Getting Ready For Crucial Conversations

by | Oct 12, 2016 | Uncategorized

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

– George Bernard Shaw


A crucial conversation is defined as a discussion between two or mote people where the stakes are high; opinions vary and emotions run strong. As participants, we have three option – run away, face it and make a mess of it, or face and handle it gracefully.

What is so tough about these conversations?

When it matters most, we do our worst. It is not our fault; it is a design issue. When we feel danger, pressure, elevated emotions or sometimes even heightened frustration, the kidneys pump adrenaline and blood drains from your brain to the large muscles to run or hit. That leaves you doped up (on adrenaline) and dumbed down (not much blood in the brain). When your opponents share the sentiment – your chat degenerates into a confrontation between primates.

What do I do now?

1. Know yourself and your pressure points 

– defer the shutdown. Develop mental strategies to bypass the system shutdown alerts in your body. Practice the pause – a few seconds before you speak, subtly take deep belly breaths.

2.  Have a definite goal for the conversation

– and with a goal here, I do not mean “ we will all leave in agreement”, “everyone will be happy”. A goal is a lot more defined than that. Try expanding your goal for the conversation to: “ at the end of our discussion the CFO will agree that it is my role and responsibility to plan to manage my projects. I have complete authority and the responsibility to achieve the project goals. Once we have agreed that the projects are on time and within the budget, the CFO will release the funds to move to the next stage in the projects.

3.  Know your opponent’s

– make a comprehensive assessment of what they are thinking, what will their desired outcomes be, what do they want to achieve.  Probe past the obvious, dig deep. If the CFO is threatening to reduce your financial custodianship, is it power mongering or is there a real trust issue?

4.  Choose the right appeal

– a strong appeal relies heavily on the opposing side. Are they left or right brained?Do they respond to facts or emotions? If you are facing a group, do you have to balance facts and emotional appeal?

Maybe you need to focus on the gut – tell them what they are doing well and what they are not doing well. Make sure that incentives—both positive and negative—match the situation, and don’t take things to the brink

The Heart – Help me understand? Can I ask for your help? What will it take to move this forward?

The Spirit – Here is where we have been. Here is what we believe. Together, we are unstoppable

The Vision – Here is where we can go. Imagine what we can do together.

Structure your approach – put the plan together. Anticipate objections and have your responses ready.

Plan for when things go wrong. Whenever your enter into a meeting that has crucial conversation potential – have an exit plan. If your audience becomes emotional, give them grace and offer to defer, reconvene at a later stage. When you are losing it – practice the pause.

Rehearse the conversation with a trusted advisor, partner or your executive coach. Once you have heard yourself say it out loud a couple of times, you will be more confident and calm during the presentation. Your confidence and calm demeanour will go a long way in making the conversation productive.

And remember – you will always be remembered for how you make people feel.

For more information, to book an individual or group coaching session on this topic, please call me at (780)404-7610, or email at


This content was inspired by source material from the Centre for Executive Coaching and “Crucial Conversations” by Patterson, Granny, McMillan, Switzler – a book worth having on standby.

Contact us now for a free consultation
Marderé Birkill, BA, MBL, CEC
CEO & Founder
Sage & Summit Consulting
(780) 404-7610
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