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Crucial Conversations Kerry Patterson, Stephen R. Covey, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler

Tools for Talking When Stakes are High

October 31, 2023 - 582 words - 3 mins Found a typo? Edit me
leadership communication

When stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong, you have three choices: Avoid a crucial conversation and suffer the consequences; handle the conversation badly and suffer the consequences; or read Crucial Conversations and discover how to communicate best when it matters most.

If you don’t talk it out, then you’ll act it out.


  1. Know your heart
  2. Ensure safety
  3. Beware of reverting to your style under stress
  4. Make the content safe
  5. Control your emotions
  6. Share your stories
  7. Move from conversation to results

Key takeaways

A crucial conversation is a confrontation you need to handle with care, which usually is characterized by three factors:

  1. Stakes are high
  2. Opinions vary
  3. The parties involved have strong emotions


  • Calling a client who didn’t pay their invoices
  • Talk to your boss about a promised promotion that is being delayed
  • Confronting a teammate who is not doing their share of the project
  • Talking to your siblings about your parent’s inheritance

Navigating through a crucial conversation is like defusing a bomb. Touch the wrong button or hit the wrong wire, and you create an explosion of emotions. The key is to have an honest and productive dialog to work out the situation.

These are unplanned conversations, and we tend to avoid them because we believe that we are going to make it worse. We tend to react negatively because we are humans, and human beings “behave their worst at the most critical moments.”

The “Story”

Everybody walks into a crucial conversation with a story. Examples:

  • My mate doesn’t care about the project because they don’t come to the meetings
  • My boss doesn’t care about my career because they haven’t given me a promotion

If you approach a crucial conversation with a story in mind, there is no room for dialog, because your mind already made it up.

When… I… framework

To create the space for a dialog, you need to start assuming you don’t know the whole story, and that you need the help of the person you are talking to. You can use: When... I... Example:

When [you don’t show up to team meetings], I [fear you don’t care about this project].

Invite them to share their own When...I..., so you can discover together what might be the issue, misunderstanding, or misalignment between you two.

The key is to avoid being passive/aggressive, but rather assertive, and honest with facts. This will help reduce the chance of being defensive and willing to help clarify the situation.

Common goal

To avoid a confronting hit and get back to a productive dialog, you need to convince the person you’re talking to that you’re not their opponent or enemy, you are on the same side. To do this, you must communicate a common goal, value, or purpose.

I don’t want to fight. I just want to find a way for both of us to get [common goal/purpose].

I know we both care about [common value], let’s see if we can both get what we want.

Make a good-faith guess. The more you engage in productive dialog, the more chance you have to find agreements, and the more luckily you will work together to resolve the problem at the heart of a crucial conversation.

Keynote: Mastering The Art of Crucial Conversations

Video Summary

200 pages