Crucial Conversations QA

Crucial Applications: Landing That Job

You’re seated across from an interviewer who is waiting to be impressed. What will make you stand out from the herd? Well, like it or not, it probably won’t be your academic record. Your resume is also a feature that can only serve to eliminate you if you haven’t done it well. Grades, classes, and resumes rarely set you apart.

So what makes the difference? It’s your ability to master crucial conversations that is most likely to land you that job. Every time you talk with a future employer, you’re in the middle of a crucial conversation. Stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong.

Why would recruiters pay so much attention to your interpersonal skill as demonstrated during the interview? Interpersonal skills matter because in a real job, you work in a social environment made up of small groups and teams. Individuals who aren’t able to express themselves well aren’t heard, so their best ideas are often missed. Additionally, individuals who fall apart under the pressure of an interview aren’t going to stand up to the tension-filled conversations offered up most days at work.

Some helpful tips on landing that job:

1. Work on your mindset. Convince yourself that you want the job and you’d be honored to work for the company. Otherwise, you’re not a good enough actor to hide your uncertainty or possible disdain. You can always say no later.

2. Read your audience. As much as the interview feels like it’s about you, it’s not. It’s about how well you’ll fit into the new culture. That means you need to know something about the company and people you’re talking to. Do your homework. Also, as the interview unfolds, watch for nonverbal cues.

3. Practice holding crucial conversations with a friend. Practice both advocating and listening. Ask your friend to see if you speak confidently without seeming pushy or brash, and if you carefully listen. Ask clarifying questions when necessary.

4. Ask for the job. You’d be surprised how many people aren’t offered a job because they didn’t have the moxie to ask for it.

Crucial Conversations QA

Looking for Equality in Pay

Joseph Grenny

Joseph Grenny is coauthor of four bestselling books, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.


Crucial Conversations

QDear Crucial Skills,

I just found out that another manager in the same profession but with less qualifications and a smaller job is making $14,000 more than I am. If I confront my boss, I’m afraid she will ask where I received the information, but I’m not willing to answer that question. It shouldn’t matter. What to do?

Underpaid and uncertain

A Dear Underpaid and Uncertain,

This is tricky because the answer is very situational. So let me throw a few things at you and invite you to grab any that are relevant.

First, I’m curious about why you can’t share your source. The purpose of dialogue during crucial conversations is to fill the “shared pool of meaning.” This means that you find a way to reduce defenses enough that you and your boss can speak freely about your salary concerns. If you want your boss to understand how you feel, she’ll need to have access to the data behind your current thoughts and feelings of inequity. You’ve got to be able to “share the facts.”

I try to avoid getting into the trap of having information in my head that I can’t admit to having by cautioning those who want to share “gossip”—or even hard data—with me but don’t want me to attribute it to them. When they’re about to open their mouths, I say something like, “Please don’t put anything in my head about someone that I can’t candidly discuss with them.” This lets the speaker know that I expect him or her to take responsibility for what he or she is about to say. There are times when I’ll agree to keep names anonymous—but I want at least to have the freedom to acknowledge that this data is in my head when it affects my feelings, thoughts, and behavior toward another person or group. It keeps me from being the source of my own mistrust and political behavior.

With that said, here are some situations you may face as your share your facts.

– Your boss may want to appropriately change the conversation. If the person who shared this information with you violated a company policy by doing so, your boss will rightfully try to divert the conversation to a discussion of that point. And you can’t avoid it because that is an equally important issue to your concern about pay equity. If this is your situation, you have an ethical responsibility to return to the person who shared the information with you and confront his or her dishonesty.

– Your boss may want to inappropriately change the conversation. If there is no policy against sharing salary information, then you should head off the change of conversation at the outset. Begin with your boss by saying “Some information has come to my attention that I’d like to share. I don’t think it’s right for me to say who shared it because they don’t want to be involved. Also, the source isn’t the real issue in my view.” Having taken this stand, you’re more likely to be able to stay focused on your salary concern.

