Mastering The Art of Crucial Conversations | Joseph Grenny

Mastering The Art of Crucial Conversations | Joseph Grenny


good morning and good morning Chicago good morning Washington DC were so excited to be able to extend the audience today I want just before I begin on behalf of Ron and Carrie al David and myself to give a very special expression of love and appreciation to those of you who are participating with us today it is an inexpressible honor to have you be a part of our lives and we hope that you’ll feel that over the next couple of days I I want to take you back through some of the the part of our history that you might not be familiar with I’m going to lay down three threads and try to weave them together in the next 28 minutes so here we go first about 18 years ago I got a brand-new toothbrush it was one of those electric ones that is about 180 horsepower oscillates it five million times per second and I was enjoying it immensely until one evening when after using it I exited the bathroom and I heard a voice calling out to me in a loving way that said get back in here I came back in and my wife was indicating the mirror which had this beautiful kind of Kandinsky effect on it with a spittle all over the place she said Joseph I’ve asked you before she said I I’ve asked you just to wipe that down she said you seem so attentive to the needs of other people but when I ask you something you seem not to pay attention well I defended myself on technical grounds I let her know that it was more about the device than my own bad motives tried to teach her the six or smaadahl in the moment she wasn’t having any of it she left in a huff came back a couple minutes later and said all right that probably wasn’t the best way for me to bring it up I’m sorry but she said I find it irritating that I have to remind you again and again again again for something as simple as this well at that point I was not having her apology I thought that was inappropriately expressed I deserved more remorse than what she was expressing at the time so to make a long story somewhat shorter this ends up at lasting 48 hours by the way I decided that night to sleep on the couch now I want you to know that I chose to sleep on the couch I was doing this to advance her maturing as an adult I thought that it would be an important life lesson for her so I lay down there on the couch kind of smugly thinking that the next morning I would get a well-deserved apology for some of the abuse that I had received the night before let’s pause that one December 28 2009 was probably the most crucial conversation of my life I’ll start 10 months earlier 10 months earlier I was at home on a Saturday and there was a knock at the door when I opened the door there was a kind of shaggy worn looking character standing there after a couple minutes of staring at him I recognized something about the eyes and finally clapped him when the shoulders pulled him in and I said Patrick Patrick I haven’t seen you forever I dragged him in and sat him down on a chair Patrick had been one of my Scouts about 10 years earlier he had been part of our little Scout group and we become fast friends and over a couple years camped together a lot but after a while he stopped coming I tried to seek him out but he seemed to be avoiding me finally one of his friends said I think Patrick is hanging out with kind of a rough crowd now and I think he’s into drugs well I broke my heart and I continued to try to find him that finally gave up so now it’s 10 years later and here he is on my doorstep i sat him down and I said Patrick I said tell me about what’s going on well he told me a story of whoa that spanned a decade bad decisions time in jail time on the street homelessness he said but I’ve decided I want to turn my life around and when I started thinking of those I knew that I could trust to help and guide me he said you’re the only one that came to mind everybody else I think as part of that other world that I want to leave I said I’m so glad you would reach out to me so we talked for a couple more hours we created a plan he’d get a job he’d start repaying fines and he’d try to turn his life around about three months later he was doing pretty well he said you know what I’m working a minimum-wage job there’s this construction job that’s a little farther away if I could buy a car I’d have transportation I could do that so I arranged to co-sign a loan for him he got this old beater truck and he making payments on that and things were going pretty well till about August of that that year and he disappeared and it broke my heart I tried looking for my tried calling a cell phone I tried talking to common friends and I just he was not responding at all so I finally gave up now I didn’t connect the dots when in October of that year my house was burglarized and it worried me because I travel a lot and so I worried about my family’s safety in addition to just feeling violated and having somebody penetrate the sanctity of my home so we went got a very expensive surveillance system so that we could feel secure as I traveled a lot it’s hard to describe then how it felt in November of that year when our house was burglarized a second time but this time we had video surveillance data and as I looked back over that videotape I saw Patrick enter our back yard drop down into a window well kick out one of the windows and come out minutes later with some of our valuables i sat there just breathless watching this feeling violated and angry feeling sad and despair feeling hopelessness for him and what do you do well I had no contact with him until his December 28th of 2009 I was driving not far from our house and I saw Patrick walking along the road so I pulled the car over I