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January 2010
Six Tips for Crucial Conversations
By Bill Crigger

Crucial conversations are those that you have from time-to-time with employees, family members, vendors, suppliers, and friends. Substitute the word “confrontational” and you get an entirely different perspective.

     Many of us tend to avoid confrontational conversations for many reasons: lack of time; lack of resources (no easy place to have them); lack of skill or training (to have the conversation); and the most common reason, fear.  When we think about these awkward conversations, our mouth gets dry, our eyes hurt, and we get a headache, sweaty palms and feel sick to our stomach.

     To prepare yourself for crucial, confrontational conversations, consider the following questions and tips:

     Know thyself first. What is your purpose for the conversation? What is working or not working? Which expectation is not being met? And what should the outcome look like when you have finished the conversation?

     Check your ego and feelings at the door. What are your personal issues, prejudices and biases that may get in the way of a non-emotional, candid conversation? We all have hot buttons.

     Know the confront-ee. Put yourself in his/her shoes. How will he/she react? What excuses may come up? What are his/her circumstances? What are his/her needs and fears? Does he/she tend to behave in a confrontational style?

     Move away from confrontation. How could the problem have been avoided? What role did others play? Were expectations clearly defined and by who? Have you contributed to the problem in any way? Are there any common concerns and/or areas of commonality?

     Determine the approach. Determine the approach or style of the conversation. Common approaches include: Inquiry: wanting to learn what is known by the parties and their reaction to the situation; Response: you understand the issue, their position; explain to them your expectations, your positions and how they can help. Clarification: Both sides have expressed their positions; clarify your position by summarizing what they have told you (reflective listening) and how you can see their position and how the issues may be addressed. Problem Solving: solicit ideas and suggestions for improvement or change; look for feasible and realistic compromises.

     There is no simplistic approach to confrontation conversations. These conversations should never be easy. But a well thought out approach and plan, that is practiced before it goes to real time, will minimize your butterflies, sweaty palms and fears.

     Bill Crigger is president of Compass Career Management Solutions, a career transition and human resource consulting firm. Contact him at or visit to learn more about crucial confrontational conversations.

Bill Crigger is president of Compass Career Management Solutions, a career transition and human resource consulting firm.
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