– Your boss may ignore your attempt to focus the conversation. If even after you frame the topic your boss tries to change the topic to discovering your source, ask her to justify the change of topic. For example, “Earlier I suggested the source wasn’t relevant to my concerns about pay equity. The real issue is whether or not this is true and fair. And you’re now asking for the source. May I ask why that is important?” If she has a legitimate reason, you’ll be obligated to respond. If she is simply irritated that this issue is in the open, she’ll be less capable of convincing you that you need to disclose.

Now, once you’ve teed up the topic, you need to be open to dialogue. That means you need to be open to changing your mind.

It could be, for example, that your “story” about the pay differential is wrong. For example, any difference could be smaller than you heard. Or, there may be legitimate reasons for the pay differential. Or, there could be reasons—but not reasons that you accept. Be open to listening and be open to being influenced. If you aren’t, you’ll create a more defensive climate where your boss will be less open as well. Listen a lot. Ask a lot of questions. When you fully understand, then respond from a position of knowledge.

Finally, be sure to focus on what you REALLY want. I watch many people provoke resistance in salary discussions because their goal is “more money for me!” This violates safety and mutual purpose and drives your boss to silence or violence. Your goal must be to gain fairness, not just get more money. “Fairness” is a higher value that most people are motivated to achieve—and one you’re likely to get your bosses’ agreement to address.

Best Wishes,


Kerrying On

Kerrying On: The Two Faces of Deference

Kerry Patterson

Kerry Patterson is coauthor of four bestselling books, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.


Deference: submission or courteous yielding to the opinion, wishes, or judgment of another

One day while waiting for my car to be repaired, I asked Leo, the repair shop’s head honcho, why his crew members kept coming to him with questions. “It’s simple,” he explained. “They aren’t as good at diagnosing as I am. Never will be. So every time they can’t figure out what to do they ask me, I tell them, and then they do it. The truth is, I know just about everything there is to know about their jobs and they don’t. That’s why I’m the boss and they aren’t.”

As I watched the crew in action, it turned out that Leo did know just about everything. He also may be one of the last all-knowing bosses in America. The time when leaders rise to power by knowing everything about every job went the way of the hula hoop—maybe even the buggy whip. Nowadays, most leaders work with specialists who know far more about their jobs than the leader will ever know. So bosses who work for a company more modern than, say, a blacksmith shop, depend on the people who come to work each day to give their best effort—as well as their best ideas.

But what happens when employees believe that it’s not safe to share their ideas or to disagree with the boss? In fact, what if they go along with the boss’s ideas no matter how zany, insipid, or impractical? When this happens, you’re in serious trouble. The people who are closest to the customer or who know the most about their area of expertise are deferring to the boss. If the boss isn’t omniscient like Leo, disaster lies just around the corner.

And yet, deference to authority thrives in almost every business. Most bosses, no matter how enlightened their philosophy or egalitarian their style, face employees who are at least slightly uncomfortable disagreeing with them—some are even terrified. You can find people who willingly dissent no matter the circumstances, but in most companies, savvy employees refrain from quickly disagreeing with people in authority.

In fact, here’s what you yourself may have done: After your boss offers a suggestion you think isn’t all that hot, you initially withhold your opposing view and wait to see if others will take the risk of speaking up. Unfortunately, since everyone is doing the same thing, nobody says anything. Soon it feels unsafe to express your differing view, and you let a half-baked idea go unchallenged.

Now here’s the really intriguing part. Leaders themselves don’t have to do anything to create a climate of fear. Unhealthy deference often stems from their title, their salary, their position, the size of their office, the leather in their chair, and the history of every other boss who ever walked the hallways—independent of the current leader’s behavior. It stems from the images of insulting police chiefs, bureaucratic office managers, manipulative hospital administrators, and every other kind of wacky or dangerous leader that fills the TV airways. Negative images are set in cognitive stone before leaders ever open their mouths. It’s not in their behavior, it’s in the ether.

