Category Archives: Trainer Q&A


How do I bridge the generational gap at work?

We work in a three-generational workplace. Each generation is different and we often struggle to dialogue well across generations. What tips do you have to bridge this gap in our crucial conversations?

First let me compliment you in attempting to proactively seek ways to bridge this “generational gap.” Many people have just assumed that the gap is too great or too much trouble. So thanks for taking the time to make this inquiry!

You might be interested to learn that VitalSmarts conducted a study early last year called: The Great Generational Divide. This study showed that unaddressed resentment between Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials saps productivity by as much as 12 percent. You can see the results of the study here:

Let me make a couple of observations and suggestions to add to these very helpful insights on attempting to engage in dialogue across this generational divide.

It has been said that conflict is inevitable, but resentment is optional. We often encounter conflict because our background, our education and experiences differ so greatly. But how we choose to handle these conflicts can either lead to talking it out or acting it out.

Start With Heart

The greatest skills and strategies designed to bridge these generational gaps will fail if our heart, or motive is not continually focused on the larger picture of finding a way to connect with the other person. This is an exercise in emotional maturity. In the midst of high stakes, opposing opinions, and strong emotions, can we find a way to change the motives of avoiding or attacking to those of listening and learning? Can we come to these generational encounters with a heart of genuine curiosity to learn about others, to lean into their reality and seek first to understand their world?

Once you’ve paid attention to your heart and adjusted your motive, the following skills from this research study will serve you well:

1. Make it safe. Begin by clarifying your respect as well as your intent to achieve a mutual goal.
2. Start with the facts. Describe your concerns facts first. Don’t lead with your judgments about others’ age or conclusions as to why they behaved the way they did. Start by describing in non-judgmental and objective terms the actual behaviors that create problems.
3. Don’t pile on. If your colleague becomes defensive, pause for a moment and check in. Reassure him or her of your positive intentions and allow him or her to express concerns.
4. Invite dialogue. After sharing your concerns, encourage your colleague to share his or her perspective. Inviting dialogue will result in greater openness.


E for Encourage Testing

We’re full steam into Lesson 4 on STATE My Path. In my experience, participants are eager to put everything together into a formula that will permit them to speak up in tough situations. We’ve thought the issue through, planned and practiced, controlled our emotions and focused on what we really want so we can be persuasive by using our powerful reasoning as we STA!

And we should be excited! But let’s stop there for just a minute, because we don’t want our new level of enthusiasm to get in the way and shut the other person down. Since we know from the get-go that there are different views on the subject, we also need to prepare to meet the other person where they are—maybe a bit caught off guard and apprehensive about our motive or where the conversation might be going.

Enter the “how” skills: talk tentatively and encourage testing. That E isn’t tacked on just to make a clever acronym, it’s there for a reason. Consider the following when you use and teach this powerful skill.

1. Your STA is your best guess, your hypothesis about the way things are. How do you show concern for the feelings and opinions of the other person? Do so by clearly articulating that you’re so interested in dialogue they should speak up especially when they disagree. (e.g., “If you see it differently, I’d love to hear your view.”)

2. If you are the subject matter expert or the problem solver of the issue you’re discussing, be extra careful to use E. The other person might be overwhelmed by your logic and expertise. Give them space by encouraging them to challenge your position. (e.g., “How does this sound/look from your perspective?”)

3. Even when spoken tentatively, a good STA paints a detailed picture of where you’re coming from. We might assume that the other person will just jump in and engage with us, but we need to give them room to formulate their response. E gives us the chance to pause and make it clear that we’re not so much interested in being right as in having a clear picture of the entire situation. (e.g., “If I’m missing something, or haven’t gotten it right, I’m interested in hearing what that is.”)

4. Let’s face it—stopping after STA can seem a little awkward. One way to give both parties a little extra courage is to use the E skill. (e.g., “What’s your view? I’d really like to hear it.”)

Look for ways to teach your participants that it’s our responsibility to get all the meaning into the pool—and that the skill encourage testing helps us do just that.


Does our Style Under Stress have any connection to our personality profiles?

The Style Under Stress Test asks participants to pick a specific person or situation where they have a hard time staying in dialogue, and then directs them to answer all the questions in regards to that specific person or situation. The results of the test are not a measure of personality i.e., scoring high on “violence” does not mean you are a “violent person,” but rather it measures our tendencies and skills in a specific situation. Put yourself in a different situation and you’ll behave differently.

Sometimes we use personality type to justify our extreme Style Under Stress (silence or violence). We might say things like, “Of course I treated him that way. I’m an INTJ. That’s just who I am.” Or, “Yes, I said that. But it’s because I’m a ‘yellow’.” I sometimes use these as examples of helpless stories in the introduction of Master My Stories. Specifically, I bring it up on the slide that says “When it matters most, we often do our worst—and we feel like we are doing the right thing.” We behave badly when the stakes are high, then we justify the behavior with our personality type, without realizing we have other options that will help us return to healthy dialogue. This is a quick example that participants might not have thought of, and pointing it out usually gets a good laugh.


What should I do if I have an entire group that is very bitter and resistant to change?

What should I do if I have an entire group/team attending the training that is very bitter and angry with management and resistant to change?

This is a great question. Let me share a few tips that may be helpful to think about.

