Tag Archives: feelings

How Do I Say That Category

COVID-19: Bypass Fear of Speaking Up with These Tips

Vitalsmarts cofounder Joseph Grenny shares a tip for recognizing our unified link in a global pandemic and how our decisions today can impact the life of a stranger tomorrow. For more skills on speaking up when it matters most, visit crucialskills.com/saythat.

Crucial Conversations QA

Gaining Acceptance

Dear Crucial Skills,

My mother-in-law refuses to accept me as part of the family. She talks badly about me behind my back and even refuses to look at me when I walk into a room. For the eight years my husband and I have been together, she has never accepted me for who I am. The one time he tried to talk to her about the situation, she yelled at him, told him she would stay away from him, and hung up the phone. Now that my husband and I are expecting our first child, I would like all of this childish nonsense to stop. Please help!

Mentally Exhausted

Dear Exhausted,

Thank you for your question. Though this is already a difficult and painful situation, I feel I should begin with the bad news. If you do everything we tell you in our books, exactly the way we tell you and the other person does not want to dialogue, you won’t dialogue. Don’t you just hate that? The crucial conversations skills are not a way to compel or control others—they don’t work to manipulate or deceive. The other person still has a choice as to how they will respond to you and you cannot control them. So it may be that your mother-in-law will never respond to you in the way you desire. Sorry!

That said, often if we initiate a conversation using effective principles and skills and are consistent in our use of them over time, the other person will come around. Though the effective use of these principles and skills do not guarantee the outcome you desire, they increase the probability of mutually beneficial results.

There are a lot of things to work through to make the relationship with your mother-in-law work. She has been silent and withdrawn for a long time. It seems you are not clear on her reasons and what problems might need addressing. You also need to create clear expectations between you and your husband to make sure you are both on the same page. There’s some heavy lifting that needs to be done. But your toughest challenge will be beginning this crucial conversation in a way that engages your mother-in-law in dialogue, so you have the best chance of working things out.

Rather than hash through the wounds of the past, I would recommend focusing on the relationship you want going forward. The principles you want to utilize are Start with Heart, Mutual Purpose, and Mutual Respect.

Start with Heart. Get clear about what you really want. Let’s assume you want a respectful, caring relationship with your mother-in-law, and you want her to be involved in the life of your new child. Getting clear about your motives for having this crucial conversation helps you act on your most noble intentions. These good motives and intentions will guide what you say and do in a helpful way.

Build Mutual Respect. I would suggest you next build Mutual Respect by asking her permission to talk with her. This is best done in person. If that would be too difficult, you could do it over the phone, but your mother-in-law will not be able to see your non-verbal actions or your facial expressions in order to gauge your sincerity. If you talk over the phone, you will have to emphasize your real intent and check her intent frequently.

You might say something like this “As you know, we will be having a baby soon and I want to talk to you about our family. Would that be alright?” If she says “no” to your invitation, leave it open for your next conversation by saying something like “Okay. When you are ready to discuss this please let me know” and disengage. Give her some time before you try again.

Build Mutual Purpose. If she is open to the discussion or gives a vague reply, you are ready to continue the conversation. Build Mutual Purpose by sharing your good intentions. Recall what you “really want” and share it with her. Perhaps you could say “I really want you to be a part of my family and a part of my baby’s life. Also, I would like a respectful relationship between you and I. Is this something we can talk about?”

By proposing the Mutual Purpose of “being part of my family and part of my baby’s life” you give her an opportunity to consider whether that is what she really wants. Your demonstration of respect (inviting her into your family, disclosing that you want a relationship with her, and asking if she’s willing to talk about it) should soften her heart and lower her defenses.

This approach increases the likelihood of being able to talk about these difficult issues. If she rebukes your efforts, realize this is just your first effort to have this crucial conversation. Look for openings in the future and create opportunities to revisit the conversation. Remember to consistently look for Mutual Purpose and always show respect.

If she responds positively to your efforts and shows a willingness to discuss her role in your family, you have begun this crucial conversation on a firm, safe footing. You now have an opportunity to create a new relationship and open up a new, better chapter in your family’s story.

