Crucial Accountability QA

The Silent Spouse

Dear Crucial Skills,

Whenever my husband and I get into a conversation that he doesn’t want to continue, he will resort to saying something like, “You always have to have things your way,” and will refuse to continue the conversation. This always leaves issues unresolved and interferes with other areas of our life. How can I get around this?

Signed,
Unresolved

Dear Unresolved,

When we teach Crucial Conversations Training and ask for the kinds of challenges people are facing, this issue comes up in several ways. Some talk about being married to a mime. Others comment that their spouse seems to have a completely different idea about the number of words needed to discuss a tough topic–particularly at home. Still others share that their spouse will talk about everything and anything except what really matters–then retreat into silence.

This issue is so common and so tough that we’ve addressed it at some length in both “crucial” books in the “Yeah, But . . .” chapters. In Crucial Conversations, it’s “Yeah, but my spouse is the person you talked about earlier. You know, I try to hold a meaningful discussion, I try to work through an important issue, and he or she simply withdraws. What can I do?” In Crucial Confrontations, there are two: “Yeah, but my spouse never wants to talk about anything. I experience a problem with him, and he tells me not to worry or not now or I’ve got it all wrong, or he just turns back to the TV set and says he’ll get back to me later. But he never does.” “Yeah, but I keep bringing up the same problems over and over, and my spouse and children continue in their old ways. It makes me feel like a nag, and I don’t want to be a nag.” There are more detailed answers in the books than I can provide here, but let me tackle a couple of points.

First and foremost, we need to start with heart. Before you open your mouth, ask yourself the questions that will help you get to mutual purpose. “What do I REALLY want for me? For the other person? For our relationship?” This question helps you fine-tune your motive and helps move your intentions from possibly self-centered and short-term to mutual and long-term. This also helps you make sure that when you share what you’re thinking you are starting from a safe place rather than leading with emotions and accusations.

Key, however, to solving this issue is getting to the right conversation. In Crucial Confrontations, we describe a process to help you choose between Content, Pattern, and Relationship discussions.

In relationships that are stressed, talking about content is not going to work. Content issues could include not cleaning the garage, not coming home on time, spending too much money, etc. What you’ve described in your question is clearly pattern and relationship. The problem is a pattern. It is recurring. It’s affecting your relationship in many ways. So I’d suggest you talk about talking. It might sound something like this: “Could we talk about how we communicate? I’d like to understand how we each view how we talk together and what we both want. Last time we talked you said that I was trying to get my way, and I don’t want to come across that way. I want to talk things out so we both agree if we can. Would that be okay?” If he agrees, he might ask, “Okay, where do we start?” You might then respond, “I’ve noticed that when an issue is important, we start talking and if we see things differently, you cut off the conversation just when I want to talk more. Can you help me understand what’s going on?”

Of course, there is no one set of scripts that work. The important part is that you have put the right issues on the table–pattern and relationship–and you are sincerely interested in understanding where your spouse is coming from. If you make it safe enough, you can also be candid in what you observe about your spouse’s behaviors and how those impact you. This is give and take. This is dialogue.

Crucial conversations are interactions about high-stakes, emotional issues that two people see differently. Remember that you can talk them out, or act them out. The challenge here is to talk about the right issue.

Best wishes,

Al

Crucial Conversations QA

Are We Really Empowered?

Dear Crucial Skills,

In my organization, I keep hearing that senior management does not empower middle management and that middle management does not empower the front line workers.

How can Crucial Conversations help every level feel more empowered?

Signed,

Seeking Power

Dear Seeking Power,

When the empowerment movement became popular in the mid 80s, the results were mixed. The intent was to allow individuals who were closest to information to take part in decision making.

The rationale was simple enough–just because you’re at the top of the organization doesn’t mean you have the information you need to make informed decisions and just because you’re at the bottom doesn’t mean you don’t have the information. In most organizations, this meant that many of the decisions that had formerly been made by mangers or supervisors would now be made by people somewhere down the chain.

