New Study Reveals Life-Altering Impact of Crucial Conversations on Professional and Personal Results

Research Shows Surprising Lessons from 525 Life-Changing Moments

September 19, 2011—Provo, UT—According to a study from the four-time New York Times best-selling authors of Crucial Conversations, the person people most struggle to hold difficult and life-changing conversations with is their boss. Spouses and co-workers are the second and third most difficult audiences when discussing high-stakes issues.

In the authors’ online survey, 525 respondents identified a single conversation that had life-altering consequences, and more than half said the effects of this one conversation lasted forever. Respondents reported results like ending a business partnership, losing a job, and being disowned by a family member.

Other negative outcomes include:

  • Nearly two-thirds permanently damaged a relationship
  • One in seven harmed a career
  • More than a third are still suffering from the effects even many years later

The top three reasons for failure in holding crucial conversations are:

  1. Inability to control emotions
  2. Not gaining the other person’s trust
  3. Getting defensive, vengeful or fearful

Alternatively, many respondents reported they handled similarly terrifying conversations in ways that worked surprisingly well—reporting outcomes like keeping a plane from an emergency landing, working with an impossible boss and receiving vital medical treatment.

The study—part of the authors’ ongoing research into effective dialogue—supports the contention that the difference between a positive and negative outcome isn’t luck or circumstances—it’s skill.

The authors studied the difference between successes and failures and found a trend among those who report profoundly positive results.

“This data from people who have approached almost exactly the same topics under the same circumstances and with the same dynamics, shows the difference between those who succeeded and those who failed is a handful of identifiable and learnable skills,” says Joseph Grenny, co-author of the long-running best-seller Crucial Conversations, which has sold more than 2 million copies.

According to the study, those who succeed in holding effective crucial conversations:

  1. Express respect and care for the other person
  2. Focus on long-terms goals for the conversation and relationship
  3. Discuss the heart of the issue instead of ancillary concerns

“This finding confirms what our research taught us 25 years ago about truly influential people,” says Grenny. “In crucial moments, when most of us either clam up or blow up, the most influential people are significantly more skilled at reaching agreement, solving problems and preserving valuable relationships by the way they communicate.”

He shares four tips from Crucial Conversations Second Edition (McGraw-Hill, September 16, 2011) for navigating high-stakes situations and realizing significant results:

  • Reverse your thinking. Those who are best at crucial conversations think first about the risks of not speaking up.
  • Change your emotions. Separate people from the problem. Try to see others as reasonable, rational and decent human beings—even if they hold a view you strongly oppose.
  • Help others feel safe. Start your next crucial conversation by assuring others of your positive intentions and your respect for them. They’ll let their guard down and begin to listen to even unpleasant topics.
  • Invite dialogue. After you create a safe environment, confidently share your views and invite the other person to do so as well. If you are open to others’ points of view, they’ll be more open to yours.

About VitalSmarts: An innovator in corporate training and organizational performance, VitalSmarts is home to Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, Influencer, and Change Anything—award-winning training products and New York Times best-selling books that enrich relationships and improve results. VitalSmarts has consulted with more than 300 of the Fortune 500 companies and trained more than 650,000 people worldwide.

Note to editor: Joseph Grenny, author of Crucial Conversations, is available for interview. Copies of the new second edition are available upon request.

About the research: The study collected responses via an online survey tool from 525 individuals. Margin of error is approximately 3%.

CONTACT: Laura Potter of VitalSmarts, L.L.C. +1-801-510-7590, or

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