rolled down the window and I said hey Patrick hey Patrick the instant he recognized my voice you could see his body tense and he was about to spring and run I said Patrick it’s okay I just want to talk I just want to talk third thread Crucial Conversations for us was a happy accident so it began like many of your lives in the back of a Volkswagen van there were four of us I’ll carry running myself kind of talking and dreaming and we came up with this idea that that if we could help the world learn to change behavior we could change the world that would be a wonderful way of going about it so we pulled together we organized vital smarts and that was 25 years ago last month it’s been a wonderful wonderful quarter century and you’re an expression of the greatest joy that we have in that work how many have joined what we think is one of the most important human problems we face but as we started thinking about how to change the world by changing behavior one of the questions became what behavior if change would make the biggest difference so this is part of the story that’s familiar to you we began with that as a thesis question are there a few moments are there some moments of disproportionate influence where people behave differently if you and I could help them pay attention to those brief of ephemeral points in time and and help them just slightly modify how they showed up that we could change their lives that we could change organizations that we could change the world well as we began our research looking for those kinds of moments you’re familiar with this moment but I want to have you play it out anyway so grab a buddy grab someone to your table put your hand on them right now and I said everybody knows who’s with whom get a partner you got a buddy all right very quickly who’s who’s personai pick an A and a B person a person a let’s have a volunteer okay person a you’re going to be nurse Bonnie you’re the woman in the left person B raise your hand person B okay you’re going to be dr. Scott so what I want you to do is just get ourselves into the Crucial Conversations mode we’re gonna play the scene out as soon as the scene stops those of you who are nurse Bonnie raise your hand again nurse Bonnie that’s good it’s half the room you did it very well it’s a smart group isn’t it Ron mm-hm so as soon as the video stops those of you who are nurse Bonnie turn to dr. Scott and just say the next sentence you would say here you go can I get you to check in on mr. Gonzales before you take off he’s the older gentleman who had the punctured lung hoping to release him I can’t I gotta get to my son’s music assembly just uh and I’ll just tell him something came up and I’ll come back tonight check on actually his family’s all here expecting to take him home I told him you were just down the hall please didn’t let me take a minute you told him what I assumed it would be okay I thought you’d be right in oh you thought and where did you learn to think certainly not some two-year rinky-dink nursing school that’s for sure all right go where’d you learn to think turn and respond go all right stop wherever you are so we began very quickly to notice that there were moments like that of a profound emotional complexity but remember that’s not what we were interested in so a lot of us that knew Crucial Conversations training think that’s why these deserve attention because they’re emotionally complex no no no that wasn’t the thesis question we wanted to change the world not just help people feel more comfortable at moments that they’re uncomfortable so we asked what is it about these moments so first of all we found these are moments where something really important to us is on the table second these are moments where we expect others to disagree and finally those two come together to create this third condition now I want to share some of the backstory because this has been not just an academic and experimental process for Ron Kerry David Allen myself it’s been very much an action learning process we’ve had the crucial conversations along the way so a number of years back Kerry and I were working on the chapter of a book and we had a little process we’d agreed on that I’d take a first write he do rewrites he’d send it back and then we get on the phone and discuss so so we done that process we got together on the phone on a Saturday night seven o’clock and I’d sent the chapter over to him and he sent it back to me and so we began the conversation I said so carried you get the chapter I said he said yes I said what do you think he said you ruined it I said I didn’t ruin it I fixed it he said you didn’t fix it he said it’s all disjointed now goes from A to E to F I said it’s not just jointed I said it’s meaningful now now how long did that conversation take did a my time it there’s about eight seconds yeah and all that happened that quickly now the irony is the chapter we were working on was called master my stories from a book called Crucial Conversations of all things so so we were action learning our way through this realizing these moments mattered a lot the big idea that started to emerge from our work is that you can measure the health of a relationship the health of a team even the health of an entire organization by measuring the average lag time between identifying and discussing problems that’s what began to a from our research and we began looking at ourselves from that same perspective what about our relationships what about our marriages what about our families our organization what’s the average lag time between identifying a problem feeling it and it getting on the table in a healthy way to put it graphically it looks kind of like this so we all kind of walk along through life and we all have