#1 Book Summary: Crucial Conversations, by Kerry Patterson and Joseph Grenny

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1-Page Summary of Crucial Conversations

“Crucial conversations” are needed when the outcome is important, when people disagree and when emotions are heated.

Crucial conversations are important interactions that can change the course of your life. These kinds of discussions differ from ordinary dialogues because they involve high emotions and opposing opinions. An example is a conversation with your partner about breaking up or reconciling; it’s different from asking for directions to a restaurant. To deal with crucial conversations, you must face them head on and handle them skillfully.

Research shows that influential people develop an ability to handle crucial conversations effectively. They are skilled in discussing difficult, controversial, high-stakes topics. By becoming more effective at handling these types of conversations, you can improve your career prospects and relationships with others. You will also increase productivity within your company because you will be better equipped to deal with challenging issues among co-workers and employees.

To excel at crucial conversations, you must master the art of engaging in dialogue.

At the heart of mastering crucial conversations is being able to communicate clearly. This includes engaging in dialogue, which means you are able to open an interaction and converse freely with another person. For example, a corporate vice president had reservations about moving his company’s headquarters because he feared it would be disruptive. However, no one else was willing to speak up about their concerns for fear of disrupting harmony at the meeting. The VP spoke up quietly but diplomatically and showed that others were also concerned by backing down from his original opinion when asked by the CEO to discuss his reasons for opposing the move further.

To elicit more information so you can make better decisions, create a “shared pool” of ideas and understandings.

When two or more people engage in a conversation, they don’t share the same ideas and opinions. Great dialogue is created when everyone feels safe to express their own thoughts and views. Even if someone’s idea seems wrong, doesn’t fit with prevailing beliefs, or provokes controversy, it should be expressed anyway.

The more people involved in the decision-making process, the better. The reason is that they will bring different perspectives and ideas to the table, which will make for a more well-rounded decision.

When people participate in the process of shaping an event, they are more willing to implement its outcome. They act faster and with more commitment. The key is to keep your own goals and interests in mind while also considering what others want as you guide the discussion toward those goals.

To promote effective dialogue, make everyone feel safe in expressing what they really want to say.

It’s important to master the art of dialogue. The first step is to take a hard look at yourself and your conversational style. Then make sure you’re engaging in a crucial conversation for all the right reasons, concentrating on your goals.

Focus on what you really want to achieve in order to create a productive dialogue.

There are two ways to focus. First, you can know exactly what you want and set clear goals. When you’re in a crucial conversation, ask yourself what you want for yourself, others, and the relationship with those involved. Look to your personal code or North Star for guidance on how to proceed.

First, avoid the “Sucker’s choice” trap. This is when you think you have to choose between two bad options. However, a better option is usually available if you focus on what you want to achieve with your choices.

Recognize a crucial conversation by noting certain physical, emotional and behavioral signs.

To know when a crucial conversation is coming up, you must pay attention to the content of the conversation and also its conditions. You need to be aware of what other people are doing while you’re having this discussion in order to keep it from getting out of hand. This dialogue process can prevent situations from becoming worse than they already are. To do that successfully, respond quickly before emotions get too high so that it doesn’t turn into an argument or fight.

Three signs that indicate the conversation is going bad are:

  1. When you’re engaged in a conversation and the stakes are high, emotions run strong, and opinions differ, it’s important to pay attention. Look for physical signs such as your stomach tightening up; emotional signals like feeling scared or hurt; or behavioral cues like raising your voice or pointing your finger.

  2. When people feel unsafe, they may stop speaking their mind for fear of being ridiculed or punished. Alternatively, they may become aggressive and verbally attack others to protect themselves.

  3. If you feel stressed, pay attention to how you react. If you’re silent or withdrawn, masking your feelings or withdrawing from the situation, it’s likely that you’re feeling stress. Or if you react by being overly controlling of the person with whom you are speaking or verbally attacking them, chances are high that something is stressing out.

Two essential mutual safety conditions for any dialogue are “purpose” and “respect.”

To have an effective conversation, create a safe and secure environment for the other person in the conversation. If they seem to be moving toward anger or violence, remove yourself from the conversation until tensions cool down.

When everyone is feeling safe again, return to the issue at hand. Two safety risks can occur during a crucial conversation: mutual purpose and malicious intent. If people believe that you have malicious intent, they won’t trust your motives and will be unwilling to listen to your concerns. To avoid this problem, look for a united purpose so that others will be willing to listen to what you have to say about their behavior or actions.

The second major safety risk is mutual respect. This occurs when people think you are being disrespectful towards them. Therefore, they start defending their dignity and may be offended by your actions. In response, apologize for any action that may have shown disrespect and emphasize that you do respect them.

