It’s all of our jobs to speak up. End of story.

Here are three things to remember when it’s time to speak up and save lives.

1. It’s Kind to Remind. Your motive for speaking up is a better predictor of others’ response than you might think. If you are speaking up in an attempt to belittle, punish, or control, others will pick up on it and respond in kind. The key to mustering the courage to speak up is to remind yourself, “It’s kind to remind.” When your motivation is kindness, your words feel different. So, next time you’re worried about speaking up, repeat this phrase: “It’s kind to remind,” then open your mouth and save a life. And when your mouth opens, a great word to begin with is “Please.” WATCH MY VIDEO TIP >>

2. Gratitude Not Attitude. One of the best ways to help us establish a norm of polite reminders in the world, is to offer an example of a polite response when you are reminded. For example, our research in hospitals shows that when a doctor says “Thank you” after being reminded to wash her hands, the nervous nurse who reminded her is significantly more likely to offer a reminder the next time he sees a lapse. Any time someone reminds you to do something safe, look them right in the eye and say the magic word: Thank you! A quick, sincere thank you makes the tension they felt before speaking up disappear. And it disabuses all who see it of their fear of offering similar admonitions. So remember, It’s kind to remind. And when someone does, give them gratitude not attitude! WATCH MY VIDEO TIP >>

3. Speak Up and Let Go. When you’re in an awkward moment writhing with uncertainty about whether or not to remind someone to be safe, I’ve found it helpful to do two things: Speak up and Let go. First, speak up. Don’t overthink it. Don’t amplify your own misery by imagining all of the horrible things that might happen if you open your mouth. Hardwire it. Make it automatic. Have a ready phrase at hand—something clever, catchy, and brilliant like: “We’ve been asked to have only five in the conference room.”

Then, let go. Don’t hand your self worth over to the other person. Let them have their own reaction. Usually what dresses up like resentment in others is actually embarrassment. And that is theirs to work through. It’s not a comment on your dignity unless you make it one. Break off eye contact. Don’t make it a standoff. Take a breath. Congratulate yourself for doing the right thing. Then let it go! WATCH MY VIDEO TIP >>

While COVID-19 has amplified the intensity and seriousness of our social interactions, we built our business on research that shows it’s possible to achieve dialogue in crucial moments. And when you do, results follow. These skills are timeless, but they are also needed now, more than ever. And still, we acknowledge that finding the right words, isn’t always easy.

To help you, my colleagues and I have created a video series that shares tips and scripts specific to crucial moments we all face right now—tips that are built on the skills and principles taught in our bestselling book and training course Crucial Conversations. In just a minute or two, we’ll answer that age-old question, “But, how do I say that?” and give you the confidence AND words you’ll need to speak up when it matters most. We hope you’ll enjoy it and share it with others who are feeling just as concerned as you. WATCH AND SHARE the How Do I Say That? video series >>

And if you’d like to take the next step and learn five skills for speaking up, check out our on-demand mini-course. In this course, I teach principles and skills that will help you feel confident and capable to speak up to anyone in any situation. LEARN MORE >>

Please join me in saving lives by speaking up.


Crucial Conversations QA

How to Respond to the Silent Treatment

Dear Joseph,

A couple of months ago, my father stopped answering phone calls and texts from my siblings and me. He hasn’t been home when we’ve attempted to visit him. He doesn’t have voicemail. We’ve reached out to his wife who says she doesn’t want to get in the middle of it. He did answer a phone call from my brother’s wife about one month ago but told her it wasn’t the time or place to talk about it. He sent my nephews a birthday gift, but he signed it with his first name instead of the usual “Papa” signature. I sent him a text that asked if he was planning on telling us what he’s upset about or if he’s just done with us. In the text, I said I would assume a non-response meant he was done with us, and I would not bother him again. He didn’t respond.

Deafening Silence

Dear Deafening Silence,

You’ve written your question in a mysterious way. In fact, I feel as though I am in a similar deafening silence while trying to respond. You’ve offered nothing of context. So, I am left to either conclude that:

  1. There were no incidents that preceded your father’s abrupt separation that may offer clues to his motivations; or
  2. You believe there is something I could offer to help you reconnect that would operate independent of these incidents.

If #1 is correct, you have my sympathy. If his behavior was abrupt and inexplicable, I can only conclude that he is going through something that I hope will sometime come to light. However, painful as it is, you must honor his boundary. If later evidence emerges that he is engaged in some self-destructive path, you may want to intervene. But otherwise, he is making a choice and it falls to you to reconcile yourself to it.

If #2 more accurately describes the situation, my advice is very clear: work on you first, him second. If things happened that you know are connected with his new behavior, then your best approach is:

  1. Examine yourself. Invite feedback from those who are sympathetic to your father’s views. Ask them to help you see how the way you or others acted may have given him cause for offense or hurt. Look hard. Sometimes, all you need to do for someone to feel offended is nothing. Perhaps you failed to smile, failed to call, failed to reciprocate. You won’t understand his behavior until you create enough safety that he is willing to unravel his story for you.
  2. Own what you can. Do your best to brainstorm the hurtful stories he might be telling about these incidents. Then reach out one last time demonstrating your willingness to own what you can. For example, you might send a text that says “Dad, I understand you aren’t ready to talk. I accept that. I just want you to know that as I thought about Thanksgiving, I realize I spent more time talking with cousins and almost no time talking with you, even though it was the anniversary of Mom’s death. I regret that. I love you and am here to talk when you want.”
  3. Honor his boundary, but ping periodically. If after doing #1 and #2 you are met with more silence, move on. But I find it helpful to periodically send a note that messes with the story he might be telling himself. For example, after a month of silence, you might text: “Hey, Dad. I know I’m imperfect. Hoping you’ll help me see how sometime.”

I hope these ideas help you find a path that leads to reconnection at some future time.