The Meaning of Crucial Conversations: Our Thesis Question

When we first started developing Crucial Conversations, our vision was to change the world by helping people change their behaviour. As we started thinking about how to change the world by changing behaviour, one of the questions that came up was, “What behaviour, if changed, would make the biggest difference?”

This became our thesis question.

If we can help others pay attention to those brief, short-lived points in time and help them slightly modify how they showed up, we could change their lives, organisations, and potentially the world as a whole.

In our research, we quickly began to notice there were moments of profound emotional complexity between individuals, but remember, our main objective was to change the world — not just help people feel more comfortable in the moments they’re uncomfortable.

So, we asked, “What is it about these moments?”

First, we learned that these are moments that can change lives, relationships are changed in just a few words, for better or worse.

Second, these are moments where we expect others to disagree.

These two points combined with that emotional complexity create the scenario when a crucial conversation will occur.

The big idea that started to emerge from our work is this: You can measure the health of a relationship, a team, or an entire organisation by measuring the average time between identifying and discussing problems.

As this thought emerged from our research, we began looking at ourselves from the same perspective.

What about our relationships? What about our marriages? Our organisation?

What’s the average time between identifying a problem, feeling the emotion, and getting it on the table in a healthy way?

To put it graphically, it looks like this.

We’re all walking along through life and we find a ‘Super Awesome Goal’ we decide to go after, and we start marching happily towards it.

Inevitably, on that march we encounter these moments where crucial conversations must occur.


Because there’s something with high stakes on the table.

The instant you have a goal there will be moments when the stakes are high, people disagree, and it becomes an emotional process.

As soon as you go after something important, crucial conversations will occur.

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