Crucial Skills®

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Kara Cuzzetto and Keeping Crucial Skills Top of Mind

How do you continue the learning journey when your organization has trained most employees? Kara Cuzzetto offers coaching sessions and holds semiannual refresher sessions to help her team keep their Crucial Conversations® skills sharp.

Cuzzetto works as a senior continuous improvement manager in the Finance and Business Operations Division of King County, the county in Washington state that includes Seattle. King County has ingrained Crucial Conversations into its culture. All new employees attend Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue during orientation, but training doesn’t stop there.

“Crucial Conversations is part of our clarity map goals and our strategic directional—what we call our true north—and the concepts and the tools of Crucial Conversations are part of how we expect team members to show up,” Cuzzetto said. “It’s more than, ‘Oh, you need to have a Crucial Conversation with that person.’ It’s gotten to the point where it’s like, ‘Let’s role-play that. Let’s have a conversation on how you might go about having that conversation.’”

Cuzzetto seeks to keep these skills at the top of team members’ minds by hosting a virtual 90-minute refresher session every six months. She advertises the session in her weekly division newsletter for the two editions before the session, and people who sign up to attend receive a reminder email the day before. After the session, Cuzzetto sends attendees the slide deck and posts it to SharePoint for broader reference.

The refresher session builds on the entire Crucial Conversations model, focusing on the core of each module within the Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue course. Two weeks before the refresher session, Cuzzetto reviews her files and makes updates based on any questions that learners have brought up in the six months since the last refresher.

“What does it mean to be stuck, right?” she said. “We talk about that. ‘How are you not moving forward and even stuck in old patterns, tactics, and techniques you’ve used that haven’t worked?’ And then we move into asking where is your intent? ‘Are you going into the conversation to win or place blame? Are you really going in with that sense of curiosity, and how do you make sure that you’re sharing just your facts as facts and moving into your story and then genuinely asking, from a place of curiosity, how do they feel?’”

Cuzzetto seeks to make the refresher sessions as interactive as possible, using polls and role-playing, like in the course, complete with an initiator, respondent, and coach.

“The Crucial Conversations content is easy to customize and to make it very relatable to our work environments and how we show up, and we’re able to tell real-life stories around similar situations,” she said.

As for the content, Cuzzetto said she reminds her learners that the Pool of Shared Meaning is the most important piece.

“It’s about the dialogue and the conversation that happens there,” she said. “It’s the Spider-Man rule for me: ‘With great knowledge comes great responsibility.’ We are responsible for keeping that dialogue going. And so, when we recognize the conversation is going off the rails, I really try to remind them of those skills like CPR—thinking about content, pattern, or relationship and what is the right conversation to have? Is it about what’s happening now, or is it deeper?”

Equity and social justice are significant initiatives for King County, so Cuzzetto said she tailors Crucial Conversations content to meet the county’s focus on those conversations.

“It’s not just about places that your organization might be missing those conversations—it’s also about opening up for those equity questions,” she said. “We’re always looking for opportunities to use the Crucial Conversations framework to have those hard equity conversations.”

Cuzzetto said about 30 to 90 employees will attend the refresher sessions among a staff of about 200.

In addition to the group refreshers, Cuzzetto offers one-on-one coaching sessions to her course graduates. She said they know they can put an appointment on her calendar to workshop how to handle a specific situation they’re facing.

“Stakes are high,” Cuzzetto said. “We have a lot of emotions, and we might not be on the same page, so we really feel like Crucial Conversations gives all of our employees that foundation so they can move into areas where people might be feeling uncomfortable and gives them some skills and some tools to navigate those conversations with the results in mind, always thinking about what we as a team are trying to achieve.”

4 thoughts on “Kara Cuzzetto and Keeping Crucial Skills Top of Mind”

  1. Sarah Allen

    Love this! Is there any chance Kara might be willing to share some of her slides with us?

    1. kamala jain

      Did you get a response? I would also love it if Kara was willing to share her slides. Hoping you can let me know.
      Kamala ( Seattle VA)

      1. Christa Woodall

        Hi, Kamala! Kara said she’s happy to share! If you’d please email me at christa[dot]woodall[at]cruciallearning[dot]com, I’ll gladly connect you two.

    2. Christa Woodall

      Hi, Sarah! Sorry for the delay, I just saw this. Kara said she’s happy to share! If you’d please email me at christa[dot]woodall[at]cruciallearning[dot]com, I’ll gladly connect you two.

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