The reason the empowerment movement experienced mixed results was because it was frequently misunderstood. Hourly employees were often erroneously informed that now they would take part in most, if not all, of the decisions. In their minds, they weren’t empowered unless they were granted permission to make all decisions, or at least play a big role in them. This, of course, was untrue and caused a lot of people to feel disappointed, even betrayed.

The solution to problems with empowerment often lies in clarifying expectations. The goal of empowerment is not to lower decision making, but to allow individuals who have access to the most complete and accurate information to use it to make informed choices–where choices are an option. It’s important to make this distinction because even if you have a great deal of information, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have a choice.

For example, when it comes to deciding what to do at work, much of what we do comes in the form of a command. We have no choice. The marketplace sets the price, the customer sets the delivery date, the government sets the safety standard, etc. Even the president of a company receives much of his or her work in the form of a command. That’s just how things are.

Even when someone within your organization does get to make a choice, it doesn’t mean that you personally get to decide. The greater the number of people affected by a decision, the more difficult it would be to involve all of them in making the choice. For example, when deciding where to move a new office that houses 200 people, you aren’t going to bring all 200 into a room and talk until everyone agrees. All are affected, all have a huge stake, and yet involving everyone is simply too unwieldy. That’s why we have a representative government. We don’t make laws by consensus; we select a handful of people to make the choice for us. Within corporations, we make many decisions by consulting with people, and then allowing a much smaller group–often a committee–to actually make the choice.

Problems arise with the consulting process when we ask people for their input (consulting with them) but they think that they have the final say. They think the decision will be made by consensus. You’re in a consulting mode, and others think they’re actually deciding. Avoid this common mistake by (1) clarifying that you’re consulting with people and (2) identifying who will eventually make the final choice. This lets people know that they themselves won’t be making the final choice as well as who they need to talk to if they want to be heard.

The role of healthy dialogue in decision making should be clear. Talk openly about who is making key decisions and why. If you’re being given a mandate over which you have no control, clarify that the decision has been made and it’s your job to decide how to do it. If you do have a choice and you think many people need to be involved, then consult with them and let them know exactly what you’re doing.

Finally, when everyone needs to come to a shared decision (when you’re making a decision by consensus), clarify that you won’t move on until everyone is in agreement. This is where dialogue is most important. Everyone needs to have a say. You have to make it safe for those who disagree to speak openly, while the group is still talking about the issue. Encourage dissenting views. Play devil’s advocate. Call on people who haven’t said much to ensure that they get a chance to speak. Make it clear that there is no room for pretending to agree, waiting for the meeting to disburse, and then trying to undo the decision by talking to people one-on-one. Bring the group together and stick with the issue until everyone willingly supports the choice. This doesn’t mean that everyone gets their first choice, but that they will support whatever decision is made, as if it were their first choice.

Now, let’s move to a gray area. When members of one level of the organization complain that members from the level above them don’t empower them, it’s time to talk about who makes what choices and why. One group thinks they have adequate information and skill to make certain choices, but aren’t being giving the opportunity to choose. They feel unnecessarily constrained or micromanaged. This plays itself out in a variety of forms. For instance, they only have decision authority over a small dollar figure. They need signatures from two levels above them–from people who have less information and only slow things down on matters that feel routine. Those who are doing the constraining obviously feel the need to do so. They fear that if they don’t weigh in with their point of view, people will make poor choices.

So, how do you decide who’s right and who’s wrong?

Once again, it’s time for open dialogue. As a team, list the decisions you routinely make and who makes them–including approvals, budgets, policies, and signatures. Then decide as a group if the decision is being made by the right person or persons and by the right method. Take on the decisions that you think are being handled poorly. Where do you feel as if you are unduly constrained and why? Are there places where you feel the opposite–abandoned and given too much responsibility–given your skill set and access to information? Finally, make sure you discuss areas where you feel second guessed. You’re given authority but if things don’t go right, people are all over you. When does this happen and why?

As you can see, when it comes to empowerment, there’s plenty of room for holding crucial conversations. But before you say a word, make sure you’ve thought through the issues I’ve just described.

Good Luck!