our white Volkswagen van moment when we have this super awesome goal that we decide to go after so we start marching happily towards it inevitably on that March we encounter these moments why because there’s something by definition of high stakes on the table the instant you have a super awesome goal by definition there will be moments where the stakes are high where people disagree and then it becomes an emotional visceral process ladies and gentlemen what we’ve learned is that the best way to minimize the number of crucial conversations you have in life is to have a meaningless life as soon as you go after something important they will occur now you’re familiar with this important research any of you seen this before well let’s uh let’s enjoy the moment for a second I want to give you a backstory for it as well so as we’re doing our research my son Samuel had a science fair project do and he said he wanted to study how little kids deal with Crucial Conversations I was not particularly encouraging I said I said Samuel I think little kids don’t have the same kind of social constraints that adults do and yet look what he found we all know adults stink at talking about tough things but how about little kids here’s my experiment feed kids wretched brownies then see if they’ll tell you the truth especially when they think it might hurt your feelings first I made the brownies lots of chocolate eggs and flour but instead of sugar I put in salt lots of salt there’s no way they could like these better now I recruited kids of various ages for a taste test I tell them I want to compare ordinary brownies to my special brownies my dear grandmother special recipe my dear dead grandmother special recipe then I give them a doll for being such a big help my parents always taught me that if you want someone to like you give them money okay here goes first they ate the yummy sugar brownies next that you just salt bricks watch this girl she can hardly keep from gagging and now for the crucial moment will they tell me the truth and possibly offend me I asked them to point to the brownies they liked best no surprises some tried to spare my feelings but watch even the one who gagged and how about really little kids but do you want to know what they really thought here guys I have leftovers does anybody want seconds isn’t that astounding I was just absolutely blown away now the back story is that little girl whose face puckered up her name is Hannah she lives right next door to us and she is one of the most blunt honest outspoken little kids in the world but she’s lying about the brownies it blew my mind to see how one after another these kids who would absolutely no other agenda were coming in and and lying about how they really felt so so what staggered me in that moment and the words that sort of came to me was at what a remarkably young age you and I start to draw a damnable conclusion it turns out that at about age three or four you and I start to believe that you frequently have to choose between telling the truth and keeping a friend and that one belief causes mischief for the rest of our lives that’s the controlling assumption that dictates how we show up in interpersonal situations from that moment forward and that’s why these moments of disproportionate influence have such an enormous effect David chase and I did a research project a few months back we asked people across the world if you had a magic wand if you had a magic wand that would eliminate consequences for just one conversation so you have a permission now to say one thing anything you want to anybody you want and there will be no consequences who would you say it to and what would it be once you look at some of the responses and speculate for a moment with me about the consequences of these moments of disproportion and influence so here was one to my boss for eight years you single-handedly drove away every good employee we’ve ever had I can no longer tolerate your condescending tone your passive micromanaging your overt verbal sexual harassment towards female employees your hypocritical management or work time or even you’re insincere compliments affectionately muah now here’s what I want you to think about what is the cost or consequence of keeping that in a vault and how is it showing up today that’s what we began to notice second to my wife we’ve been together a long time but it’s time for us to consider going our separate way ladies and gentlemen so many broken relationships are not broken because it was inevitable it would they were broken by silence they were broken because the lag time between feeling a problem and discussing the problem in a healthy way yawn so wide the relationship broke to my supervisor now let me ask you the question what does silence look like in that case is silence truly silent or is it showing up to my colleague I betrayed your trust by sharing confidential information that you shared with me with another peer I apologize I change it if I could how does guilt show up when it’s undiscussed to the woman next to me do you have a cat or something that marks your coat shoes or bags there’s a really bad odor from you and your desk it’s very nauseating and offensive to me now now that’s a sensitive issue to put on the table but let’s ask ourselves what is the cost of silence and how is it showing up the principle that we found over time the reason these moments have such disproportionate influence is because you and I don’t get to vote on how they affect relationships if you don’t talk it out what do you do you act it out we know that it shows up in a hundred different ways you sleep on the couch at night and you imagine someone suffering upstairs if it’s not getting discussed it’s getting acted out it