Crucial Skills®

A Blog by Crucial Learning

Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

Convincing People of the Power of Crucial Conversations

Dear Crucial Skills,

We’ve been learning Crucial Conversations skills at work. Things have been going well and we’ve had some great, open, and honest discussions about the skills and principles. However, several people have said that they only work if both parties use them. I said that I kindly disagree. It takes only one person in the conversation using the skills to have a successful Crucial Conversation. I’m having trouble expressing this better. How do I show that this is true?


Dear Advocate,

The first time I attended Crucial Conversations I asserted the same thing your peers are—that productive disagreement depends on BOTH parties using the skills and principles taught in the course.

I shared my perspective with the trainer and asked what he thought. I don’t remember what he said, but I do remember feeling illuminated by his response, which is perhaps best represented by this question: If caught in a Crucial Conversation with someone who is being dishonest or disrespectful, would not using the skills yourself be effective?

This question highlights an important principle that underlies everything taught in Crucial Conversations: personal responsibility. It suggests that no matter the situation (or person), we are free to choose how we respond, and our response can influence outcomes.

Before you run with this to your colleagues in hopes of persuading them to your viewpoint, there’s something else. I think your peers are highlighting what is often referred to as good faith, and it is critical to healthy disagreement.

A good faith argument is one in which both parties treat each other with respect, are transparent with their motives, and have a sincere interest in communicating productively.

A bad faith argument or discussion, by contrast, is one in which one or both parties are set on “winning” the disagreement or coercing the other and involves duplicity or other manipulative tactics. (Here’s a more complete explanation of good faith and bad faith as they relate to dialogue.)

While we don’t use the term “good faith” in Crucial Conversations, we do teach the principle. We call it good intent, and it’s built on a foundation of mutual purpose and mutual respect. These are important to psychological safety, which is important to productive dialogue in the face of conflict. If I get the sense that you don’t respect me or my goals, it’s unlikely that we will argue productively.

Over the years, many people have asked us some variation of “What can I do in a Crucial Conversation if the other person shows up in bad faith?” Our answer has been to make safety the topic of conversation. Set aside the content (the subject of disagreement) to discuss intent (good faith). Often a person operating in bad faith needs only to be reminded of the importance of disagreeing with respect and honesty.

We also know that trying to establish a sense of psychological safety can help. Often a person arguing in bad faith is doing so because they feel unsafe, which is remedied when they feel safe.

So, while it takes two people operating in good faith to disagree productively, it takes only one to be a catalyst.

In other words, your peers are right: both parties need to proceed in good faith to disagree productively. And you are also right: if the other party shows up in bad faith, you can use the skills taught in Crucial Conversations to try to establish a sense of safety and some ground rules based on mutual purpose and respect.

That’s my perspective. I hope it gives you something to think about.

One point of clarification. In your question you referred to a “successful Crucial Conversation.” I have instead referred to “productive disagreement” to emphasize process rather than outcome.

Though most disagreements do reach some resolution, and that is clearly the goal, in my mind a productive disagreement doesn’t necessarily mean a resolution is reached, that one party is persuaded to the other’s viewpoint, or that a compromise is made—not immediately anyway. It doesn’t necessarily mean that anger and frustration won’t be expressed or that such expressions won’t be hard to hear. By productive disagreement I mean simply that perspectives are shared honestly, and good faith, in the end, remains intact.

I don’t know whether that is what you meant by a “successful Crucial Conversation,” but I invite you to reflect on what constitutes one for you.

As for the conversation with your colleagues, my advice is this: share your viewpoint honestly and with respect, and let them know they are free to share their viewpoints honestly.

In short, try to use the skills you’ve been learning together. That is the most persuasive argument you could make.

Good luck,

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

1 thought

  1. Harris Sherlyn (pronounced Sheryl)

    Hi, Ryan,

    I like the term or phrase “productive disagreement.” People usually focus on the outcome and not the process. I will keep that in mind. I understand the advocate’s dilemma. If one party shows up using the Crucial Conversations skills and the other party is loud, rude, and shuts-down how do they progress to a “productive disagreement?”

    I know these skills take practice and more practice. I have enjoyed participating in the Crucial Conversations mini-series, blogs, and webinars. I look forward to learning and utilizing the skills taught to better my communication skills as a leader and a mother, friend, and colleague.


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