2 Important Lessons from the Past 10 Years with Crucial Conversations

Crucial Conversation skills are only applicable if you live or work with other people.

Now that’s a broad statement, and it applies equally to me. During these last 10 years, I’ve had my share of challenges, a few failures, and a number of successes. From all these, I’ve learned a thing or two. Here are two little experiences I’ve had that have taught me big lessons about crucial conversations.

We Can Always Do Our Worst

I’ve been to the airport hundreds of times — I know how the system works. One particular day, I went to pick up my wife. I had the perfect plan to pick her up in 30 minutes so I would owe nothing for parking. I arrived according to plan. I met and hugged Linda. I put her luggage in my truck and sped to the exit. I knew I made it under 30 minutes.

Then, the parking attendant said, Three dollars, please.” I asked to see my ticket which read ‘29 minutes’.

“It should have been free!” I told him… repeatedly.

Finally, I asked to talk to the manager, who said, “The ticket must be wrong. Our system is accurate.” Eventually, I paid the three dollars and left.

Here’s the lesson. At VitalSmarts, we teach, “When it matters the most, we often do our worst.” I’ve also learned, “When it hardly matters at all, we can do our worst too.”

There is no cruise control for these skills. We need to be alert all the time. Since then, I’ve practised noticing my early warning signs so I can catch problems with myself early.

Anyone Can Initiate A Crucial Conversation

A few years ago, I learned another lesson while doing a book signing. After a seminar, a woman asked me to sign her amazing book — it was the most underlined, tabbed, and dog-eared book I’d ever seen.

As I signed it, I commented that the book looked “well-used.” She agreed that she had used it and, at my prodding, told me about how she’d used these skills. She’d initiated conversations with her boss, her brother-in-law, and with other departments at her workplace. She shared experience after experience about her crucial conversations.

I said, “You’ve shared so many great stories, but I’m not sure what your position is in your company. Are you HR or CEO?” She looked perplexed.

Then, very nicely, she said, You don’t get it! I work in IT. Position doesn’t matter. Crucial conversations belong to the first person who sees them. I don’t solve the issues. I just make sure they’re brought up in a safe way.”

Here’s the lesson: You don’t have to solve the issues. But if you see them, take the initiative to bring them up in a safe way.

For me, there’s always something new to learn about crucial conversations.

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