shows up in your behavior like this whenever I get mad at you you never seem to get upset how do you manage to control your temper I just go and clean the toilet she says well how does that help I use your toothbrush to my husband I feel frustrated by the mess and clutter in our house I love you but I can’t stand this anymore I’ve been patient for a long time it appears you don’t care in addition I think you need professional help to deal with hoarding tendencies I want to get some counseling and I think you should too now now I ask us to contemplate for a moment is silence truly silent you know or is it showing up somewhere finally what if what if you were the boss and you’re carrying this in your vault find a different job now well I can’t prove it I know that you stir up trouble between your co-workers you don’t pay attention to your job you lack respect for anyone you take no responsibility for actions and blame others what you and I are trying to do in teaching Crucial Conversations at least at the very basic level is simply this one simple concept that can dramatically change how people show up in crucial moments is just to read the title of the book because it causes us to do this to start for once calculating the costs of silence for once realizing silence isn’t truly silent to just carefully and thoughtfully list what are the costs right now how is it showing up and what is the default future if this continues to go undiscussed that’s what you and I are doing in the world what we’re trying to help people do is take a more mental conscious calculus of the real costs of the decisions they’re currently making what you and I know is that crucial conversations aren’t just a pit they aren’t just a problem to get over they actually have the potential of becoming one of the accelerants of intimacy crucial conversations well held accelerate the building of trust between individuals they not only don’t damage it they actually create a sense of connection with people that can’t come most any other way and yet here’s how we continue to look at them the contribution you and I are trying to make to the world is to help them understand that it’s the pathway to the super-awesome goal not just something that keeps us from it so the first big idea that we came across was this the vital behavior that enables most any organizational outcome is just candor it’s just showing up in those moments and you’ve seen the research across so many different domains you and I are saving lives we’re saving relationships we’re reconnecting families we’re building teams and organizations just by getting them to look at that one moment a little bit differently this has mattered to vital smarts as well I remember the moment that I believed we could make it as a company it’s because after the Crucial Conversations book came out there was a moment at which Yan Wang our CFO who comes from a tradition and background that does not encourage candor with people in positions of authority it took immense effort for her to approach alse wit slur and say to him you know al you’ve been taking books along on all of the book tour things and selling them at the back of the room to try to help promote things and that’s really well and good but when you come back with a whole bunch of written credit card numbers and cheques it takes more time for us to process those than it’s worth for the money perhaps you ought to just give the books away after she finished that feedback to Al it looked like she wanted to throw up that was that was challenging it was terrifying for her and none of us could have been prouder of her she set a tone for vital smarts she helped us turn the corner and start becoming that kind of organization we don’t always show up perfectly but we try hard because we know these moments are our lifeblood as well so what you and I are trying to fix is that dynamic now the last piece I want to do is just tie together a couple of those other threads so it’s December 28 2009 and I rolled down the window and I said Patrick would you just get in the car after a couple minutes he looked defeated but he got in the car we drove back to our house and I walked him down to the basement and I sat him in front of a television screen I put a videotape in and I prepared to push play but I said Patrick before I show you this I said I need to ask you a question he was looking at the ground just absolutely mortified in this moment I said Patrick would you would you look me in the eye for just a moment because I need to know that you hear me so he finally with great effort locked on my eyes and I said Patrick do you know that I love you his eyes welled up with tears instantly he said yes I do I said Patrick do you know that I would never do anything if I didn’t think it was in your best interests his shoulders started to to heave and convulse and he said yes I do I said good then I need you to look at something and I just played the security footage at which point he started heaving and convulsing openly sobbing he said I’m so sorry I’m so sorry I said Patrick I understand but I need you to understand that I don’t think I would be your friend if I didn’t let you be held accountable for what you did to me and what you did to my family I’ve turned this over to the police and I know they’d like to talk with you but that’s your choice it’s up to you whether you make contact with them or not what penetrated my soul was that his response rather than defensiveness and rather than attack was to say I know I need to go to jail but will you be there for me when I get out and through my own tears I said Patrick I will always be here for you what we’ve learned along the way as al Kerry Ron David and myself have gone through our own Crucial