Crucial Skills®

A Blog by Crucial Learning

Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

Avoid Venting and Encourage Coaching


Al Switzler

Al Switzler is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.


Crucial Conversations

Q Dear Crucial Skills,

I have a coworker who is extremely overwhelmed by her workload. However, she is offered help periodically and always seems to find a reason why that help won’t work. She continues to complain about her workload and yet appears to refuse the support she is offered. In addition, she does not address the issue with her boss. She uses me as a sounding board. I would like to be able to help her, but I am not sure how to start the conversation. What advice can you offer?

Tired of the complains

A Dear Tired,

Many people empathize with the challenge you have outlined.

As is usual in cases like this, we have to work on ourselves first. I think you have done that. It seems you’ve asked yourself what you really want and determined that you’d like to help your coworker work through this problem. Since you have taken the coaching path, I’d suggest your first conversation be about setting boundaries. Talk with her about some specific times when you’d be willing to coach her rather than allowing her to drop in at times when you need to be about your work.

In this conversation, share your insights about the pattern. She is stuck; there is a persistent and repeating problem that she is addressing with you and not her boss and there is little you can do to change the situation.

I suggest that after you share your insights about this pattern, ask her if she sees it the same way and then ask if the two of you could explore some solutions. You now have a clearly defined mutual purpose.

You can now explore some options with her about how to improve her skills to engage in the conversation.

Options include going from a larger investment of time and money to smaller:

  • Sign up for a training class.
  • Each of you get a book and go to to utilize the free resources available to help you learn skills like how to identify the right conversation, how to make it safe, how to talk to almost anybody about anything, etc.
  • Spend time practicing approaches, scripts, and responses that would help with the boss. In this situation, you are sharing specific ideas about how to start, what to say, and how to respond to the boss’ anticipated comments. This type of dialogue has moved from venting and gossiping to coaching.

At the end of the practice, your co-worker needs to make a specific commitment about when she will talk to the boss and when she will report to you that she did it. NOTE: If your coworker chooses not to have the conversation, you then need to clarify your role. Talk about how you are doing your best to help, but if she will not act, then your conversations have become just venting or gossiping and you would prefer not to do that.

If we assume good motive and clarify purpose, we can do our best to have conversations that center on coaching instead of venting.

Best wishes,

You can learn more insights and skills like this in Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

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