Tag Archives: Cooperation

Crucial Conversations QA

Aligning Different Parenting Styles

Dear Joseph,

My husband is constantly angry at our fifteen-year-old son. They are always in shouting matches and it drives me crazy. When I walk away from them, my husband says I am “burying my head in the sand.” My husband is very negative and set in his ways, and he expects our son to have the same ideas. My husband also verbalizes his disappointment in our son and tells him he is only concerned with himself. Granted, there are times this is true, but he’s a typical teenage boy. He’s sometimes mouthy, but he’s a good kid, works hard even though he may complain, and is never in trouble anywhere but at home.

I want to support my husband, but I feel he is often wrong, that he goes too far, and that some of his expectations are unreasonable. When I try to talk about it, he says that I am taking our son’s side and that the only way he can keep the peace is to just shut his mouth and not say anything. He’s not very open to conversation. Help!

Signed,
End of My Rope

Dear End,

Aren’t marriages wonderful? And I mean that! Sustained, intimate relationships are usually both the greatest opportunity for personal growth and the greatest challenge of our lives. And they are the former because they are the latter.

You are exactly the gift your husband needs, and he may just be the perfect gift for you. Children need both affirmation and influence. It sounds like you’re world-class at affirmation and he has a bias for influence. Unfortunately, many relationships break down because we keep trying to make the other person be good at what we value without properly recognizing our need for what they bring to the party. Now, I’m not suggesting your husband’s approach to influence is the best. But it sounds as though what’s important to him is trying to help bring out the best in your son. And your approach to affirming him may, at times, come at the expense of helping him aspire to higher standards. But that should not take away from the fact that you see great worth and beauty in him. That’s wonderful!

So the question is how do you turn conflicting values into complementary ones? How can you and your husband create a relationship where your son gets the best you both have to offer—and where you both learn to offer it in a healthier way?

Here are some suggestions:

1. Start with safety. Help your husband know that you value what he is trying to do for your son. Express genuine appreciation for his desire to influence your son to strive. Point out specific ways you can see that your son has benefited from having him as a father. Then scrupulously avoid using the word, “but.” Don’t do it! Get it out of your brain.

After affirming your value for having a positive influence on your son, don’t go on to say, “But…you often do it about things that aren’t that important.” There are no “buts” when you’re affirming people and creating Mutual Purpose. There are only “ands.” The fact that you appreciate him wanting to challenge your son is not offset in any way by your desire to also affirm him. The two are complementary, not competing, values. So don’t make it seem like they are in conflict by using the b-word.

2. Motivate with natural consequences. If your husband is reluctant to engage in this conversation with you, think of things that are important to your husband that will help him want to engage. Then share these as you invite him into this complex discussion. Think, for example, about pain, concerns, worries, or problems he may have with you or with your son that are connected to the changes you’d like to discuss.

For example, you might say, “John, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can better work together with our son. I know you and I haven’t always seen eye-to-eye. I know you are also frustrated that he has drifted away from you. I also know you don’t like how I criticize you at times about how you handle things. I don’t have a lot of answers, but I want to find a way to help you have the relationship you want and to partner in a way that works for you as we solve problems with him. Could we set aside some time to discuss this?”

3. Work on you first. Realize that while you will have useful feedback for your husband, he will likely see weaknesses in you that you must be willing to hear. Be open and humble. If you get defensive in the conversation, avoid reacting in the moment. Say, “I’m sure there is merit in what you’re saying. I’m feeling defensive right now so I’m going to need time to think about it. Can I do that and then get back with you later to talk about what I will do with these suggestions?”

If you are to work together better, it is going to require both of you to change. You will need to be more willing to be part of raising tough issues with your son and holding him accountable. Your husband will need to be willing to learn to do it in a healthier way—and focus on big things while letting go of little things. If you both work on yourselves, you’ll be a potent parenting team for your son.

4. Organize for the long run. Have realistic expectations. If both you and your husband have habits that have been nurtured over a lifetime, they aren’t going to change after one conversation. I suggest you frame this conversation as a starting point, then agree on ways you can help each other stick with commitments you make about how to work together more productively. Be patient with one another as you try new approaches. Expect relapses. I suggest you read our book, Change Anything, as a couple, for ideas on how to create a plan that will help you both make steady progress in changing these habits.

I applaud your commitment to your son and wish you the best as you find ways to complement one another, grow together, and give your son the gifts both of you want so much to offer.