Kerry Patterson

Crucial Conversations QA

Revisiting the Past

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joseph Grenny

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


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Crucial Conversations

QDear Crucial Skills,

My current job is being eliminated, and unless I find another position in the company, I could be facing a layoff after twenty-two years with the company. The job I would really like to have reports to a manager I used to work for and with whom I didn’t get along.

The manager and I never resolved our differences. I am intimidated by this person. I seem to say and do things that set him off–certainly without intention. I want this person to understand that I have a great deal of respect for his intellect, for his accomplishments, and for his leadership. But I do not want to come across as a brown-noser, and certainly, I would like for him to consider me as a serious contender for the vacant position in his group.

Any suggestions that you might have for me in terms of my approach with this manager would be greatly appreciated.

Signed,

Very Anxious

A Dear Very Anxious,

I couldn’t think of a better example of a situation where a crucial conversation must be held. Congratulations on recognizing it. So often we fool ourselves into thinking we’re coping with avoiding a crucial conversation, while we act in ways that perpetuate and even deepen the problem. You are right on target in believing that a failure to address the relationship problem will affect the outcome.

In truth, this crucial conversation is somewhat easier than many others. The reason is that your goal is just to find out what you were doing wrong in the past relationship. It’s always helpful to examine your own role in relationship problems, but when your very motivation for a crucial conversation is–as you said–to find out what you say and do that “sets him off”–you’re in a great place. You’ve applied the “Master My Stories” principle marvelously.

Second comment before some advice: To paraphrase the objective you described, your goal is to be honest and not pathetic. You have two “contrasting” challenges: 1) You want to discredit the story you think he holds about your view of him and help him see how you truly see him (you respect his intellect and leadership); 2) you want to express interest in the job, but without seeming like you’re pretending the relationship was fine.

I set up these “contrasting” statements because they help you design the opening lines of the crucial conversation. Your goal in these first lines is to “Make It Safe.” You’ll do it by helping him understand what your intentions are and aren’t, and what your view of him is and isn’t. By ensuring mutual purpose and mutual respect in this way, you’ll help him feel safe, and you’ll safeguard his accurate perception of your intentions.

For example: “Thanks for making some time. I’d like to throw my hat in the ring for this job. And yet in doing so I worry about a couple of misperceptions. I worry, for example, that based on some of the tension in our past working relationship you might think I don’t support you. I want you to know I have a high regard for your intellect and leadership. I also worry that in saying this now, I will be seen as disingenuous.”

That’s the opener–you’ve clarified your intentions and your respect while avoiding misperception of either. Now, we’ll open the main topic:

“I want to acknowledge that things weren’t always smooth between us, and in some ways I’m confused about why. My goal in this conversation is to get feedback from you about what I was doing that didn’t work for you and see if there’s a way to make it work better in the future. If there isn’t, I would not want the job–or to saddle you with me! If there is, I would welcome the chance to work with you.”

Here you’ve clarified the topic, and also avoided his perception that you’re begging or masking by being clear that you won’t accept the position at any price–both for your benefit and his.

The spirit of your question is so mature that I truly believe you’ll be able to get through this conversation.

Best of luck in your crucial conversation, and in your career.

Joseph

Crucial Conversations QA

Workplace Violence

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Al Switzler

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

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Q  Dear Crucial Skills,

What do you recommend as a first step when an irate employee comes into a supervisor/manager’s office and begins to shout out a complaint and demand immediate action?

Signed,

Under Attack

A Dear Under Attack:

When I was asked if I’d be willing to answer a new question that had come in, I remember thinking, “I hope it’s something like the following:”

– I have a colleague who splits infinitives. How can I deal with this?

– Last week I asked my son to study ten hours and he only studied nine. How can I hold him accountable?

– My computer is eight months old and I need a new one. How can I get my boss to support my work needs?

But no luck. I get to answer this tough one. A serious one indeed.

When we do our training sessions, we show videos where a colleague, boss, or family member flies off the handle. Some participants say, “That’s way over the top. That would never happen here.” And we can understand that. Other participants, however, raise their hands and with energy say, “Oh, I’ve seen much worse.” I bring this up to suggest that many people do face situations like the one represented in the question.

