Two Tools to Create Safety and Speak Up

There is almost always a crucial conversation that we’re either not holding or not holding well at the heart of almost all chronic problems in our organisations, teams, and relationships. There are issues we haven’t stepped up and addressed or when we do, the conversation doesn’t go as planned.

We’ve spent over 10,000 hours watching people in crucial confrontations trying to figure out what they do that makes it either work or fail. Which confrontations go well and resolve problems, and which confrontations go poorly and end up causing the problems to worsen or persist.

What we’ve found is that there are a handful of skills you can use that predictably, repeatedly, and sustainably create a positive and effective environment to speak up.

If you can learn to do this, there’s almost nothing you can’t discuss.

A key finding in our research was we could predict the end of a tough conversation by judging how the first thirty seconds unfolded. Thus, gaining the title the ‘Hazardous Half-Minute’.

We put our microscope on those first thirty seconds when the crucial confrontation came out well. The first thing we found you have to do is create safety. If you do it well, the conversation will have a higher probability of a positive outcome.

Let’s say you’ve got a colleague who continually lets you down. You have a spouse or a loved one who’s behaving in ways that are creating problems in your family. How do you start that crucial confrontation?

Here’s how you don’t start: It may tempt you to start by diving into the issue, by telling them your complaint. That’s how we want to begin but don’t let your emotions take control.

The riskiness of the issue does not predict your success or failure.

Most of us labour under the misconception that if something is just too hard to talk about, too difficult to discuss, that the conversation will not go well. We know from our research that this just isn’t true.

In your personal life with a loved one or spouse, have you found yourself arguing over the stupidest most trivial little issue? How the toilet paper hangs or which restaurant to go to? Even the most trivial things can amplify into a huge conflict. What predicts your success or failure is your capacity to create safety, not the size of the issue. There are two key factors to creating safety.


This isn’t a trick or a gimmick. This isn’t just a technique. Your first responsibility during that crucial confrontation is to help the other person know in their heart that you care about their problems. That’s your job.

If you do that well, you’ll be able to see them physically loosen up. When you start telling them the truth about your concerns, they’ll start to listen to you.

They may not like what you’re saying. They may not agree with what you’re telling them, but they will listen.


Make sure they know that you care about their problems, and that you care about them as a person. When they know these two things, their defences drop and they will open up.

In some cases, the person you’re talking to simply won’t believe you, their defences go up and it doesn’t matter what you have to say. They won’t hear it.

Now here’s my question to you. How safe would you have to feel to be able to publicly admit that you were wrong in a situation? How safe would you have to feel to be able to hear from somebody that you were incompetent in your job? How safe would you have to feel to be able to hear that some of your behaviour was inappropriate or ineffective

The predictor of your success or failure in a crucial confrontation is not how risky the issue is, it’s your capacity to create safety.

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