Conversations is that you don’t have to choose between telling the truth and keeping a friend it turns out that if people feel safe you can speak truth they may not like it they may not enjoy it it may cause pain and suffering for them but at least they’ll be able to hear it the second gift you and I are trying to give to the world in addition to noticing that these moments require a different kind of risk calculus than we’ve been doing throughout history the second thing we’re trying to help them do is to to transcend that horrible dichotomy that they’ve been carrying since they were three years old – for once realize that the problem is not the choice between telling the truth and keeping the friend problem is trying to figure out how to do both and if all you and I ever do in our training is just help people to reframe the question to say how could I show up in this moment in a way that’s absolutely honest and absolutely respectful we will have done our job and we will have changed lives and we will have changed organizations candor isn’t the problem the problem is a lack of safety and you and I are helping the world to understand that if you can create a context of safety in the Middle East in war-torn countries in the u.s. in divided cities if you and I can help people just understand that if you can create a safe place to get honesty in the open that that intimacy accelerates that connection is possible then we will have done our jobs so I’m laying down on the couch and I’m imagining how the next morning I’ll get this well-deserved apology but I didn’t instead we went to this plastic kind of fake civility routine and the kids who are there we’re sitting around having breakfast and and I’m sort of pulling her chair out she’s getting me the milk and we’re both acting polite like we kind of moved on past the moment and that kind of disconnected insincerity went on all day long until that night and I decided the best way to advance her education would be to sleep with her that night and so I went in I used the toothbrush I wiped down the mirror made sure she saw me doing it and very self righteously got in bed she finished her bathroom stuff she got in bed both of us respected the DMZ sitting there in between us and she said good night honey I said good night honey she clicked off the light and I lay down there and I thought to myself my goal is to go to sleep faster than her because then she’ll be writhing in agony and realizing I’ve moved on and then she’ll probably look at herself and her fallen ways and apologize so so I’m laying there kind of psyching myself into relaxation when I hear this call and I’m telling you you know this is a grown a little bit emotionally since then but I still identify with the feelings I felt this white-hot rage shoot through my body I’m laying there thinking you don’t even realize how much you’ve mistreated me do you I’m sitting here thinking is how did I end up with her right I’m going over and over in my mind all the wrongs and how mistreated I am in this relationship when when after a while I looked over at the clock and had been like two hours and the moon finally comes down through the window and bathes her hideous face in its glow and I literally looked at her and just I couldn’t imagine one redeeming quality this woman had and as this kind of feeling is surging through me finally this this thought comes galloping towards me from off at the distance and I saw it coming recognized it tried to dodge it but it finally snuck around the other side went into my ear and and the question was what am i acting like I want and what do I really want and you know what as soon as I relaxed into that question that fast this picture came into my mind and the picture was when I’d come home from a trip earlier that week I walked in and she just looked over at me and smiled and I felt connected and I felt home and I felt loved and I surrendered to that and I said yeah that’s what I want that’s what I want and you know what I looked over at her and she looked entirely different she was beautiful and I could remember everything that made me love her and I slipped into slumber and the next morning the alarm goes off and I woke up but the Sun looked brighter that day and I looked over at her but you could see the instant she remembered the mode we were in the night before because her shoulders stiffen and she slid off the bed and she walked over and what to go into the bathroom and I said Sela I’m sorry I said I wasted the last 48 hours and I wish I could have them back she said I’m sorry and and I want to hear everything that’s on your mind and concerning you whenever you’d like to talk she paused for just a moment and I could see when it sort of got absorbed in her to because her shoulders dropped about two inches she turned around sat on the end of the bed and we talked it turns out that the way you see others during those crucial moments is less a reflection of who they are and more of a reflection of what we want when our motives are bad we can’t even see people for what they are what you and I know is that all it takes to get truth on the table it’s just a little bit of safety it’s just an apology it’s just a smile it’s just a hug it’s just taking something back it takes very little but people aren’t willing to do it if they don’t realize that you can transcend that false trade-off between telling the truth and keeping a friend it is immensely gratifying to be part of this work with you we hope you feel of our love and support for you these are the big ideas that we’re trying to take out into the world when when we were in the white walks back folks wagon van you were just a gleam in our eye but we’re glad you’re now part of the family thank you very much