A factory worker has been working through the night to prepare for a visit from his division vice president. When he arrives, the VP wants to meet with him instead of touring the plant. The factory workers are angry because they’ve worked all night and not gotten what they expected. What should you do? Don’t get defensive; step back and think about why they’re so upset. Realize that it’s a sign of safety being violated, and apologize if there was any misunderstanding or miscommunication on your part regarding their expectations for this meeting with the VP (or whatever situation you’re in).

You can also use the contrast technique to show that you meant what you said. For example, “The last thing I wanted to do was communicate that I don’t value your work…I think your work has been nothing short of spectacular.” You can also use the CRIB (Commit-Recognize-Invent-Brainstorm) approach to find a common purpose and move forward.

Control your emotions in a dialogue to stay on task.

When you are annoyed, it is because of something happening around you. Therefore, it’s not anyone else who is causing your annoyance; it’s yourself. In order to stop being angry or upset by these events, follow these four steps:

  1. To be in control of your emotions, go through the following steps. First, get all the facts straight and understand what’s happening. Then tell yourself a story about these facts that cause you to feel certain emotions. After that, take some action based on those feelings and knowledge. To gain complete control over your emotions, retrace this path by reflecting on each step with questions or changing elements if necessary. Notice the underlying emotion behind your actions after taking them. Examine stories you tell yourself to determine if they’re appropriate for creating positive change and notice whether any of these stories are causing conflict within you or between others as well as whether they’re true or not (and possibly change them). Finally recognize how important it is to have control over one’s own thoughts because we create our own reality.

  2. Victim stories and villain stories are two types of excuses people tell to avoid responsibility.

  3. “Helpless stories” – You describe a situation that makes you feel bad. To get what you want, replace these stories with ones that make you feel good.

State what you want, explore what others need and move onward to action.

Now that you have calmed down, you can express your position to others. Speak with confidence and humility when sharing information about controversial or risky topics. Be open-minded and speak honestly about touchy subjects.

Use the “STATE” acronym to guide your conversations: share what you know to be true, tell a story about it, ask others to express their stories or paths, talk cautiously and encourage others to speak so you can test the impact of your views on them. To master crucial conversations also involves listening when others blow up in anger or shut down in silence. First ask them to express their point of view, then mirror back how you perceive that argument by including body language and tone or voice. If things are going nowhere with someone else’s conversation use “prime” statements like “I believe other people may be thinking…”

People have different opinions. When you talk to them, try to find the common ground between your opinion and theirs. You can build on what they said by adding more information or by comparing it with your own experience.

Use one of four decision-making methods: “command, consult, vote or consensus.”

Finally, you should turn your conversation into a good decision and united action. To do so, choose one of the following four methods: 1. Command—Let someone who will make a good decision decide for you. 2. Consult—Ask others to influence your decision before making it yourself. 3. Vote—Decide based on what the majority wants to do, even if it’s different from what you want to do (which is why voting works). 4. None of these – Make your own decisions without any help or input from anyone else

When you’re working on a project, it’s important to be clear about what the end goal is. You should also specify who will do what and when. Make sure that people fulfill their promises and hold them accountable for those commitments.

Full Summary of Crucial Conversations


Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzer wrote a nonfiction book called Crucial Conversations. It’s about the three defining characteristics of crucial conversations: high-stakes topics that are emotionally charged. The authors found that their research on individuals who were effective influencers could be linked to crucial moments in organizations.

The authors describe times when people made the wrong choice in conversations. They explain how to be honest and direct, even in risky situations, without hurting someone’s feelings or angering them. Honest communication can improve performance, boost morale, and increase well-being for both parties involved in a conversation.

Key Takeaways

Some people have a hard time talking in high-pressure situations. This can lead to poor performance, strained relationships and even physical health problems.

There is a perception that people need to be dishonest in order to avoid conflict. This is not true. In business settings, anyone who has the need for a crucial conversation should initiate it, regardless of rank or position. The goal of this dialogue isn’t to convince the other party that you’re correct; instead, it’s about creating shared meaning with input from all parties involved.

Safety is critical to a healthy conversation. When people don’t feel safe, they usually choose to remain silent or act out in some way.

When a conversation gets off track, it’s important to get back on track. One way to do that is by apologizing for any disrespect or lack of shared purpose and then contrasting what you should be talking about with what the other person wants to talk about. Finally, set a mutual goal so that everyone can work together toward a common outcome.

When you’re in an uncomfortable situation, if you aren’t clear about your intentions and don’t stay on topic, the conversation won’t go well. To approach a sensitive situation or talk to someone who’s upset with you, share what you want to say and why it matters, ask for feedback from that person and give them time to respond (open-ended questions), then summarize what they’ve said so far.

Key Takeaway 1: Handling a high-pressure or high-stakes conversation well can lead to increased performance, stronger relationships, and even improved physical health.

