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How Safety Shapes a Conversation

22 December 2020

Larissa read Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler and reflected back on how this book shaped past conversations.

Tags: communication, larissa read

When I first entered my current role at Allison Partners, I was both enthusiastic and nervous. I had initially joined the team as the receptionist, and I was eager to show that I was well-suited to my new responsibilities. However, within just a few months, I made my first big mistake.

I was at a total loss as to how to inform anyone—let alone my bosses—of the problem I had created. I knew I needed help finding a solution, but I was terrified not only of the consequences, but of the conversation itself. After much (in hindsight, too much) deliberation, I finally shared my predicament with Janie. Janie assured me that she would help me inform Rachel, who was out of town at the time, and encouraged me to have the conversation with Allison.

One of the first things you learn when reading Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when Stakes are High is that when you enter a crucial conversation, you’re instinctively on your worst behavior. In later chapters, the book helps you identify more specifically what “Worst Behavior” means for you. For me, it means that I am hesitant to share any strong opinions or reveal any truth about myself.

What I quickly learned in my conversation with Allison was that I was going to have to talk about what had happened, and why I thought it had happened. I had expected this, but what I didn’t expect was how honest I was able to be. It became clear to me that the conversation wasn’t about tearing me down, but about recognizing that we were working toward the same outcome, and we could figure out together what had gone wrong, how we could fix it, and what to look out for in the future. As part of a team, I felt safe sharing my thoughts and feelings.

Had I read Crucial Conversations earlier in my time at Allison Partners, I would have learned that one of the first steps to encourage dialogue is to make it safe to talk about anything. Chapter 5 hones in on two key concepts that are vital to feeling safe in a conversation: Mutual Purpose and Mutual Respect. Establishing a common goal allows you to work together, rather than against each other, and mutual respect can help you to see things from another point of view. The authors lay out some tools for identifying whether a conversation is safe, and if not, how to get there.

Although crucial conversations are never ‘easy,’ I came out of my conversation with Allison with a sense of relief, a plan, and an even deeper respect for what our team does. Although quite a bit of time has passed since then, reading Crucial Conversations has helped me understand why that conversation was so helpful and refreshing. I highly recommend the book to anyone who wants to learn tools to create a healthy, informative dialogue in any aspect of their lives.


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