Tag Archives: office

Crucial Conversations QA

Recovering From an Outburst

Dear Crucial Skills,

I recently had an argument with someone at work because I misunderstood what she was saying to me and I said some things in return that I regret. I took your course but the skills went away from me when my emotions kicked in. Now, even though we have met with the clinical coordinator and everything seems to be ironed out, she is very cool toward me. I have apologized and even sent her a card, but I feel I truly blew it and now I’m unsure we’ll ever get back to where we were. Do you have any suggestions about what I can do to help bridge the gap?

Still Embarrassed

Dear Still Embarrassed,

We all make mistakes in our communication with others. The wise among us recognize the error and apologize to the offended person. You, having said things you regret, have taken these steps. You even went the extra mile and sent a card to apologize. Well done.

These actions are all within our control. What are not in our control are the other person’s feelings and response. Others get to decide how they’ll respond to your efforts to set things right. Sometimes they’ll forgive you and move on. Sometimes they decide to hold a grudge. Sometimes they feel hurt and may discount your apology as insincere, or they take it as sincere but steel themselves against you, wondering when it will happen again.

I wonder if the latter is the case with your coworker. Maybe she sees your efforts to be kind and respectful, but is looking, waiting, and wondering when you will lash out again.

In cases like this, consider a metaphor. Your efforts to be respectful and treat your coworker well are like pebbles. Water is like distrust or unease. You drop pebbles into the water hoping they will pile up, build mass, and rise above the water so that your respect and good intentions become the focus and substance of your relationship instead of the distrust. However, your pebbles seem to sink out of sight, making no appreciable difference. The key to changing this situation is to create a new context for your relationship, a way to capture the pebbles and make them count.

Let me share an illustration. As I finished a Crucial Conversations workshop, a middle-aged man approached me. He thanked me for the workshop and said he was the single parent of three teenagers. He had tried to apply the things I had advocated with his children, by consciously and consistently attempting to build trust and respect with them over the last year—but, it wasn’t working. They still distrusted him. He said they were “gun-shy” of him.

I asked him if something specific had happened a year ago. He became emotional and explained that he had come home drunk and “slapped his kids around.” He said that when he woke the next morning and realized what he had done, he was mortified and wanted to die. He vowed to stop drinking and has not touched alcohol since. Over the last year, he has been on his best behavior with his children, not slipping once, but they are still emotionally distant.

I asked him what had happened between him and his children the morning after the hurtful incident. He explained that he sat down with his children and told them how sorry he was for hurting them and asked for their forgiveness. Nothing else was said and every kindness he has offered since, although appreciated, was no more than a pebble sinking in the pond.

For this father, I believe his heart is right and his children are aware of his kindnesses toward them, but they seem to be on guard and wary. Rather than seeing his awful behavior as a once-in-a-life-time mistake, they may fear they got a glimpse into their Father’s real feelings and that he may erupt again at any time.

Picture how the situation would have been different if the morning after the incident, the father had gathered his children and given a heart-felt apology, asked for their forgiveness, then said, “I want you to know as of this moment, I will never drink alcohol again. Never. And I will never raise my hand against you. I will never strike you or hit you. I love you and you can count on my promise.”

Whether or not the children believed him at that moment, he would have created a context for their relationship, a clear set of expectations they could use to hold him accountable. From that moment forward, every sober day would be evidence that Dad was keeping his word. The context Dad created was like a jar of water. Every time Dad kept his word it was like putting a pebble in the jar. Instead of sinking away, it’s captured in the jar and displaces some of the water. Over time, the jar fills with respect and good intentions and empties of distrust and unease.

Even now, it’s not too late for this Father to create a new context for his relationships. This is done by setting clear expectations going forward, and informing his kids of what they can expect from him. Dad could meet with his children, reference what happened a year ago, detail the things he has done to make sure it never happened again—including his having given up alcohol. He could then create clear expectations going forward. “I will never drink again. I will never hit you. If I’m angry, I’ll do what I did during this past year: I’ll talk it through with you. I love you and will keep my promise to you.” If he sets these expectations, even though it’s a year late, the children will not only start putting pebbles in the jar, they may even retrieve some from their memories, and the jar will be filled quickly and their trust restored.

Now, your offense was nowhere near the severity of the Dad in this story; however, the principle still applies. I would encourage you to build a context for your relationship with your coworker. Sit down with her and begin by stating the facts: “Two weeks ago, I yelled at you and called you a ‘yellow-bellied sap-sucker'” (or whatever you really said). “I also apologized to you and sent you a card asking for your forgiveness.”

Having stated the facts, express what you really want for the relationship: “I hope we can have a professional, respectful, warm relationship going forward.”

Next, create the accountability. “In the future, you can expect that I will work hard at being respectful and professional.” You don’t need to obtain a commitment in kind from her; you just need to keep your commitment. In this way, you’ve given her the jar, and maybe because of the way you’ve handled it, she’s already put several pebbles in.

I wish you the very best in your efforts to build good, strong, effective relationships.


Crucial Accountability QA

Confronting a Monopolizing Coworker

Al Switzler is coauthor of the New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.Al Switzler is author of three bestselling books, Influencer, Crucial Conversations, and Crucial Confrontations.

InfluencerQ Dear Crucial Skills,

I work with an individual who does not appear to realize she monopolizes every conversation and meeting she is in by giving excessively long and repetitive explanations and background information when discussing an issue. Several of us have discussed this and simply do not know how to approach her without hurting feelings and potentially destroying good working relationships. We think this is a crucial conversation we need to have with an expert on crucial conversations.