All the best,


Crucial Conversations QA

Dealing with Resentment at Work

Dear Crucial Skills,

In our hospital, we have a person who made a grave mistake during surgery. As the manager’s pet, she was not disciplined or reprimanded, but anyone else would have been fired on the spot. The rest of the staff noticed the special treatment given to this individual and are extremely resentful. How do I, as one of those staff members, interact with the offending person without letting my resentment show?

Resentful Coworker

Dear Resentful,

We studied this very problem in our research, Silence Kills, and found that 84 percent of healthcare professionals observe colleagues take dangerous shortcuts when working with patients and yet less than 10 percent speak up about their concerns.

I applaud you for raising your concerns. Nobody wants to work in an atmosphere of resentment that could compromise your paramount concern of patient safety. However, the situation you describe is complicated. There are many parties and probably many perspectives on the same set of facts. Let’s begin by examining your concerns.

1. Ask yourself, “What do I really want?” Think about what you want long-term for yourself, the other person, and for your relationship. This is what I learned from your question:

  • You want fairness and justice. You think your peer is “the manager’s pet,” receives “special treatment,” and perhaps should have been disciplined, reprimanded, or even fired.
  • You want to make sure your team provides patients with the safest, best care possible.
  • You want a positive set of relationships so people don’t feel resentment toward one another.

2. Master your stories. Each of these concerns is based on a set of facts and/or a series of incidents, including the mistake that happened during surgery. But different staff members, and your manager, may interpret these same facts in different ways. All of you are telling yourselves stories about what these facts mean.

Treat your story as a story, not as a fact. Your story should be your best, most honest interpretation of what the facts mean. But also look out for what we call “clever stories”—interpretations that let you off the hook for feeling resentful and letting your feelings show.

Interrogate your story with two questions: a) “Do I really have all the facts I need to be certain my story is true?” and b) “Is there any other story that could fit this same set of facts?” Let’s examine two of the stories you’re telling yourself:

Your story about fairness and justice: What are the facts or incidents that combine to make you tell yourself a story about injustice? How confident are you that your story is true? Here are a few questions to consider:

It sounds as if you are holding your peer accountable for not being disciplined. Shouldn’t that concern be with your manager more than with your peer?

I wonder whether you and your manager are telling yourselves different stories about the “grave mistake.” Your manager may not have witnessed the mistake and that may mean he/she has less information. On the other hand, your manager may have interviewed your colleague as well as others who were there and this information might be both important and confidential.

Your story about patient safety: Any time you have a concern about patient safety you need to deal with it. It’s one of those non-negotiables. However, before you have this crucial conversation, examine your story.

It would be easy to tell yourself the story that your manager is putting friendship above patient safety. That would be a very troubling conclusion. But is it true?

In the old days, errors were often blamed on whoever touched the patient last. Every error was considered “operator error.” Then the pendulum swung toward “system error.” Errors and near misses were seen as caused by faulty processes and procedures rather than individuals. Of course, sensible people demand both capable systems and capable individuals. Neither is sufficient by itself. Do you see how this interplay complicates the stories you and your manager tell about the very same incident?

I don’t have enough information to know whose story is closer to the truth. But I think there is a lot of room for people who value fairness, justice, and patient safety to disagree. Have this conversation with your manager, but don’t assume he or she has bad intentions.

3. Start with the facts, then tentatively share your story. Take the time to prepare for this conversation. Try writing it out as a script and then review it to make sure you:

  • Avoid accusations or any “hot” words or phrases.
  • Begin with your good intentions—what it is you really want. Explain that this conversation is about patient safety. That is your mutual purpose.
  • Start with the facts. These facts include the incidents you are fairly sure you and your manager will agree on. This is your common ground.
  • Tentatively tell your story. Draw the pattern these facts are forming for you. But remember, your manager may see the facts—and almost certainly sees the pattern—differently than you do. Be careful to be respectful of your manager’s story.
  • Stop so that your manager can share his or her perspective. Understand that some of the facts your manager has are likely to be confidential.

I also encourage you to review our latest study, The Silent Treatment, at www.silenttreatmentstudy.com or register for The Silent Treatment learning series to learn how to solve critical communication breakdowns and avoid dangerous mistakes in the hospital.