Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Crucial Communication is about first managing Crucial Conversations

It is very apparent that in America and in most places around the world today, we have purposefully trashed both civilities in our conversations and any effectiveness in even discussing alternative views in our daily communication. Most critically it is nearly impossible to arrive at a productive or positive consensus on just about any matter. It almost as if the challenge for finding a compelling “media sound-bite” or offering a truncated Twitter message, has left us incapable of real conversation.

So why is that the acceptable and resulting state of our personal and political existence? It’s quite apparent when you look around at any of a number of illustrations from the Dallas County Court system deterioration, to arguments between the NFL Owners and their Players' Union, or just finger pointing and accusations in our everyday politics in general. It might be simplistic but you can easily point to the level of personal commitment as represented in the age-old advice to never engage in talking about “politics” or “religion”, that is if you want any outcome other than an outright war. But I believe there is much more to this than just the participants or the topics themselves, it’s really about “how” we talk with one another.

It is crucial in successful organizations, and in every important relationship, to be able to communicate and converse within differing viewpoints. Indeed it is imperative to be able to conduct and participate in conversations with a wide variety of opinions and even differing levels of fervor. How we all manage and successfully handle the free flow of ideas becomes crucial to the success or failure of any business, individual department much less our personal relationships.
So what can we do to become better at our communication skills? First we have to face up to wanting to first identify and then secondly handle crucial conversations in a productive way. It’s not so important to have always formulated a hard and fast position or even to be able to fire back logical supporting facts or even counter objections, but it is important to be civil and respectful in the exchange of ideas. In very successful companies it is ultimately reflected in all of their critical issues; things like safety, productivity, diversity, quality, innovation, teamwork and change management. In relationships it is even more important to grow by how you handle basic disputes or differences of opinions.

Meanings are in people and when you are capable of understanding that the words can frequently get in the way it becomes critical to master meaningful conversations without injecting a level of meanness, prejudice or avarice.
In summary there are lots of ways to allow a crucial conversation to implode. But the fair exchange of ideas and suggestions should offer greater benefit if all of us would take a step back from the human emotions. There are truly ways to offer a win-win scenario if all of us would only take a less aggressive look at one another. We are not scored by the level of sarcasm for a personal zinger, nor are we graded by providing a great oratorical display, and especially not for making someone feel incompetent or uninformed. Rather success in Crucial Conversations is all about sharing each others' ideas, proposing new methods or productive processes or just identifying areas or considerations that we should be aware of. It is frequently not about identifying an immediate solution but more about talking about implications or impacts from differing points of view. Be the “go to” person by being the person that people want to engage as an active listener and positive possibility thinker.

To be effective at any type of communication we all need practical ideas and practice. One of several great resource books on understanding successful communication is a book like Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. Another important aspect is to appreciate that we all look at things differently whether by gender as illustrated in Men are from Mars, Women from Venus or even by culture as described in Building Cross-Culture Competence. The basic refresher here is to appreciate that other people come with different points of view and from different perspectives and an appreciation for both goes a long way to understanding other ideas and your own biases. Great ideas are nurtured from wide perspective, genuine appreciation and true empathy.

The Performance Detective