Crucial Skills®

A Blog by Crucial Learning

Crucial Conversations for Accountability

Improve Results by Moving to Action


Al Switzler

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


Crucial Confrontations

Q Dear Crucial Skills,

Last year a representative from your company conducted a training in Florida on Crucial Conversations. As part of our take away we received a pack of 4×4 flash cards.

One of the cards, titled “Move to Action: How to Turn Crucial Conversations into Action and Results,” poses the questions “Pay special attention as conversations come to an end. Are people preparing for action or disappointment? What’s the most common mistake?”

Can you please provide more information on what the most common mistakes are?

Curious Training Graduate

A Dear Curious,

You are one of the first people to pose this question and I’m glad you did. This principle is so important that I am happy to offer some advice.

One of the most common mistakes people make in a crucial conversation is that they don’t remember to Move to Action. One point we make in the training and the book is that how you end a conversation is as important as how you begin. Sometimes people tee up a conversation, work through it well and then end with a fizzle.

People understand and apply the metaphor we recommend—that is to fill the pool of shared meaning. It takes time and skill to get everyone to have the courtesy and candor to fill the pool. And when that happens well, the person who initiated the crucial conversation may be tempted to think, “Well, there you go; we did it; we spoke the truth; that wasn’t so hard after all!” And they think the conversation is complete. This is the first common mistake: thinking you’re done without actually completing the process.

Why is this a problem? The reasons we have crucial conversations is to catch problems early, maximize input, make better decisions, and take more committed action. If we stop without moving to action, we fall short of what we are really trying to accomplish—improving relationships and results, not just talking about them.

Another common mistake is to leave out one of the steps involved in “moving to action.” People end up being too vague and too general. Let me review the steps in Move to Action with some advice on each.

• Who. When people say “Let’s get that done,” the word “let’s” is too vague. We need to name names and we need to designate who specifically will do what—specifically. If the task is complex, break it down into specific actions and put a name on each action.
• Does what. This can also be too general and confusing. For example, “Jane will get that done.” This statement assumes that everyone knows what “that” means. To prevent this from happening, specify exactly what you mean. How many? What quality? What result?
• By when. Don’t let people be vague here either. If you want to start playing accountability games, just forget to set a date and time on completing the action or see if any of these sorry substitutes will work: “As soon as possible,” “When it’s convenient,” “Early next week,” or “When it fits in the schedule.” When you leave the “when” so general, you are setting everyone up for disappointment and frustration.
• Follow-up. This step is frequently omitted, but following-up is one of the most important things you can do. If the task is new or risky, set a specific time to follow up. Sometimes a follow-up needs to precede the due date, just to check in. If the task is less risky or more routine, or the person has experience in doing the action, let them set the follow-up date and be responsible for it.

The main point: We have crucial conversations to improve meaning so we can improve results and relationships. If we don’t move to action well, we will inevitably be disappointed in accountability, in trust, and in results. When we finish conversations well, we are in a position to hold others accountable, to help when things fall short or go wrong, or when there are changes that need to be made. Without Move to Action, we are left only to assume and hope—a likely path to disappointment.

So remember, you haven’t completed a crucial conversation until you Move to Action.

Best wishes,

Develop Your Crucial Skills

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