The need to handle conversations well goes beyond the moment of the conversation. A poor or poorly handled conversation can have a negative impact on your relationships, both in life and at work. When you communicate effectively—clearly and authentically—you can empower others to be fulfilled.

Recent statistical evidence suggests that healthy communication is essential for a happy marriage. In the Journal of Family Psychology, researchers reported that couples who were able to sustain their marriages beyond ten years had good communication skills. Couples who divorced did not communicate well and tended to argue often. This study also showed how compatible people can be together despite having different personalities if they learn to communicate effectively with each other.

In education, communication is a skill that students need to learn. The P21 Framework for 21st Century Learning outlines what skills and abilities are the most important for students to master. It has identified communication as one of those skills because it’s so important in today’s society.

Conversation is very important to society and interpersonal relationships. It’s remarkable when people engage in conversation, because it can change the way they see things. An example of this is a dialogue that took place between six people who had opposing views on abortion. The participants didn’t change their opinions about abortion at the end of the discussion, but they did gain a deeper understanding of each others’ points-of-view through respectful communication.

Key Takeaway 2: Many people believe that they need to avoid honesty to keep the peace. This is a false choice.

Often, people don’t speak up because they’re afraid of hurting someone’s feelings or because they believe it’s not safe to voice an opinion. However, there are those who express their opinions abrasively and claim that honesty is more honorable than subtlety or tactfulness. People often make a false dichotomy between being kind or effective and polite or honest—and this misconception should be avoided.

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, addressed honesty at a 2014 speech at Harvard. She said that people should be honest with each other and not sacrifice truth for conflict avoidance. Her statement was based on her experience as a woman climbing the corporate ladder. People often believe they must choose between being nice or blunt when talking about sensitive issues.

It’s certainly true that people are often polite in person and then express themselves differently online. The Internet is a great place to share opinions, but it can also be an ugly place where people say things they wouldn’t otherwise dare say to someone else’s face. Some publications have stopped allowing comments on their articles because of this problem.

Overall, there is a desire for honesty in politics. Despite the popularity of Donald Trump’s style of frankness, it can also be offensive to some people. Although his blunt speech may be refreshing to some people, he has offended many others with his harsh language. In one instance, Trump insulted Fox anchor Megyn Kelly by saying that she had “blood coming out of her wherever.” This shows how blunt speech can cause offense and not further any conversation or bring people together.

Although this mode of speech might be temporarily useful in a political campaign, it isn’t realistic for people who want to make progress in their jobs and relationships. In some ways, offering a new point of view is simply breaking new ground, and demonstrates that there are other approaches to problems than the obvious ones.

Key Takeaway 3: In corporate settings, anyone who sees the need for a crucial conversation should initiate it, regardless of role or hierarchy.

People might not think it’s their place to speak up. This is especially true for medical professionals, who often witness incompetent behavior but don’t voice their concerns about it because they’re afraid of being reprimanded and ostracized by the people around them. Therefore, teams must be held accountable for how well they perform in order to encourage everyone on the team to voice their concerns when necessary.

Sometimes, employees do not speak up because they fear that it might lead to negative consequences. For example, if they say something unpopular in an open forum, there is a chance that they will be fired or suffer other serious repercussions. One study found that people are afraid of losing their jobs and careers for voicing their opinions at work. The researchers suggest that executives need to create more welcoming environments where employees can voice their concerns without the fear of being reprimanded or worse yet fired.

Key Takeaway 4: The goal of a productive dialogue is not to persuade the other party that your perspective is correct, but to create shared meaning with free-flowing input from all parties. This is the foundation for a successful conversation.

It’s important to understand the basics of communication when having a crucial conversation. Otherwise, it can easily devolve into an argument that doesn’t solve anything. Instead, you should focus on creating a shared pool of meaning in which everyone is contributing their unique view and working together towards one goal or purpose. In professional settings, awareness of your feelings and how they might affect others is also very important for preventing conflict. For example, if you’re stressed out about something at work because your boss was giving you orders all day long, it can negatively impact other people too. Therefore, taking personal responsibility for your moods is essential to maintaining healthy relationships with coworkers and supervisors alike.

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Key Takeaway 5: Safety is a vital component of a healthy conversation. When people don’t feel safe, they usually opt for silence, which comes in the form of masking, avoiding, or withdrawing; or violence, which comes in the form of controlling, labeling, or attacking.


When people feel threatened, their bodies react physiologically. This may lead to them behaving in ways that are counterproductive to the conversation at hand. When they’re silent, they either withdraw from the conversation or mask how they really feel with sarcasm or other comments. They might also avoid tough questions altogether. In these cases, it’s important to restore safety by redirecting their attention back to a positive topic of discussion and refocusing on what matters most so that everyone can be productive again.