So here is a response as first steps:

1. First, make sure you are safe. This means physically safe. There are too many incidents of workplace attacks in the news. How do you ensure your safety? Immediately make sure that there are other people visible. Make sure your door is open. Step into the hall to be close or visible to other people. You can often sense in the situation how much your physical safety is risk, but not always. Don’t take any chances.

2. Instead of jumping in to resolve the concern and running the risk of escalating the situation, address the other person’s emotions directly: “I can see this is a serious matter to you. When you talk that loudly, it becomes uncomfortable for both of us. I’d appreciate it if you could lower your voice. I want to listen to you and understand what you want, but I want it to be safer for both of us. Can we take a two-minute break?” This gives you both a chance to calm down and prepare for a more productive conversation. It also gives you the opportunity to make sure the situation is safe–to open the door, get someone’s attention, etc.

3. Find out what is making the situation so “unsafe” for the other person that he or she is shouting. If you explore others’ reasons, you might be able to help understand the data that’s driving their story and fueling their emotions. Once you understand their stories and their data, you’ll know where to begin in resolving their concerns.

4. If these kinds of behaviors are a pattern for the other person, you can not only mention that (“This is the third time you’ve come in upset and shouting. Please calm down”), you can also get an agreement about what is acceptable behavior the next time he or she has an issue to bring up. Clarifying this expectation and coaching the person will help him or her understand what behavior is unacceptable and what he or she should do instead.

I think it’s fair to talk about and then move toward progressive discipline if this kind of behavior is not eliminated.

In summary, make sure you are safe, make sure the other person knows you want it to be safe for both of you, and then deal with the issues that the person is bringing to your attention. Finally, and importantly, deal with his or her behavior and what needs to improve.

Best wishes,

Al Switzler

Crucial Accountability QA

Asking for a Raise

Dear Crucial Skills,

How can I convince my manager to give me the promotion and pay raise I am owed?

This year I came back into mainstream office activity after resolving some personal problems. I got more and more responsibility over the course of the year and my supervisor reassured me he had no concerns about my performance and that he would see about getting me my promotion at year-end.

I recently approached him about the promotion and he said that I first needed to write up my strengths and weaknesses as well as long-term goals. He said he couldn’t support me getting my promotion until he had this in his hands. It seems like he’s adding steps after the fact. It was a big letdown from the expectations he set earlier in the year.

How can I convince him to see my point of view?

Signed,

Put Off

Dear Put Off,

I’ve got a few thoughts that I think could be helpful but I’d like to beg permission to take a few logical leaps here. I sincerely don’t want to be hurtful and yet since we’re not face to face I worry I will be. I trust that you were sincere in your request for advice, so I’ll venture forward hoping you’ll know my heart’s in the right place even if my brain isn’t. Okay?

Let me start with the most abrupt thought. Your very request is worded in a way that makes me wonder if your first challenge will be to change your motives. You asked, “How can I convince him . . . ?” If my goal in a conversation is to convince the other person, then I tend to come at it in ways that reveal my motive. My goal becomes to “be right” and “prove my point” or “win” with all the behaviors attendant to those motives. This is doomed from the outset and tends to cause the other person to resist rather than consider my views.

The goal of dialogue is not to “convince” but to “contribute to the pool of meaning.” You have some very clear and compelling concerns based on your experience that it is important for your boss to consider. And yet, he probably has some other views that you are unaware of. Your goal in the conversation must not be to get your raise; it must be to get a fair and reasonable outcome. Put differently, your goal must be to come to a common understanding of where you and your boss stand. If that is your motive, you will approach this as dialogue rather than monologue.

Second point. The root cause of most violated expectations is unclear expectations. We have conversations and leave drawing different conclusions. Or we remember it differently. Or things change and we assume others are revising their expectations accordingly–and they aren’t! Unfortunately, this advice will be useful in the future but not the present. It is this. If you do not have a written confirmation of your pay and promotion expectations with your boss, then you made a mistake. Never let a conversation about such a high stakes topic end without summarizing and even documenting your agreements. If you have this documentation, it becomes the starting point for the conversation you are trying to have now. If you don’t have it, you have no clear starting point.

