Upon first seeing the title of this article, did you instinctively recall the dysfunctional conversations that occur in your organization; disingenuous dialogue, ineffectively communicated concerns and ideas, unhealthy conflict driven by low levels of trust?

These conversations certainly do hinder an organisation and limit effectiveness. However, the conversations killing your business are those not taking place at all.

Much has been written about these missing conversations, using descriptors such as fierce, crucial, difficult, and essential. Regardless of which moniker you use these incredibly important conversations are typically a mix of strong emotions, opposing opinions and involve high stakes issues.

In the book, “Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High”, the authors explain why these discussions do not take place, or when they do take place why they usually resemble a slow motion train wreck. This super-charged mix (strong emotions, varying opinion, high stakes) makes conducting these conversations successfully seem a daunting task. That’s why many leaders simply avoid them, or when forced into a corner stumble into them unprepared with predictably poor results.

For clarity, here are some of the business-related crucial conversations we’re referring to;

  • Talking to a teammate who behaves offensively
  • Holding a peer accountable for behavior inconsistent with the company core values
  • Approaching someone more senior who is breaking accepted rules regarding safety or quality
  • Providing performance feedback to an underperforming employee
  • Calling out a peer who is not keeping their commitments

For every one of these conversations that is avoided, not only is the effectiveness of the organization curtailed, but the level of trust and future capability of the organization is diminished. People, teams and organizations can only thrive in environments of high trust, with healthy conflict and powerful levels of accountability. Authors and thought leaders such as Pat Lencioni (The Advantage) and Simon Sinek (Leaders Eat Last) have excellent books and models expounding this truth.

Even when the value of these conversations is understood, many leaders will still avoid them. Why is this? The authors of “Crucial Conversations” provide some insight into this interesting phenomenon:

  • Our bodies physically react (adrenaline is released, blood flow is increased to our muscles while less is directed to our brain) causing emotions to rule.
  • We’re under pressure as these conversations are often spontaneous.
  • Due to the complexity of the dialogue we are often stumped for responses in the moment.
  • We act in self-defeating ways based upon old habits.

Despite these challenges, the importance of these conversations make them critical to the long-term success of any team. Organizations aiming for Great versus just Good (see “Good To Great” by Jim Collins), must establish an environment of high trust that enables straight talk, paving the way to accountability, execution, and results.

As leaders, we must step up to the challenge and master the skills that make crucial conversations less daunting and more successful. These crucial conversations can be the catalyst for transformational change fueling the drive to your organization’s definition of Great. The authors of Crucial Conversations claim that “Twenty years of research involving more than 100,000 people reveals that the skill of effective leaders, teammates, parents and loved ones is the capacity to skillfully address emotionally and politically risky issues. Period”

The good news is that anyone with the desire can master this skill. And because this skill increases your ability to influence, it can result in more than just successful crucial conversations. It can also;

  • Improve your relationships – more trust, more straight talk
  • Enhance your career – leadership is a choice, and crucial conversation skills give you the confidence to make this choice and follow through
  • Enable the performance of others – whether direct reports, peers or even your boss, you can have a positive impact on the performance of others
  • Improve your organization – less dysfunction, more results
  • Improve your personal health – the negative results of unhealthy or deferred conversations have been shown to reduce our personal health

Here is what we propose;

  • Make a choice to be a leader – anyone, at any level, in any organization can make this choice.
  • Arm yourself with crucial conversation skills. The book referred to in this article is a good place to start.
  • Challenge yourself, and your fellow leaders to tackle the crucial conversations, and stop avoiding them.

This is about results, not just effective communication. Crucial moments supported by crucial conversations have the potential to increase organizational health, and lead to the level of performance you’ve always desired for your business.

Avoiding the uncomfortable dialogue, and hoping for the best has very low odds for success. Make the choice of a leader – master these conversations and restore health to your organization.

Article by John Leduc
image, diana-jones.com