Let me share with you the two faces of deference you need to be watching out for. First, there’s the problem I’ve been alluding to—employees are afraid to disagree with an idea that they think is wrong (maybe even stupid). Second, there’s the problem of taking a half-baked idea and making it worse by implementing it well. (My favorite quote as of late is: “If it’s not worth doing, it’s certainly not worth doing well.”) Let me share an example of each type of deference.

One day the owner of a company just down the street from my office burst into a meeting and threw a bag of rice on the table. It was one of those bags that you put in the microwave and heat up so you can use it to soothe sore joints. “This is the present we’ll be giving to our customers and employees this year for the holidays!” the boss shouts in a manner that suggests that his idea is actually clever. Nobody wants to rain on the boss’s parade so employees meet his suggestion with their best hint of disapproval—a long pause followed by lukewarm enthusiasm.

The boss doesn’t pick up on the unspoken message. In fact, later that week he hauls two tons of uncleaned feed corn into the office (I’m not making this up). It turns out that corn is cheaper than rice and can work just as well. Soon the feed corn is spreading weevils throughout the building. Next the boss moves the corn outside where disgruntled staff members throw it in the air because the wind is supposed to blow away the dust and chaff—or so people vaguely recall from the movie The Ten Commandments. Next the boss comes up with the idea of sewing the company’s logo on the sack. To do so, they have to buy a fancy sewing machine. Unfortunately, the cloth is too thick so they have to buy another, even more expensive machine. And so on and so on.

The entire time this insane activity is escalating, nobody expresses a word of dissent. Nobody points out that a bag of feed corn is not all that nifty a gift. Nobody dares say that the holiday “bag-o-corn” is now costing a fortune. No one has the courage to point out that they don’t like stepping away from the work they spent years of college training preparing for only to sweat over a sewing machine. Nope, the boss remains clueless because nobody is comfortable telling him that transforming feed corn into a product you can buy for two dollars on the internet may not be all that inspired.

The second form of deference can be even worse. People don’t merely stay mum when they disagree with an idea, they actually take what the boss thinks is a reasonable suggestion and turn it into something outlandish. They do so by trying far too hard to please the boss.

For instance, an Admiral who worked across the bay from my office in Alameda, California tells one of his staff members (my neighbor) that he would like to have “one of those convenient little refrigerators” in the hotel room he’ll be staying in next week. This is at a time when minibars were still new to the hospitality industry, so the hotel he’s scheduled to stay at doesn’t have such a thing.

Not wanting to disappoint a person who actually commands a fleet of ships, the Admiral’s staff has an oversized refrigerator installed in his room. Unfortunately, since the humongous fridge won’t fit through the doors, they have to temporarily remove a window. And since the hotel rooms start on the third floor, they have to lower the refrigerator into the room by helicopter.

Later that week the admiral walks into the room, sees the fridge, and tells his wife, “Look, our room has a refrigerator in it. How nice!” He has no idea that the space that will eventually hold his yogurt cost thousands of taxpayer dollars—nor would he have wanted the money spent that way. It all started with a simple suggestion, but his direct reports really wanted to please him.

So here’s the deal. If you have a nice office with a large desk, a private parking space, and fancy oil paintings on the wall—you can’t make subtle suggestions that will successfully travel down the chain of command without being blown out of proportion. The same is true if you make, say, more than twice as much as the people to whom you’re making suggestions. And people are also likely to defer to you if there has ever been anybody in your company who has been forceful and punitive. Or even if they’ve just heard stories. Frightened by the “ghosts of leadership past,” people won’t say no. They won’t push back. They won’t make your suggestion better. In fact, they’ll turn your suggestion into a command—and often a dumb one at that.

I know this all sounds crazy, but it’s not. For those of you who struggle with the challenge of getting people to comply with the most simple of commands—despite your authority—it’s hard to imagine employees who not only eagerly follow your advice, but who even take it to an insane extreme. And yet it happens all the time.

So what’s a person to do? In my next article I’ll address how to deal with the two faces of deference. For now I merely want to highlight the issue and send out a call for your experience. Send me your most entertaining and outlandish example of deference. What insane idea did the boss come up with that people actually implemented without saying a word? Or what modest suggestion did people blow out of proportion?