24 thoughts on “Mastering The Art of Crucial Conversations | Joseph Grenny”

  1. "If you don't talk it out, then you'll act it out." Very wise words, Joseph. I just completed your Executive Briefing series and enjoyed it as well. Thank you.

  2. (please thumbs up if you think this is helpful) @ 10:50 "The big idea that started to emerge from our work is that you can measure the health… of a relationship – the health of a team – even the health of an entire organization… by measuring the average lag time between identifying and discussing problems."
    @ 15:30 "It turns out that around the age 3 or 4 you and I start to believe that you frequently have to choose between telling the truth and keeping a friend… And that one belief causes mischief for the rest of our lives. That's the controlling assumption that dictates how we show up in interpersonal situations from that moment forward."
    @ 28:20 "What am I acting like I want? And what do I really want?"… "It turns out that the way you see others during those crucial moments is less a reflection of who they are and more of a reflection of what we want."

  3. This made me cry….something that should be so easy is so difficult to do…although it MUST be done as un comfortable as it is. Thank you so much for this talk.

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  5. lol this lying about the brownies. that's really American behaviour due to my experience! results would probably be different for example in Germany. Friends would laugh and say they're disgusting. Honesty is important.

  6. I'm not exactly sure how to express myself here, but all I know is that this is taking me on a journey to understand myself and my relationships better. Got hooked onto the book which made its way onto my bookshelves. Thank you so, so much for valuable insights and the practical examples.

  7. Do You have this video: How to effectively hold people accountable. Step 1- Create Safety from Joseph Grenny? Do You have it available in Spanish?

  8. These crucial conversations are related to internal sabotage in a company. People being fearful about to contribute with ideas or with warnings about risks or loses will have a huge negative impact in company revenues and costs.

  9. I stumbled across this video as a result of relentless googling during a crucial moment in life. What a wise and beneficial investment of time.

    Thank you.

  10. Love the content of this video, and I learned a lot. Unfortunately, I'm feeling icky at a few ways the speaker comes off. I would love him to watch the video again and think about whether using the short video with his son feels like a good choice? I kept asking myself if he himself actually made this video. It feels manipulative and inauthentically cute. What does he think about calling his wife (even momentarily) 'hideous'? Really stood out to me. If I was his wife, I'd ask him if he thinks it feels good to be called that word in such a public space, and now on the internet. What does he think about the example of Patrick through the lens of painting himself as a savior in this story, particularly hitting buttons to me of white savior complex? The world has changed in big and small ways since 2015. We're all more aware of things. This is a great idea and seems like it resonates as true. The execution feels like it needs updated and edited to resonate in 2019.

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