Everyone has a fight-or-flight response, to some degree. The trauma of the world is so prevalent that even if you don’t have PTSD, you’re likely suffering from it. Regardless of how people respond to these threats—with silence or violence—one thing they all have in common is not knowing where their responses are coming from. There’s still a lot more research needed on how this lack of safety can affect relationships and everyday life.

Key Takeaway 6: When a conversation turns contentious through a lack of respect or a loss of shared purpose, put the dialogue back on track by using three skills: apologize, contrast, and create a mutual purpose.

It’s best to apologize when you make a mistake. However, if it isn’t your fault or people are just misinterpreting your actions, using “contrasting” can help you explain what you want them to do next or reassure them that you want the same thing.

The effectiveness of an apology depends on how it’s structured. Researchers found that recipients are more likely to forgive when the apology addresses their specific perceptions and reasons for being upset in the first place. But Lauren Bloom, a business ethics expert, says even a poor apology is better than no apology at all because it opens up communication and helps move things forward.

It’s not intuitive to find a common goal or purpose in group settings. To build a strong “we,” researchers say that the best way to do it is by finding a shared purpose and contextualizing all work and communications within that shared purpose. For example, if there are contentious interpersonal exchanges, one of the ways to remedy them is by emphasizing how they came together for an important brand launch or fight poverty so that individuals remember the bigger picture instead of getting stuck in dicey interpersonal exchanges.

The following passage has been adapted from The Atlantic article “How To Write A Sentence” written by Ben Yagoda:

Key Takeaway 7: If you are unclear or let someone else’s response pull you away from your intention, the conversation will not yield positive results.

Before having a crucial conversation, you should figure out what your goal is. This will help to make sure that if you get triggered and want to prove yourself right or superior, you can stop and ask yourself why it’s so important for this person to understand your point of view. Chances are, your ultimate goal is not just to have them agree with you but rather to explore the issue further. If things become contentious, ask yourself how would someone who really wanted this issue resolved behave in this situation?

It’s common for people to act in ways that contradict their stated goals. For example, a woman might claim that she is ready to get married and have children, but her dating pool consists of those who are not available or at the same life stage as she is. Her actions conflict with what she says she wants. Similarly, we might find ourselves engaged in a highly charged conversation only to react from an ego-based place and take things personally when it isn’t necessary. It can be difficult to figure out why we’re acting this way, especially if it’s rooted in self-doubt about our ability to achieve certain goals or simply passive aggression toward others. However, taking time out of our busy lives to look inside ourselves will help us avoid toxic behavior within relationships.

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Key Takeaway 8: To approach sensitive situations, share the facts and the conclusions you’ve drawn from them, invite the other person’s perspective, and ask open-ended questions.

There are five tools that can make you a better communicator when working with sensitive situations. First, share the facts of the situation and your story from those facts. Second, ask others for their perspective on what they think happened based on the same set of facts. Third, distinguish between fact and opinion by talking tentatively about your conclusions while asking open-ended questions to get feedback from others. Fourth, talk about how other people’s opinions might be different or incorrect because there is more than one way to look at any given situation. Finally, encourage testing by saying “what if?” when presenting an idea or conclusion so as not to come across as too dogmatic.

With STATE, the key is to strike a balance between honesty and openness. People will be able to recognize when you’re being open with them. They’ll know that you want to resolve the issue with their input. Honest communication can sometimes come across as harsh or insensitive, so it’s important to find a good middle ground between those two extremes.

Storytelling is a growing trend in the business world. It helps create camaraderie and increases trust among employees, which leads to better communication and teamwork. For example, a real estate company hired a consultant to help its employees tell short stories about their grandparents as part of an exercise designed to increase unity among co-workers. The activity increased trust between employees and encouraged more openness and honesty—all important prerequisites for creating shared meaning in the workplace.

Book Structure

This book is about how to have difficult conversations. The authors present their methodology in a very orderly fashion, with many examples from real-life situations. They also include examples of what not to do and how that might turn out badly, which are equally interesting. After they’ve laid out the philosophy and tools for having these kinds of conversations, they also give some more challenging cases where this method still works well.

This book includes reflections from each author on how their approach has worked in real life situations. It also exemplifies the humility of the authors, because they admit that even though they are experts at crucial conversations, it’s still hard to put their ideas into practice. Overall, this edition is written in a style that will be helpful and practical for readers; for example, there’s a test to determine people’s “style under stress”. The authors frequently use second person narrative so as to engage more with them.

About the Author

The book is based on the authors’ 25 years of experience, working with 17 organizations. They’ve noticed specific factors that make a conversation productive and how to get better at them. The book’s tone has humility in it since they admit some times when they overlooked important details in conversations.

#1 Book Summary: Crucial Conversations, by Kerry Patterson and Joseph Grenny

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