Crucial Skills®

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Crucial Conversations for Accountability

Using CPR

Dear Crucial Skills,

Could you please help me understand the practical use of the crucial accountability skill “CPR” for front-line supervisors on a manufacturing floor? It seems somewhat abstract to them when dealing with specific violations and our progressive discipline procedure.

Real World

Dear Real World,

I’d love to help.

CPR is a skill we cover in Crucial Accountability that helps you hold the right conversation. The reason most of us have the same conversations over and over with others is because we talk about the wrong thing!

For example, on a manufacturing floor, let’s say you have an agreement with someone upstream in the process to get you fifty parts per hour. Four or five times a day they fail to deliver and you find yourself having to nag, threaten, or bribe them—or you sit and twiddle your thumbs and slow down the whole production process.

So what’s the problem here? The mistake you’re making is that you’re holding the wrong conversation. CPR identifies three levels of conversation we occasionally need to have:

1. C stands for Content. This is the immediate pain or problem you’re dealing with. In this situation, the content issue is the missed commitment for fifty parts this hour.

We tend to stay at the content level long after the problem is no longer about content. One way to tell if you’re having the wrong conversation is if your level of frustration or emotion is out of proportion to the issue. So if you find yourself shouting at the party in question, “Where are my %^@* parts?!”—this could be a sign you’re holding the wrong conversation. Your real issue is not the fifty parts you’re owed. Your real issue is a level deeper.

2. P stands for Pattern. This is the conversation you need to hold if your real concern is the pattern of you not regularly receiving promised parts.

When people have pattern concerns, they usually fail to raise the pattern issue but talk instead about the content—the most recent instance or concern.

For example, you say to your teammate, “This is the third time today you didn’t get me the parts—where are they?”

And he responds, “We’ve had three power surges in the past hour that have caused us to throw away three full lots. There’s nothing I can do about sunspots that are messing with our transformers!”

Can you see what just happened? Your teammate dragged you into dealing with the special circumstances that resulted in the most recent failure. You could have avoided this by raising your concern simply as a pattern issue rather than one recent instance of problems.

If you need to hold a pattern conversation, do not wait for a specific instance of the issue to arise. Proactively schedule a time to talk only about the pattern.

Now, let’s say you’ve held a pattern conversation and reached some new agreements. Then the other person fails to perform again. You now need to raise the third level.

3. R stands for Relationship. When after repeated failed commitments you conclude the real problem is not the pattern of missed commitments, but something deeper, you move to relationship.

For example, if you’ve decided you no longer trust the other person to keep agreements, that’s a relationship issue. If you decide the other person isn’t competent to keep the commitments, that also calls for renegotiating the relationship.

A crucial confrontation at the relationship level may call for escalation to a superior. If you want to be loyal and direct, let the other person know before it reaches the relationship level that this is the next step. This must never be threatening but must be said in respectful, sincere tone that communicates your intentions to keep your own commitments.

CPR is at the heart of progressive discipline. Good managers hold content conversations immediately when single problems emerge. They also document problems that require progressive discipline.

When the problem becomes a pattern, they document it as a pattern—and detail the data that makes the pattern evident. Furthermore, they communicate clearly to the employee that if the pattern continues, the employee is signaling that he or she is unwilling or unable to keep the agreement—and this necessitates a more comprehensive solution such as reduction of responsibilities, docked pay, dismissal, etc. Effective supervisors never communicate these future consequences as threats. They are respectful, direct and private. They also help the other person understand that these steps will only be taken if his or her actions put the interests and needs of others in jeopardy.

I hope these brief illustrations help. You’re asking a profoundly important management question and deserve to have all the help you need!

Best wishes,

Develop Your Crucial Skills

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10 thoughts on “Using CPR”

  1. Jacqueline

    Hi Real Word and Joseph! Thank you for your discussion. It’s always comforting to see that there are so many similarities in issues along such a large spectrum of working environments. I want to explore the end of Joseph’s response where documentation of a pattern was noted and prompt direct explanations of how learning contracts or discipline contracts fall in place and work out to in the end or, hopefully, growth and evolution of an employee. As a health practitioner, I know first hand how people would rather hear the truth immediately than sit and wonder if they are serious trouble or not. Someone would rather hear the news that they have terminal cancer than to have the information withheld to save a face to face awkwardness for the messenger. Time allows the beginning of moving past the initial denial and anger phases of grief toward acceptance and moving on toward healthy self growth. Similarly, but not as high stakes perhaps, is having a serious and prompt conversation with a nurse about why mistakes are happening. You will never know what someone is going through and what may inevitably be bleeding into their work from home, or worse what is happening within the work environment in the way of bullying, gossip or abuse until you open up a conversation. Opening up a conversation about patterns could lead to the initiation of a person recognizing a pattern themselves. Maybe they don’t know they are doing it. So many managers I’ve had live in silence until one day, in your review, you are hit in the face with a load of criticisms you wish you knew earlier.

  2. Dumisani Dakile

    I think crucial conversation is a skill and art for life. It is not theory and or some academic exercise but a necessary tool for all human beings. It has a potential to change the world.

  3. Sibongile Mguda

    I think this is easier said than done, what happens when this is a personal relationship there is not superior to escalate to?

  4. Marzena

    I think that in some conversations it is very difficult to find the right words to achieve the result we would like to achieve

  5. Malcolm Haslop

    Reading some of the previous comments to the Joseph’s text, I think that at the beginning we should think “that it is really difficult sometimes to find the right words”, but to find the right words, first we have to exercise how communication skills. Once we do that it is really easy to talk to anyone without threatening or offending the person/s.

  6. Carla Kotsifakis

    I think I’ve been stuck on content all my life..

  7. Ololade

    This is so enlightening and am so glad to have been a part of the crucial conversation training. I have actually been having these type of conversations in the past but not necessarily following the CPR process at all times. Now I know better, and will be more intentional about having crucial conversations. Thanks

  8. Marc

    Thank you for the examples here! It is easy to get stuck on content sometimes. I feel like the other levels, especially relationship are harder partly do to more vulnerability.

  9. Bibiana Escobar

    Hello Joseph, I am deeply inspired by your work. Every company should bring you as a note speaker to start the conversation about crucial conversations and bring awareness. I used to work with HiCue Speakers a speaking agency in Colombia South America

    I find CPR to be an incredible tool to understand where the conversation needs to begin. I am confused however because in this example “This is the third time today you didn’t get me the parts—where are they?” It sounds to me like a pattern question as it is talking about the “third time” the issue happens. Can you share an example of a pattern question and more examples of relationship questions. But I assume these will be provided as I take the course. Thank you for your incredible work and I will read your books and your material as I believe communication skills are the most critical to grow and improve in every aspect of my life. Thank you.

  10. Rolando

    I believe that CPR is an important tool for everyone in a leadership to have. This is something positive with positive results. It raises the conversation to another level.

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