Warmly,

Joseph

Crucial Conversations QA

Rebuilding Trust After Layoffs

Dear Crucial Skills,

As a result of recent layoffs at our company, there is a lot of distrust between our management team and senior leadership. We’ve all been through Crucial Conversations Training. How can I use crucial conversations skills to rebuild trust and get the two groups talking again?

Two Groups Talking

Dear Two Groups,

Thank you for your timely question. For many, this scenario also occurs in the home as people struggle to build trust between a spouse or a child. When a crisis happens and choices are made that we may or may not agree with, it can be difficult to rebuild trust and get two groups or individuals to hold productive dialogue.

To answer your question, let me first review some important concepts and then provide a few suggestions.

Concept #1: In our thirty years of research and observation, one of the key findings we’ve uncovered is that all relationships, teams, families, and organizations have problems. The difference between the good and the best is not how many problems they have, but rather, how they resolve those problems.

Holding crucial conversations is about rapidly and respectfully resolving problems. And yet, as you’ve experienced, in tough times people often feel compelled to solve a problem rapidly, but at the expense of respect. Sometimes they do this because of urgencies, sometimes it’s just their style. Either way, this rapid and disrespectful approach causes others to disagree and lose trust. Layoffs certainly fit in that category as well as budget cuts, spending decisions, outbreaks of anger, and lack of involvement.

Concept #2: When held well, a crucial conversation can help you catch problems early, maximize input, make better decisions, and take more committed action.

When crucial conversations are avoided, distrust builds on both sides of an issue. As that distrust continues to rise, confidence or interest in quickly holding the very conversations that could help also decreases. So beware of avoiding the very crucial conversations your team may be facing for too long.

Suggestion #1: Meet with your team to talk through the issues ASAP.

As you’ve all been through Crucial Conversations Training, begin your dialogue with some key questions: “What do we really want: for us, for senior leadership, for our relationship?” “What should we do right now to get what we really want?”

I imagine that what some team members want is an apology or an assurance that their jobs are safe, or that they will not be kept in the dark and surprised if more changes arise. Also ask these key questions: “What are the key reasons for the feelings of mistrust?” “What do we really want going forward?”

Suggestion #2: As a team, identify the things you need to work on.

What do you and your team members need to do to build trust within your group? What do you need to do to build trust with the senior leadership team? Often agreeing and living a few specific behavioral commitments, or ground rules, will help the team see they can trust each other to make and keep commitments. Here are a couple of examples of commitments you can make:

1. We will keep confidential what is spoken in confidence.
2.
We will speak well of all colleagues and coworkers regardless of level or department, and if we have an issue we will speak to the individual privately and respectfully.

After you have made these commitments, regularly ask each other how you are doing, what has gone well, and what you need to improve on. Too frequently, we have agreements about budget or work behaviors, but not about teaming behaviors. Several weeks of setting and living these ground rules can help build trust within the team.

Suggestion #3: Recognize your role in building trust and improving relationships.

Instead of asking, “What should senior leadership do?” ask “What can we do to improve our relationship with senior leadership?” Also remember to master your stories and ask “Why would a reasonable, rational, decent person act in the way they did?” Remember that when it matters most, we often do our worst. If your team will give senior leadership the benefit of the doubt and conclude that maybe the company’s financial standing is more complex than they realize, then you can, with mutual purpose, invite your boss or members of the senior leadership team to dialogue. Your purpose in this conversation is to reach a mutual understanding. The apology or the assurance that some employees are looking for may not be forthcoming, but if you engage in a process that is built on mutual purpose and is safe for all parties, you’ll make progress.

This advice is equally applicable to personal or family relationships. Crises, bad behaviors, or ineffective decisions can damage trust in these familial relationships. Often, an appropriate and sincere apology is enough begin dialogue.

When there is an opportunity for a crucial conversation, there are only three options: avoid it, face it and hold it badly, or face it and handle it well. The most common problem is avoidance. Silence and time cure so very few issues. If you can put issues on the table and work at resolving them rapidly and respectfully, then trust is likely to increase.

Best wishes,
Al

Influencer QA

Influencing Project Management

Dear Crucial Skills,

My supervisor often gives me leadership responsibility for projects involving multiple departments. However, my position is not viewed as one of authority. As a result, I struggle to get results from others when I ask them to do something. When I present my lack of progress and ask for assistance, I’m told I need to stop blaming others for my lack of results. Since I have been trained to teach Crucial Conversations, my supervisor assumes I should be able to convince others to shift their priorities. Unfortunately, people outside of my department are not able to make my request their No. 1 priority, no matter how many Crucial Conversations skills I employ.

