Crucial Skills®

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Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

When the Skills Seem to Come Up Short, Consider This

Dear Justin,

I believe in the Crucial Conversations skills and I’ve seen them work. But sometimes, no matter what I seem to do, I get poor results. People still get offended, dig their heels in, etc. What should I do if the other person doesn’t want to change his or her behavior—or even dialogue with me—despite my efforts to use the skills?

Seeking Wisdom

Dear Seeking,

Great question. While it’s true that Crucial Conversations skills don’t fix everything, there are a few points that can help when at a loss with a challenging person or situation that doesn’t seem to be getting better:

  • Don’t forget motive. The best place to start when the ongoing conversation isn’t getting better is with our heart, our motive. What is it that you REALLY want? Do you want the other person to “change”? Or do you want to stay in dialogue and build a relationship? If you are hoping, wishing, and praying for the other person to change (believe me, I’ve been there), your behavior might become forceful, coercive, and maybe even manipulative (I’ve been there, too). Conversely, when we focus on dialogue, results, and relationships, we’re more likely to have an open approach to others, which yields much better results.
  • It takes work, a lot of work. Not too long ago, I asked a Crucial Conversations graduate what she had learned from the course and how she’d benefited. Her answer changed my perspective completely. She said, “I was in a thirty-year relationship that was struggling significantly. I learned the skills and went to work on it. I worked and I worked and I worked . . . and I can honestly say it’s gotten better.” Isn’t that interesting? What she DIDN’T say was “The other person is finally fixed,” or “Everything is perfect now.” She saw progress for what it was—progress. She wasn’t looking for perfection in the other person, but for improvement. Often we need to shift our expectations of what “progress” really looks like.
  • Make it safe. I’ve come to realize that creating Safety can take time. Sometimes safety is created quickly in just one conversation and other times it requires more effort over a period of time. When we learn to think of safety as more than a quick-fix tactic, as a principle of creating Mutual Purpose and Mutual Respect, we realize how much time (and work) is required to establish a safety zone that allows for healthy dialogue. As much as we’d like painful, grievous, and frustrating situations to be resolved overnight, that’s not always possible. These things take time. So remember that safety is conversational and relational.
  • If all else fails . . . Sometimes we give a relationship all we’ve got and things still don’t improve. That’s the reality of life. In cases like this, we may choose to end the relationship (personal or professional) and move forward with our lives. Sometimes that means moving departments or ceasing to interact with a friend; either way that decision is personal. I find that if I care about the relationship at all, even if things are going very poorly, I owe it to myself and the other person to come back the next day and give it another shot . . . hopefully a better shot.

All the best,

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

3 thoughts on “When the Skills Seem to Come Up Short, Consider This”

  1. JennyG

    Hey Justin, Thanks for this realistic and very helpful perspective. Safety in relationships does take lots of time and work and it’s good for us all to keep that in mind. Very few quick fixes in this domain, but also a lot of hope for us if we’re patient and care enough to do the work. Thanks for your encouragement in this regard!

  2. bean

    “I find that if I care about the relationship at all, even if things are going very poorly, I owe it to myself and the other person to come back the next day and give it another shot . . . hopefully a better shot.”

    this really struck a chord with me because i feel exactly the same way, but i have a hard time convincing people asking me for advice of the value of this (punishing, at first glance) approach; i’ve become pretty adept at responding to my negative emotions/judgments with forbearance and some degree of curiosity, but only because i know how integral those are to my final goal of connecting with this other person on something…

    i wonder if you’d elaborate on how you came to value that approach… implicitly i’m hoping it showcases the value of crucial skills, which a lot of people i know are reticent to discipline themselves enough to even try…

    either way, thanks for your thoughts.

  3. Lorni

    Glad you got to the end-game, actually – my main takeaway after I did my honestly life-changing Crucial Conversations course was that with certain people, I had done my best and that’s enough. The tools of Crucial Conversations were weirdly familiar to me; the positive results – either change or improvement – less so. Crucial Conversations gave me that permission to stop. Some people you cannot Crucial Conversation your way out of, and I love being able to spare myself more bruising and just stop.

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