Third, given your history (a problematic previous year or two, recently returned, increasing return of responsibilities over the year) and given your bosses response, I have a strong intuition that he is not leveling with you. He may well be putting you off because he has been less than candid about his view of your performance. If that is so, then once again, the purpose of your crucial conversation needs to be to solicit his views and concerns. You must make it safe for him to be totally honest with you about your performance. If you don’t, he may continue to feel a need to be political with you.

Finally, just fill out the darned form. If all he’s asking for is a simple sheet with your self assessment and goals–why quibble about it? You may be telling yourself a story that makes this out to be bigger than it is. The next step in my view is for you to change your story–let this be a small bureaucratic request in your mind not a big retreat from your expectations. Comply with it. And see if that doesn’t solve the problem!

I wish you the best and hope for an outcome that is positive for both of you.

Happy Holidays,

Joseph

Crucial Conversations QA

Violated Agreement

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joseph Grenny

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


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Crucial Conversations

QDear Crucial Skills,

What do you do when someone violates an agreed upon decision-making process?

Four other supervisors and I recently made a process improvement decision. Two weeks later one of my peer supervisors called a meeting that I assumed was a chance to review progress on implementing these decisions. I sent one of my staff who was perfectly capable of reporting our progress. She returned and said this supervisor drove a whole new set of process decisions in the meeting. I called this supervisor to ask why she had done this and she said simply, “I forgot we had an agreement.” My concern is that she not only forgot, but she also drove a bunch of decisions that should have required the consent of the other supervisors. I apologized to my employee for “setting her up” like that.

How should I approach this supervisor? Should I involve my boss?

Signed,

Violated Expectations

A Dear Violated Expectations,

Please allow me to shotgun a bit here. Your situation allows an opportunity to teach a few very important points about crucial conversations. I hope you’ll find some of the points I make relevant to your problem.

First and foremost, I worry that you might be telling yourself a story that is exacerbating the problem. In “Crucial Conversations,” we teach how the emotions we feel are created by us, not by what happens to us. A strict reading of your note suggests that this is the first time something like this has happened. If that is true, then you are at risk if you draw generalized conclusions about the untrustworthiness or insensitivity of your peer. If she said, “I forgot” and apologized, you may be the problem if you are harboring a grudge about it and drawing a deeper conclusion than that this was an innocent mistake. If this is not the first time this has happened, or you have accumulated other “data points” to suggest this supervisor is untrustworthy, then we can move on to the next potential pitfall.

The second thing you might need to remedy is the error of confronting the wrong problem. In “Crucial Confrontations” we teach that the first thing you have to do is be sure you confront the right problem. If things like this have happened before, then the conversation you should be having focuses on the pattern of violating agreements–not the most recent instance. If you confront only the most recent instance and the person explains it away, then you’ll walk away feeling obligated to accept the explanation without feeling satisfied with it. The reason? You confronted the “content” issue rather than the real “pattern” or “relationship” concern you harbor. Again, a strict reading of your note suggests that after your peer said, “I forgot” you let the issue drop. You allowed the conversation to turn from, “I thought our agreement was not to change process without all four supervisors present” to “Why did you change the process we had agreed to previously?” Can you see the difference? The first is a decision-making process conversation. The second is a content issue related to a decision you thought you made. There’s a difference. And when you accepted “I forgot,” you allowed the topic to change to the wrong problem.

Finally, I hear a lot of “expectations” in your question but not a lot of explicit agreements. For example, it sounds like you “expect” that all four supervisors will agree on process changes. You “expected” that the meeting you sent your rep to was about implementation status. If you did not make these expectations explicit and even document them, then you may have been part of the problem. It is absolutely essential in emotionally and politically risky situations to be crystal clear on how decisions will be made, who will do what by when, and how you’ll follow up. If you are not carefully specifying and appropriately documenting these key decisions, you leave room for your expectations to be violated and for you to tell yourself stories that villainize those who contribute along with you to violating them.

