It takes a big person to admit that they are flawed in the way that they sometimes communicate…or don’t. Senior Strategic Partner, Laura Dillingham, an expert in the facilitation of communication skills (and a darn good one!) confesses her own shortcomings, at times, about avoiding crucial conversations, and how feelings and emotions often times get in the way. Don’t miss this series on this critical topic to increase your leadership capacity.

Based on the Book “Crucial Conversations” Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” First let me start by saying: do as I say, not as I do, or; a better saying might be: those who can’t do or choose not to do…teach.

I’ve always thought of myself as an excellent communicator. And even today, I still believe I am. Communication is important to me. However, I have learned something very valuable about myself. I choose when I am an excellent communicator and I choose when I am not. Maybe not consciously, and not necessarily an easy thing to admit, but I have also discovered that when I am not a good communicator it usually involves feelings. When emotions are involved, my communication changes, sometimes drastically and not always in the best way. It’s a difficult lesson to learn at any age. So where do I begin?

Let’s start at the beginning… “the root cause of many – if not most – human problems lies in how people behave when others disagree with them about high-stakes, emotional issues.” How do you learn to master high-stakes crucial moments? The first step is to understand what’s involved.

Crucial conversations are simply the day-to-day conversations that affect your life. What makes them crucial is there are usually three key elements involved, which are:
* Opposing opinions
* High-Stakes
* Strong emotions

What makes a conversation crucial and not simply irritating, upsetting, challenging, or infuriating is that the results can have a major impact on the quality of your life, personal and professional.
So why do we back away from crucial conversations?
* We think we’ll make it worse
* We become masters at avoiding tough conversations
* High stakes are involved such as family, friendships, or working relationships

Instead, we choose to:
* Send emails instead of having a face-to-face or phone conversations
* Leave a voicemail when we know the person won’t answer
* Change or avoid the subject

Let’s look at our options. What are your choices when it comes to crucial conversations? You can:
* Avoid them
* Face them and handle them poorly
* Face them and handle them well

This is interesting because we do have options. However, instead, we tend to use age-old programming called Flight or Fight, or more appropriately Silence to Violence. We’re pretty much historically pre-programmed; we’re under pressure, we may feel personally attacked, the adrenaline begins to involuntarily flow and we move into a state where we’re almost incapable of rational thought. What we do in that moment makes perfect sense to us. Only later does it seem… well, stupid.

Rather than ask yourself what was I thinking, a better question might be what part of my brain was I thinking with and why? It would seem the results alone would motivate us and yet we seem to lose sight of that goal. Or we never really ask ourselves what results were we trying to accomplish?

When we handle crucial conversations well we:
* Boldly step up
* Monitor our behavior
* Offer up our best
* Mind our P’s and Q’s

When we handle crucial conversations poorly we:
* Yell
* Withdraw
* Say things we regret later
* Bring our worst behavior.

The key skill of effective leaders, co-workers, friends, and family is the capacity to skillfully address emotionally and politically risky issues. So how do we get unstuck? I think that should be the topic of the next Power Idea.