Well, I have to run. I’m late for lunch and my helicopter is waiting.

Crucial Accountability QA

Intervening Mother-in-Law

Al Switzler

Al Switzler is coauthor of four bestselling books, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.


Crucial Confrontations

Q  Dear Crucial Skills,

At a large family gathering, my four-year-old son threw a temper tantrum wanting his cake and ice cream in a bowl rather than on a plate. My wife told him he could have the dessert on the plate as it was served or not at all. Seeing my son’s dissatisfaction with this arrangement, my mother-in-law stepped in with a bowl and loudly stated, “This is my house, and I am his grandmother, and if my grandson wants his dessert in a bowl he can have it in a bowl.” The whole room went silent as Grandma transferred the dessert to the bowl.

I wish my wife had stood up for herself, but old patterns are often hard to break. I also wish I had stood up for my wife and my son. Unfortunately, I am ashamed to say, I reverted to silence (this was before I read Crucial Conversations). This behavior is not a pattern for my mother-in-law, so I am not sure if this is worthy of a crucial conversation. She can be strong in her suggestions but rarely as forceful as she was on that day.

Would it have been appropriate to have a crucial conversation with my Mother-in-law at the moment of her behavior, to reverse her directive back to my wife’s? If so, can you give some suggestions?

Thank you!!!


A frustrated son-in-law

A Dear Frustrated,

The key question here is one that haunts many of us: “To speak or not to speak?” In Crucial Confrontations, we devote a chapter to this question. The chapter is entitled “Choose WHAT and IF: How to Know What Crucial Confrontation to Hold and If You Should Hold It.”

The steps we teach about knowing WHAT to confront can be summarized quickly. Masters of these skills get the issue clear in their minds by “unbundling” it—they determine if the issue is one of Content, Pattern, or Relationship. Content deals with the specific or original problem. Pattern is the reoccurrence. And Relationship deals with factors such as trust or respect. Figure out which of these is the real issue here.

The question is not only what you should confront, but if you should confront and whom you should confront. There are several people in this situation you could consider.

The person you focused on primarily was your mother-in-law. You mentioned that the issue with the ice cream was not a pattern. However, you also mention that you wish your wife would stand up for herself. That suggests a pattern. Does your mother-in-law intrude, interrupt, or dominate in ways that are a pattern—regardless of the content? Do you need to talk to her?

We offer a few questions that can help you decide if you should speak up: Is your conscience nagging you? Is that little voice in your head frequently whispering—or yelling—“There it is again! That is so unfair! Doesn’t she realize what she’s doing?” Next question is, are you acting it out? Do you talk about your mother-in-law when she’s not there? Do you withdraw or avoid her? Have you ever seen her name on the caller ID and not answered it while at the same time laughing like some fiend in an old movie? Okay, I’m exaggerating for effect, but you get the point. If you are answering yes to any of these questions, you should probably speak to her.

Next is your wife. Maybe you shouldn’t speak up to your mother-in-law. Maybe you should coach your wife. Does she complain about her mother’s behaviors or actions regularly? Does she “bite her lip”? You could coach your wife about speaking up. You could help her unbundle the issue and decide whether to talk about Content, Pattern, or Relationship. If what has you concerned is her not speaking up, talk to her.

Third is your son. He possibly also has a pattern of behaviors that is of concern. He’s just four, but that’s old enough. You can have a talk with him. How would you do that? You would use the same skills that you would use with your mother-in-law or your wife. Use all the skills that help you deal with what’s crucial. Make it safe—keep it private and don’t go into the talk having pre-judged or being emotional. Start with the facts: “I’ve observed this…” “this is what I expect…” and end with a question: “Can we talk about this?”

Remember that if you don’t talk it out you act it out. There are many ways to deal with these issues. You can balance candor with courtesy. You can build safety and have honesty. There are learnable skills that can help all of us improve to address the issues that matter most in our lives.