My advice at this point is (assuming this is a single instance concern):

1. Master Your Story – ensure you are seeing your role in creating this problem–that you are seeing it as a single instance problem and not a deep character flaw in your peer–and soften your emotions accordingly.

2. Have a crucial conversation about the decision-making process first with the specific peer, then with all four supervisors. And document the agreement in a brief e-mail!

Best wishes,

Joseph

Crucial Conversations QA

Increasing Safety after a Promotion

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Al Switzler

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

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Crucial Conversations

Q  Dear Crucial Skills,

I’ve entered that magical world of senior management, but now I feel I know less than I did when I was a middle manager. I have to dig harder for the truth, and work harder to prove it is still “safe” to talk with me. Two months ago a lot was shared with me–now that isn’t the case, and even my staff members, who were once my peers, share less.

How do I demonstrate “it’s still me”?

Signed,

Outside Looking In

A Dear OLI,

You’ve described a situation that lots of people have experienced–that is, when you have power, how can you help others honestly share what’s on their minds? This situation can arise when you move to senior management, when you are the person on your team with the most experience or the most technical knowledge, when you are the new manager, or when you are the parent. All of these require some insight and skill to help others feel “safe” talking with you.

Here are a few tips we’ve learned as we’ve studied people who are very effective at helping others feel safe.

1. Remember the past. The situation you’re facing might have been created by the other person’s past experiences–with you or with someone else. I recall just such an experience. We were doing interviews in an organization that was, to be delicate, struggling. People were tight-lipped, nervous, and cautious. Occasionally someone would share the example of a manager who yelled at employees–Murphy. Another would tell a story of how employees were belittled by a boss–Murphy. Still another got emotional about how some supervisor had limited an employee’s career–Murphy. Later that afternoon, we asked one of the new executives if we could interview Murphy. We couldn’t. Murphy had retired seven years earlier. But his ghost, his memory, still stalked the halls of this organization. Many of the new managers, newly promoted managers, and even old managers who had never mistreated an employee were treated like they were Murphy–or at least next of kin. Managers and supervisors had to deal with this history when they asked others for input.

Sometimes we are living with a past that we personally created. I remember a man sharing with a group as he was going through Crucial Conversations training, “I’ve got it. Finally. My kids are nervous around me. Why? For 99.9 percent of the time, I’m Dr. Jekyll, and only .01 percent do I lose my temper and become Mr. Hyde. But my children are always looking for Mr. Hyde.”

When you have to deal with situations clouded by the past, remember to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Ask, “Why would a reasonable, rational, decent person act nervous or unsafe?” Are there situational or historical factors that are influencing him or her?

2. Share your intentions. We learned from dialogue masters to clarify issues by Contrasting. A Contrasting statement clarifies what you don’t intend and what you do intend. This helps the other person understand your good intentions and dispels worries about selfish or harmful motives. Often the “don’t” part is the most important. For example, when you’re beginning a talk with a person who is hesitant to share, say something like, “I’d like to talk about this topic candidly. I wonder if there has been some hesitancy on your part because I’m now in senior management. I don’t want to let my new position get in the way of important communication that needs to be shared. My intention is to be a good listener so that I can hear the issues that affect you and the job. What do you think?” It may take a time or two–or three. The main issue here is to deal with mutual purpose–what do both of you want?–rather that dealing first with the content of any particular issue.

3. Be consistent. If you want to get input from people who are hesitant or feel unsafe, you have to be consistent. After you share your intentions and try to understand others’ points of view, keep up the process of engaging them in dialogue. Ask, listen, and respond. Sometimes the response will be “Great idea, let’s do that.” Sometimes it will be, “Interesting, let’s discuss what that means to our budget or to customers.” Once in a while, it will be, “Let me repeat what I heard. Is that right? I see that differently. Can we compare our points of view?” The main point is this: To have people believe that you are really interested in hearing their thoughts, you have to consistently make it safe for them to share over time. Then come trust and credibility.

Safety is not easy sometimes. But dealing with it is essential.

May you have terrific results from your efforts!

Al