Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High
”Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion that it may give grace to those who hear.”
-Ephesians 4: 29
What is a "crucial conversation"? (And who cares?)
At a recent book signing, I reconnected with an amazing friend and was able to visit with her for quite a while. It was fun filling in the blanks on the past seven or eight years and discussing our hopes for the future. The next day after the book signing, she was sweet enough to message me that she was sending a book in the mail and that it should arrive within a couple of days. Little did I know, God was using her to send me a book that would completely revolutionize my views on how I should approach confrontation, which has always been my Achilles heel. The book was Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes Are High (Third Edition) by Grenny, Patterson, McMIllian, Switzler, and Gregory. Their definition of a “crucial conversation” is: “a discussion between two or more people in which they hold 1)opposing opinions about a 2) high-stakes issue and where 3)emotions run high.” Comparing this book arriving in the mail to manna falling from heaven wouldn’t be a far stretch, as I have had more turbulence in navigating conflict resolution with specific individuals in my life recently.
Why does this matter? Summing up in the author's words, “ When stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong, we’re often at our worst. In order to move to our best, we have to find a way to explain what is in each of our personal pools of meaning.” Pg 29. What is a personal pool of meaning? It’s our own thoughts and feelings about the topic at hand. People who are skilled at dialogue do their best to make it safe for everyone to add meaning to the shared pool- even controversial or wrong ideas. Many of us find ourselves arguing, running away, and acting in defective ways. Often, we never learned how to engage in healthy dialogue where everyone feels safe to express controversial opinions. Some of the ineffective ”games” the authors listed were: stonewalling, sarcasm, innuendos, looks of disgust, playing the martyr, blaming, acting like we know everything, biased monologues, discrediting others, making hurtful comments which sometimes can lead to straight-up bullying. This is only a tiny fraction of the techniques listed. It was alarming and eye-opening how many I have been guilty of using, and helpful tool to discern when they are being used on me.
Change begins in the heart, and genuinely asking yourself, “What do I want in the long term?” It takes bravery and honesty to get out of autopilot and introspect which unhealthy coping mechanisms you might be using. The authors recommend that when you find yourself in a crucial conversation, you stop and ask: “What do I want for myself, the other person, and the relationship?” I have a nasty habit of needing to be right because I grew up with the faulty assumption that it was the worst thing ever to be seen as incompetent. I get defensive in situations that I do not need to be defensive. My tone of voice is ugly, and I come across as sounding condescending or snippety. I am currently trying to stop before things get out of hand and ask myself: “Is it better to be kind or right?” Do I do this perfectly every time? Absolutely not. But every step in the right direction is a step towards healthier communication.
The most helpful chapter for me personally was the one titled ”Master My Stories.” If you know me, you know I love stories. My imagination is wild, and I love hearing the rich details of other people's journeys on this planet. Having a great imagination is lovely until you start assuming that you know how other people think and feel most of the time. It's one of the downsides of being a high self-monitor. This chapter pointed out that there is a process to how we interpret information. We see and hear things in the world (facts). Then we tell ourselves a story about the data we just observed. Whatever narrative we create will then determine how we feel, leading to us choosing a corresponding action. Any set of facts can be used to tell an infinite number of stories. If we take control of the stories we tell ourselves about the facts we observe, then they won’t take control of us. More often than not, the way to control our feelings (and therefore our actions) is to learn to analyze our internal narratives and then learn to master them.
Not everyone in the world is out to get us. My faulty stories get me into trouble more often than I would like to admit, especially in dating. Apparently, adding hormones, hopes, and holy purity requirements to the mix complicates communication more than my simple brain can handle. I have a problem speaking before I’ve thoroughly thought out what internal story I have just told myself. This leads to “corrupting talk” that was listed in Ephesians 4:29. It isn’t graceful, and it grieves the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, He doesn’t often download the ability to learn the art of peaceful communication into our brains like they did in the Matrix. More often than not, God allows you to learn these harsh lessons through trial and error with the people around us. Especially those we are closest with. Therefore, I would like to take this moment as a reminder to show myself grace and truth. I’ll be more honest when I fail to be loving and preserve to be merciful when I didn’t hit the mark. I'll make it a point to show others the same grace. After all, we’re all doing our best.
If you also happen to find yourself struggling in the area of communication with others, I recommend this excellent read. Surely you will agree that it truly is like manna from heaven once you start to see the fruit of Peace in your relationships. I pray that our conversations with one another will be more loving and that Christ may be seen more often than not in our words and actions. Have a great week, and God bless.