Best wishes,



Crucial Applications: Handling Stress

As you watch people who thrive under horrendous pressure, you quickly discover their source of strength. They don’t thrive because they experience stress, squeeze a beanbag, and then fall back into control. Most don’t feel stress in the first place.

Why is that? Because they know how to handle crucial conversations. When facing an apparent debacle, they don’t whip themselves into a frenzy by assuming the worst of others. Instead, they assume the best and then look for facts. They don’t hold court in their head about others and find them guilty before exploring the facts.

They also know how to express their strong opinions in a way that’s persuasive, not abrasive. How? They make others feel safe by assuring them of their own positive intentions and respect for them. Finally, they invite dialogue. This means they actually encourage the other person to disagree with them. By avoiding heated arguments, they keep emotions in check.

So here’s the big take away. Learn how to master crucial conversations, and cut off stress at the source.

Visit and take our free online Style Under Stress assessment. This short quiz will help you understand your tendencies to move toward silence, violence, or dialogue.

Crucial Conversations QA

My Colleague Thinks I'm An Idiot

Joseph Grenny

Joseph Grenny is coauthor of four bestselling books, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.


Crucial Conversations

QDear Crucial Skills,

How do I approach someone who seems to think I’m an idiot?

I am the Director of Finance in my organization. I am a CPA. One of my functions is to count votes at our Board meetings. It’s a little more complicated than counting hands–but not much.

The other day, our Executive Director placed in my box a “cheat sheet” of how to count votes. I’ve been doing this for two years so I find her giving me this sheet very rude, demoralizing, and demeaning. This is just an example. She does these sorts of things fairly often. How can I get her to stop?


I Can Count

A Dear I Can Count,

I’m pretty torn reading your note. On the one hand I’d feel exactly as you do if someone gave me arithmetic tips after two years of working together. It’s kind of like getting a box of Tic Tacs from your sweetheart for Valentine’s Day–it’s gotta mean something, hasn’t it? On the other hand, I know in my heart that the biggest challenge you’ll face talking to your executive director is the story you’re telling yourself about her actions. You’ve decided it is “rude, demoralizing, and demeaning.” And, to be honest, that’s your problem not hers. To the degree you take offense, you’ll have a very difficult time building safety for your executive director when you have your crucial conversation.

So Master Your Story by asking, “Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do this?” Some possibilities might include:

* She believes I made a mistake recently and she concluded (incorrectly) it was because I didn’t understand the counting policy. This is her way of coaching me without putting me on the spot. How polite!

* She didn’t understand the policy herself. She recently figured it out, wrote a note for her own use and offered me a copy since it fits my responsibilities.

* Or (given that this behavior seems to show up in other ways, too) she tends to be very critical of things in general and doesn’t realize how she comes across as a result.

Your first challenge is to separate how you see her from how you see her behavior. When you feel a sense of regard and civility toward her–and less insulted and victimized by her–you’re ready to talk. How then, do you bring it up? Here are four tips:

1. Start with Safety

Show respect by giving her the benefit of the doubt: “If it’s okay, I’d like to check something out with you. Some things you’ve done now and again have caught me off guard and I’m not sure what you meant by them–could I invite your feedback?”

2. Share the Facts

Describe factually what happened. Don’t add your judgments or accusations. For example, don’t say, “You seem to think I don’t know how to count board votes.” Rather, say, “You put this note about vote-counting in my box.” Add any other relevant experiences as well that help paint the picture you’re trying to lay out.

3. Tentatively Share Your Concern

Again, if you’ve “Mastered Your Story” you’ll be able to do this well. If you still feel hurt and insulted, you won’t. Here’s how it should sound: “After these three experiences, I’m beginning to wonder if you’ve got concerns with my competence.”

4. Invite Dialogue

Now, open yourself up to feedback. Sincerely invite her views and she’ll be much more open to then hearing yours: “I realize I could be taking this wrong. But if there’s feedback I need to get–I’m hungry for it. Or, if you’re just trying to help, I’d like to share some of my views about things that are and aren’t helpful. How do you see things?”