How do I get my supervisor to see that I need her support, without making her think I am blaming others? I am at the end of my rope!

Without Support

Dear Without,

You are not alone. When I was teaching at Stanford’s Advanced Project Management Program this was the participants’ most frequent concern. You’re given lots of accountability, but no authority, and you’re expected to use your skills and charm to get it all done.

It doesn’t work that way, does it?

Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations focus on dialogue skills—the skills required to reach shared understanding and commitment. These skills would be all you needed if the lack of cooperation you were experiencing was the exception, not the rule. However, it sounds as if it’s the rule, and that tells me you need to change the rules. You need a structural solution—a solution that involves all six sources of influence.

The situation you describe calls for a project-management system, one that people buy into and have the skills to use. Then it requires holding people accountable to the system—not just to your individual projects.

I will walk through the influence model found in our book Influencer to help you solve this problem. The process starts with identifying measurable results you want to achieve; next, you identify a few key behaviors that, if changed, will bring about those results; and finally, you must outline strategies to accomplish your vital behaviors using six different sources of influence.

Measurable Results. Your goal is to ensure project schedules, budgets, and specs are met.

It sounds as if your projects have to compete with employees’ other tasks. That’s to be expected. The problem occurs when your projects never get a high enough priority, or when the priority gets bumped. Instead of focusing on your project, focus on the overall project-planning process. Your goal is to get people to commit to a fair process—one that meets their objectives as well as yours. Then your challenge is to help everyone stick to the process. Become a champion for the process, not just your project. This change will create greater Mutual Purpose.

Vital Behaviors. The vital behaviors you’ll want to focus on are:

  1. Prioritizing all of your project’s tasks against people’s competing tasks.
  2. Ensuring that people who complete the tasks have input into the project plan and sign up to deliver on realistic schedules, budgets, and specs.
  3. Ensuring that when people have reason to believe they could miss a schedule, budget, or spec, they will immediately update the team on the problem.

The Six Sources of Influence. The sources of influence and specific strategies you’ll need to target are:

Source 1 – Personal Motivation: The people you rely on are feeling a lot of pain. Their plates are too full; they feel as if they have five bosses; and they’re constantly being blindsided with new unexpected demands. Instead of turning up the heat regarding your projects, get their buy-in to a more consistent process—one that has realistic priorities and plans.

Source 2 – Personal Ability: You and your colleagues may have to learn basic project-management principles. Look for resources that are already available within your firm. such as a project-management specialist. Once you have a project-management system in place, you’ll find your Crucial Conversations skills will become more powerful.

Sources 3 & 4 – Social Motivation & Ability: The most important social support you need is from your manager and the managers your resource people report to. They need to fully support a more robust project-management system. Ease their concerns that the priority-setting process may take more time and is less flexible by demonstrating how results are delivered far more reliably.

Source 5 – Structural Motivation: I bet the employees you count on are rewarded for achieving results within their own departments, and not for achieving your goals. Goals that require cross-functional teamwork are often shortchanged. Work with your manager and the resource managers to find ways to reward people for executing on their plans and for keeping to the project-planning process you’ve outlined. Even tiny changes to these reward systems will send a powerful message that managers are serious.

Source 6 – Structural Ability: This entire approach relies on implementing a project-management structure. Check to see if you already have one that’s gone dormant. Check to see if your organization has a Project Management Office that can help you re-invigorate your project structure. Here are some basic structural elements I’d want to see: a priority-setting process that involves the right stakeholders; a project planning process that results in realistic schedules, budgets, and specs; project status meetings that keep the projects on track; a measurement system that provides ongoing feedback on how well people are keeping to their project plans.

Report Back to your Manager. Meet with your manager and frame the larger issue. It isn’t just about executing your projects; it’s about executing any and all projects. Bring in whatever facts you can to back up your case. If you don’t have data on missed deadlines, budget overruns, and failures to meet specs, then bring in examples of the problems: for example, people have unclear priorities, priorities that constantly change, objectives that aren’t realistic, and no clear project plans to follow. Explain that solving this larger problem is the best way to solve your specific problem.

Best of luck in influencing your organization,
David