1. If you have the opportunity to work with this group in their intact work team, I recommend engaging them in the activity on page 165 of the toolkit (page 139 of the trainer guide)—the optional Team Application for Master My Stories in Module 7. It’s probably one that they didn’t do in the Crucial Conversations class—so it will be new to them. The key for you is to make it safe for them to fully engage and use their skills to speak honestly, openly, and with respect.

2. Get them to acknowledge the costs of the status quo. What’s the cost of doing nothing? What’s the cost if they aren’t open and honest with one another?

3. Have them share success stories. While it can be daunting to take on a huge entrenched problem (like an angry, bitter culture that’s resistant to change), it can be helpful, motivating, and even inspiring to hear how others’ small steps have yielded results. Seek out opinion leaders and encourage them to share where they’ve been successful.

4. Finally, remind them that even if they try and just do a “pretty good” job of using the skills (vs. a perfect job), they can still get better results. Sometimes simply changing a few words, or the intent of an approach can dramatically alter how the other person reacts.

Good Luck!


Is Compromise a Bad Thing When You’re Trying to Create Mutual Purpose?

I hear this question from participants almost every time I facilitate Crucial Conversations. Here are some thoughts:

I often ask participants, “When you are trying to push (interesting choice of words) your purpose? What is your strategy?” The common response, in one form or another, is usually “verbal persuasion.” At that point, I usually pull a Dr. Phil on them and ask them, “How’s that working for you?” The response is often, “Not so good!”

After some gentle questioning and exploring of others’ paths, many participants come to the conclusion that verbal persuasion is usually not a Mutual Purpose process but rather a “Your Purpose” process. I then ask, “So, what do you do when verbal persuasion fails you?” You can see learners put on their thinking caps. The customary response to that question is, “We usually compromise at that point.” And that leads us to the following question: “Is compromise a bad thing when you are trying to create Mutual Purpose?”

In life we make many compromises. We compromise in our homes with loved ones. We compromise at school with fellow students and teachers. We compromise at work with fellow employees, bosses, and other stakeholders. You may even have to compromise with the IRS! (Whoa—too much information!)

Compromising is not a bad thing when you are stuck, but there are better options. Merriam-Webster defines a compromise as “a settlement of differences by arbitration or by consent reached by mutual concessions.” And there’s the rub. A mutual purpose feels good—both parties contributing to the Pool of Shared Meaning and achieving something they care about. A mutual concession doesn’t feel that good—the pool feels like it has sprung a leak. When you compromise, it is sometimes very difficult if not impossible to create a true Mutual Purpose.

An old football coach I once knew hated ties. He had been quoted more than once saying that a 7-7 tie with your neighboring town’s team was like “kissing your sister.” It’s a nice gesture, but not a whole lot of fun. The same thing can be said about compromising to try to get to Mutual Purpose. A compromise or a concession makes most people feel a little disappointed and not overly positive, which hampers the Mutual Purpose process.

So what can you do when you are at cross-purposes? And if you live on planet Earth, you will often be at cross-purposes. Create Mutual Purpose using the following four skills:

Commit to seek Mutual Purpose
Recognize the purpose behind the strategy
Invent a Mutual Purpose
Brainstorm new strategies

With these skills, you don’t give anything up in a compromise. You actually create new ideas that incorporate the important points from everyone’s original thoughts, ideas or decisions. The more I work with these four skills, the more I see how important they are in helping you align your ideas with others to get better results.

One last big idea on creating Mutual Purpose: many people think that inventing and brainstorming are the most important of the skills, but I would argue that committing to seek Mutual Purpose and recognizing the purpose behind the strategy are the most crucial. These skills allow you to build safety with the other person and get to inventing and brainstorming in order to truly create a Mutual Purpose and get you the result you both want.


What if the other person refuses to open up?

When trying to commit to seek mutual purpose, what if the other person refuses to open up and share his or her meaning to find and/or create a mutual purpose?

It can be difficult when the other person seems to be holding back what it is they really want. There are a couple of things you might keep in mind when dealing with this situation.

Sometimes the refusal to open up is a sign others are not feeling safe Finish Reading

Crucial Conversations QA

Trainer Q&A: Is it ever appropriate to move to silence?

Candace BertottiCandace Bertotti is a Master Trainer.

This article was originally published March 3, 2009.

Q Is it ever appropriate to move to silence?


A The first question to ask yourself is, “Is this conversation crucial?” If the stakes aren’t high (someone was rude, but you’ll never see them again), emotions aren’t strong (sure you disagree, but you’re not upset or that passionate about it), or there are no opposing opinions (it may be a touchy issue, but you’re all in agreement), then silence may be an appropriate course of action. That said, know that your silence communicates something, and by not speaking up, you inherently give other people the power to determine your meaning rather than stating it clearly yourself.

If the conversation is crucial, then what?

If you find that your motive for speaking up is not healthy, your negative emotions are controlling you, you lack respect for someone, and/or you don’t feel safe, it may be appropriate to move to silence—but only temporarily while you take a quick step back. Be careful not to use this “pause” as an excuse to sweep the problem under the rug or venture down a road of paralyzing analysis and unending preparation. Taking an hour or two to collect your thoughts, connecting to a healthy motive, finding a way to respect the other person’s dignity, and/or finding a private space to talk can make a big difference. Your opinion that someone else is an idiot is better left unsaid. Starting a dialogue about working better together with that same person in a private, safe space is essential.