I hope this is useful and wish you the best in this crucial conversation.

Best regards,


Crucial Accountability QA

Too Much Information

Al Switzler

Al Switzler is coauthor of four bestselling books, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.


Crucial Confrontations

Q  Dear Crucial Skills,

I work as an RN and Clinic Coordinator in an Occupational Health clinic. Recently, we had a terroristic threat from a patient and the security guards were called to stand by while the patient had his office visit.

While he was standing by, one security guard and I discovered that he’d worked with my father on our local police force forty-two years ago. When he found out who I was, the security guard started recounting—in front of my clinic staff—how terrible my father was for leaving my mom, my sister, and me (he fooled around on my Mom while they were married so she divorced him), that they thought he was not “right in the head,” and that he had a problem running away from responsibility.

While I agree with him on all counts, I was pretty stunned that he kept on with all of this in front of two of my medical assistants and am wondering how best to deal with this. We will need to rely on his presence for future visits with this abusive patient, so I don’t want to alienate him. But he needs to hear how that affected me—my staff was very embarrassed also. How do I approach this type of conversation?


Too Much Information

A Dear Too Much:

As I read this question, I kept looking for the theme or themes that would represent typical concerns that many people face. There is good news here. I think everyone has had experiences of this sort. What do you do when someone acts in ways that embarrass you and others in public? It could be that someone shares facts about your past that shouldn’t be shared in public, uses language that is sexist or racist, tells an offensive joke or story, or tells a story about him- or herself that is indelicate or too revealing.

I’ll address this issue by working through some of the principles we teach in “Crucial Confrontations: Tools for Resolving Broken Promises, Violated Expectations, and Bad Behavior.”

The first principle is to Choose WHAT and IF. To help you choose what issue to talk about, we teach the acronym CPR: Content, Pattern, and Relationship. The issue at hand here is not a pattern–it’s the first time this has occurred. It has not become a relationship issue at this point. This is good news–you’re facing a content issue, so you should only talk about this particular incident. The next step is to determine IF you should speak up. Very often, if you don’t speak up you will act out your feelings by gossiping, frowning, showing angst, withdrawing, etc. It sounds like it would be hard to not act out these feelings, so choose to speak up.

Once you’ve clarified the issue and chosen to speak up, you need to move to the next step: Master My Stories. You want to avoid oversimplifying or vilifying. Ask yourself: “Why might a reasonable, rational, decent person do this? Could it be that he was not aware of what he was doing? Have I ever been oblivious to something I did? Have I ever worn a bit of lunch in my front teeth for half a day and not realized it? Could there be reasons that I’m not aware of?” There are two upsides to giving him the benefit of the doubt: 1) you don’t get all upset and angry and 2) you don’t rush in with accusations and emotions–the most common problem that people succumb to in beginning a crucial confrontation.

If you have a clear issue to discuss and your emotions and stories are in control, move the next step: Describe the Gap.

A gap is the difference between what you expected and what you observed. Clearly you don’t expect someone to talk in public the way this person did, so you are ready to open your mouth and talk to him. What do you need to remember?

First, if you haven’t prejudged him and chosen to be angry, then you have made it safe because your facial expressions, tone of voice, and words send the message, “I have an observation and a question, not an accusation and a guilt trip waiting for you.”

Second find a time and private place to talk that is convenient and safe. Then describe the gap. It might sound something like this. “Last week when you came to our clinic you recounted details about my father and personal life in front of the staff. I believe that details like that should be discussed in private. I was surprised and embarrassed that those details were shared so publicly. Can we talk about this?”

When you get off on the right foot, there is enough safety and clarity and good intention that the confrontations tend to go well.

So here’s the good news. It’s a clear, one-time issue that you can typically solve by bringing it up in safe environment. By not letting it become a pattern that affects your relationship, you will most likely maintain a good working relationship with this man and he will more than likely not repeat a behavior that he was not aware of or that he didn’t realize was so impactful.

Best wishes,