Simply Do Not Know How

A  Dear Simply,

I noted your request to have an expert respond to your question. Since Kerry, Ron, and Joseph are unavailable, I hope you will settle for me.

Your question actually has a fairly straightforward answer. But first, let me start by backtracking a bit.

In chapter one of Crucial Confrontations, we teach a concept called “CPR.” CPR stands for content, pattern, and relationship, and helps you define the type of problem you are facing. The first time a problem comes up, talk about the content, or what just happened. The next time the problem occurs, talk pattern—what has happened over time. If the problem continues, talk about the relationship—what effect the problem has on your relationship.

We ask people to focus on what kind of crucial conversation or crucial confrontation they need to have based on the finding that people often talk about the wrong issue. You can talk about the wrong thing until you’re blue in the face and get no resolution. Unfortunately, people often choose easy conversations over hard ones, simple issues over complex problems, or one instance over a pattern of bad habits. As people take the easy way out, they don’t solve the problem because their discussion never addresses the real issue.

So with that introduction, let me suggest that you have a content discussion. Note that your colleague seems to be unaware of the problem and that neither you nor anyone else has previously brought it up. A content discussion is one of the most straightforward conversations you can have. The process we teach in Crucial Confrontations offers step-by-step suggestions.

1. Choose what and if. You have several indicators that you need to hold this discussion. The main indicator is that you have been concerned about the situation for a while but your conversations have been about her instead of with her. As I suggested, have a conversation with her about content and maybe include a small discussion about the pattern.
2. Make it safe. You need to get your head right before you open your mouth. You need to have a private conversation with your colleague. You need to show in your face and in your tone of voice that you are bringing this up to help—that you have not pre-judged her or oversimplified the concern.
3. Describe the gap. Begin by explaining what you observe versus what you expect. For example, “I noticed you came in today at 8:20 a.m.; working hours start at 8:00 a.m. What happened?”

Granted, it is more difficult to discuss more complex behaviors like the ones you’ve described. Your conversation might begin this way: “Could I talk to you a moment? I noticed in our last meeting that only ten minutes were allotted to several of the agenda items. I also noted that we took about twenty minutes on two of the issues. This made the meeting run over by half an hour. From my perspective, you either gave background information we already knew or went into more detail than we needed—pushing us way over time. I’ve seen this pattern in every meeting this month. My goal is to make sure we all spend our time well. I’d like to talk about this with you.”

Now there are many ways to start this conversation; while my suggestion may not be perfect for you, I’m confident that if you follow these steps and begin with a script, good things can happen.

Your colleague might thank you for your honesty and ask for your advice. Or, she might get upset and be forthright about her feelings. If she gets upset, reaffirm your purpose and the fact that you value your relationship and want to continue to work well with her. She might get upset and go to silence. If she goes to silence, restore safety by reassuring her of your intent to strengthen your relationship.

In conclusion, when faced with this kind of crucial confrontation, focus on the issue using CPR, make it safe for your colleague to speak up, and step up to the conversation honestly and respectfully.

Best wishes,

Crucial Conversations QA

How Do I Stop Office Gossip?

Joseph Grenny is coauthor of the New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.Joseph Grenny is author of three bestselling books, Influencer, Crucial Conversations, and Crucial Confrontations.

Crucial ConversationsQ Dear Crucial Skills,

I have a big problem that I’m sure other office managers face. How does a manager stop the rumor and gossip mill? Nothing is said that isn’t around the office within five minutes and even reaching the branch office within an hour.


A Dear Surround-Sound,

Any courageous individual can begin eliminating rumors by refusing to pass them along and by not silently watching as they spread their poison. Find respectful ways of holding crucial conversations with anyone at any point in the rumor flow. Here are three steps (I wish I could say they were easy, but they are effective!) that will help in your rumor-fighting efforts:

Step #1:
When someone passes along a rumor to you, don’t merely refuse to pass it on. Respectfully and directly share with the person (a) your intention to not let this information go any further and (b) the reasons you believe passing along this kind of information is hurtful. The better you help others see the negative consequences of their actions, the more likely they are to limit this behavior in the future.

Step #2:
Identify those who might have influence with the people spreading rumors and engage them in a similar crucial conversation. For example, you may be aware of a half-dozen people who seem to be the information nexus in your office. If you have a strong enough relationship with one or two of them, approach them directly. If not, you may have some influence with someone else who has influence with them. Engage this person and see if he or she agrees on the merits of approaching these individuals.

Step #3:
If you have information that could discredit a rumor, share it. Rumors, like mushrooms, require darkness to grow. Pull groups together and use your STATE skills to share your path about the rumor. Shed light on the topic. Help others see why you’ve concluded there are inaccurate rumors floating around. Then, share the information you believe to be more credible. Be sure to make it safe so that you can engage people in dialogue—not monologue—in these sessions.

For example, years ago I worked with a leader who during times of stress and change held “Rumor of the Week” meetings. The purpose was to replace rumors with accurate information. When he couldn’t answer a question for reasons of propriety or because decisions had not yet been made, he would acknowledge that information wasn’t available and commit to share the information as soon as possible. His forthrightness and unfailing honesty made these sessions a much more highly valued source of information and increased his influence within the organization. The rumor mill still ran, but with far less efficiency.