Crucial Skills®

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Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

How to Make It Safe . . . For You

Dear Crucial Skills,

How do you prepare for a crucial conversation where you do not feel safe? I need to have a conversation with my boss but I feel pretty certain she will be defensive. The book and training cover how to make others feel safe to open up, but how do you make it safe for yourself?


Feeling Unsafe

Dear Unsafe,

You ask a great question. In our books and training, we do emphasize how to make it safe for others to talk with us. Here are some ideas about how to make it safe for you to talk with others.

Think of this problem as having two parts:

Internal—how I work on me to make it safe for myself.

External—how I deal with others to make it safe for me.

Let’s look at the internal part first. In a nationwide recipientid“>Mutual Purpose you and your boss share.

You might begin the conversation by asking for her permission to converse. This courtesy builds Learn to Look for signs that she is leaving the dialogue and moving toward silence or violence. If you see movement, step outside the content, rebuild safety, and return to the conversation. Don’t presume to tell her what she needs to do or give her ultimatums. Tentatively make suggestions and share natural consequences to help her understand the difference between options.

Using these skills and strategies can be very helpful in reducing contention and making it clear that you are not an adversary fighting against your boss, but a team player who is helping her to succeed. This in turn can change the way your boss sees you and relates to you. These skills also reduce your boss’s tendency to take offense, feel a need to be guarded, get angry, or be dismissive.

Allow me to share with you a final disclaimer and a strategy.

If you do all these things, exactly the way I’ve told you to do them and your boss doesn’t want to dialogue, you won’t. Remember, these skills are not ways of manipulating or coercing people into doing what you want. Others get to choose their response. However, the use of these skills and this approach do increase the likelihood that your communication will go better, you will solve problems, and your relationships will improve.

Approach this conversation not as a single event, but rather as the first of many conversations you will have with your boss. If you are consistent with your efforts to create dialogue, build Mutual Purpose, and always demonstrate Mutual Respect, over time you will build a relationship based on these values and your boss will likely move toward dialogue.

I wish you well,


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4 thoughts on “How to Make It Safe . . . For You”

  1. Dan Gilland

    I have a comment about the Q&A about making it safe for me. When you are approaching your boss, or anyone for that matter, try to schedule the time, via email if possible. Try to set up a meeting rather than just going to their desk or office. We use Outlook, so I can send a meeting invite to accomplish this. This action will show respect for their time as well as preventing the person from feeling “confronted” or “cornered”. This also allows both parties to prep for the conversation, especially if you give them a preview of what you want to discuss. I am not sure if you assumed the reader would do that, but I think it would be good to be specific.

  2. Elaine

    You really missed the boat on the reason nurses don’t speak up to doctors. It’s because the doctors can get them fired. Sorry but that is the reality almost everywhere. Doctors think they are god, and no one questions them.

    1. nate newton

      I am sorry that your experience with Doctors has resulted in nurses getting fired. Nurses are one of the most important people in health care. Remember, we should be putting our patients first, not the doctor.

  3. Pradeep John Pappachen

    In today’s world of online meetings and at times when conversations happen over medium that does not include video. what can derail a conversation and what guardrails can make it more effective.

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