Dear Crucial Skills,
What can you do if you’ve had successful Crucial Conversations with the same person several times but the behavior persists? We discuss the issues, the conversation goes well, but they never change. How should I handle the next Crucial Conversation, which may be around the corner?
You’re suffering from what I like to call Crucial Conversations “Groundhog Day.” If this is an unfamiliar reference, I encourage you to watch the 1993 classic movie starring Bill Murray.
The main character, Phil, lives out the same day hundreds of times until he handles the day in the right way. Having to repeat your Crucial Conversations can be torturous, and yet the lesson is the same. If you’re having the same conversation repeatedly, the problem is not them—it’s you. You’re having the wrong conversation.
The moment you open your mouth to hold a Crucial Conversation, you’ve already decided what to talk about. And one of the biggest mistakes we make is assuming that, because we’re talking, we must be solving the problem. It’s not that simple. If you’re not addressing the RIGHT issue, you’ll end up holding the same conversation over and over again.
Here’s the skill you need: CPR.
It’s stands for Content, Pattern, Relationship. There are three levels to consider when holding a Crucial Conversation. The first relates to content—C. Content refers to the immediate pain or single instance of the problem. But one mistake we often make is to talk about content long after content is the problem. It’s like pulling off the head of a weed and thinking we have gotten to the root of the matter.
If the problem has progressed beyond content, the “weed” will just keep coming back until we address the root issues. These deeper issues often involve a pattern, the P of CPR. The problem isn’t what recently happened, but rather that what recently happened is just one instance of a pattern. It’s been happening for a while.
Finally, there are relationship issues—the R. These are often the most difficult kind of Crucial Conversation to hold and the ones we typically avoid. You know you must address a relationship issue when things like trust and respect have been negatively affected. The vast majority of issues that people write me about are not content issues, but content issues that have been swept under the rug or ignored for so long that they have metastasized into hairy, scary relationship issues.
Before you open your mouth in the next conversation with this person, stop and honestly consider: what is the topic I need to address? Only then can you answer the question: How can I bring it up in a way that preserves or strengthens the relationship?
Best of luck,