Crucial Skills®

A Blog by Crucial Learning


Writing the Third Edition of Crucial Conversations: Behind the Scenes

People often ask what it was like to write Crucial Conversations with four authors. Sometimes it’s asked with a voyeuristic fascination, as though the unstated question is, “Were there some knock-down, drag-out fights along the way?” The truth is it took a lot of Crucial Conversations to write Crucial Conversations. But there were surprisingly few in writing the third edition. Since Kerry, Al and Ron have retired, the work fell completely to Emily and me.

For the most part, working with Emily in this new way was a joy. She relentlessly examines herself for ways she can become a better person. I have watched her for twenty years hold others accountable, examine and improve her own habits, and learn to influence our ever-growing employee population.

But if you want a voyeuristic peek into our writing experience together, I’d have to acknowledge there was at least one Crucial Conversation. With permission from Emily, I’ll share my side of the story to demonstrate that these skills are not just a professional interest for Emily and me, for our work is intensely personal.

When we set up a writing schedule a year ago, all was going along swimmingly until a few months in when Emily started missing deadlines. Not only did she miss a couple of commitments to get chapters turned around to me, she also became difficult to communicate with. I emailed. Then I texted. Then I called. I’d either get no response, or a vague apology and commitment to get it done. It was clear something was going on.

Now if you’re a student of Crucial Conversations, you’ll appreciate how I had to draw on every single skill we teach to respond to this situation. First, I had to work consciously to Master My Story. I’ve got my own life wounds that incline me in moments like this to feel disrespected or picked on. I acknowledge the temptation to tell this story and exerted effort to hold it tentatively while opening myself to other possible explanations. It was easy to remind myself that this was NOT Emily. Something else was going on.

Second, I recognized the need to Unbundle with CPR. I was repeatedly holding Content conversations (about missed deadlines) when it was clear this was a Pattern issue. So, I reached out to Emily and asked to schedule time together to examine the pattern.

Third, I did my best to State My Path. Rather than coming in blaming or with judgments, I simply described what had been happening for a couple of months and tried to Make It Safe for her to tell me what was really going on.

And she did. She owned what was going on and shared how intimidating it was to write for the first time in this way, and in a book that had already sold millions of copies. She was vulnerable, human, and responsible. Just like the Emily I’ve always known. She also shared, without using it as an excuse, how overwhelming her schedule was in the midst of product launches, COVID challenges, and the rest of life.

We then had a very honest problem-solving discussion. I offered to release her from her commitment to co-author the new edition. She was grateful to know there would be no shame in backing out. And she expressed determination to face her demons and keep her commitments. We made new agreements that were satisfactory to both of us. Then the chapters began to flow. Each time I received one from her I realized how inadequate the previous version was without her voice, her life experience, and her masterful teaching. I began to feel impatient for the release of the new edition which would not be what it is if it weren’t for this crucial moment between me and Emily. I am grateful for a co-author who practices what she preaches and for a colleague who dug deep to make this book a powerful gift for generations to come.

In our rewrite, we wanted to better reflect the complex interpersonal realities that people face in today’s world. We see the third edition as an evolutionary adaptation of the skills and principles, with an emphasis on current examples and applications. The changes include the following:

A Case for Crucial Conversations

We’ve updated the first chapter with a refined and powerful case for dialogue. We’ve always known dialogue was foundational to success, but our work over the last twenty years has shown us that it’s also essential. Ultimately, the health of any organization, team, or relationship is a function of the lag time between identifying a problem and discussing it—the time in which it takes someone to speak up with candor and respect.

New Tips and Scripts

We’ve added advice for tough cases where people commonly and frequently find themselves at a loss for what to say and how to say it.

How to Respond

Sometimes we start a Crucial Conversation, and sometimes we are surprised by one. We’ve written a new chapter that explores the principles of dialogue through the lens of response rather than initiation.

Contemporary Examples and Diverse Representation

The examples, stories, and scenarios taught in Crucial Conversations are meant to demonstrate the skills so people learn how to apply them in their own lives. And yet if those examples don’t resonate with a person’s lived experience, they become unrelatable and unhelpful. So, we’ve updated the examples and scenarios to better reflect the diverse world we live in and speak to a diversity of lived experience. You’ll find in this new edition greater representation of race, age, ability and background; examples of dialogue in virtual environments; updated research and case studies; and reference to current cultural events and trends.

The third edition is available now at Amazon and everywhere books are sold. And watch for the audio version, which will be available December 7th.

Finally, visit our Facebook page and enter to win a free copy by sharing how Crucial Conversations has improved or could improve your life!

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3 thoughts on “Writing the Third Edition of Crucial Conversations: Behind the Scenes”

  1. Darrell Harmon

    Thanks for keeping it fresh! I’ve found there are endless applications of the principles and skills in this marvelous book.

  2. tito harris

    I really appreciate your efforts to update the stories and provide more examples from diverse backgrounds to the book as well as incorporating Emily’s experience and perspective.
    Would it be possible to have the first chapter (pre-work for CC) made available for download? As far as I can tell the sample chapter 1 is ‘only’ available from the 2nd Edition.

    1. Ryan Trimble

      Hi Tito,
      Where are you accessing the first chapter? Send me a link if you can and we’ll correct it. We do have an updated version.

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