SEAP Book Club Meeting Report: Crucial Conversations

(Warning: this is a live-blog of the presentation, written while the event was going on. So it might have errors, might not be as well organized as an article ought to be, and I might have misrepresented the speaker. Please keep that in mind while reading.)

The Software Exporters Association of Pune (SEAP) has a book club which meets on the first Saturday of every month where one of the members presents a summary of a pre-selected book. Since the members and the presenter are usually senior managers in Pune’s IT companies, the books chosen are usually management books.

The book Crucial Conversations was presented by Nitin Deshpande, President of Allscripts India (a medical software products company with 1000+ people in Pune)

  • This book, when you’re reading it, seems like common sense. But it is not. There are lots of anecdotes that will teach you interesting things
  • After you read this book (or a book), you cannot put all of the concepts into practice all at once. Instead, you should pick just one area where you want to improve, and then just focus on it. Don’t do too much at once.
  • A crucial conversation is a conversation you have with someone which transforms a relationship, and creates a new level of bonding. This is not a conversation for someone trying to be popular – a politician. This is not a conversation where you agree with everything the other says.
  • A crucial conversation between two people with differing opinions, and where the stakes are high, and emotions run strong. You have to tackle tough issues, and the result can have a huge impact on your quality of life.
  • Anecdote: people with life-threatening diseases were broken up into two groups, and the authors taught crucial conversations’ techniques to one of the groups in 6 sessions. At the end of one year, only 9% of this group had succumbed to the disease, while 30% of the other group had died.

  • Right motive:

    • Start a high-risk conversation with the right motive, and stay focused on that motive no matter what happens.
    • Work on ME first:
      • Often you are not clear on what you really want.
      • It is easy to fall into incorrect motivations
      • Wanting to win (no, that’s not really what you want)
      • Seeking revenge (no, that’s not what you want either)
      • Often, these desires are sub-conscious
    • Refuse to accept the suckers choice – that there are only two ugly options
      • i.e. “I can honest OR I have to lie”
      • Search for more possibilities
      • Identify what you really want, and what you don’t want. If you do this properly, and combine these two, you can think of many other possibilities
  • Safety: Have a conversation when both feel safe
    • If you feel safe, you can say anything. If you don’t feel safe, you start to go blind
    • Safety is an important requirement for a crucial conversation
      • Check the conditions/context around the conversation, not just the content
      • Learn to view silence and violence as signs that the other person is not feeling safe
        • Silence: Avoiding, withdrawing. Or even sarcasm and sugar-coating.
        • Violence: Controlling, labelling (e.g. “Fascist’), verbal attacking
      • Figure out what is your style. Do you fall into silence or violence when you’re under stress
      • Example: at a performance appraisal, an employee feels unsafe. So that’s not the right place for a crucial conversation. Give feedback earlier, as soon as possible
    • How to Make it Safe
      • Lack of safety comes from risk of loss of mutual purpose, or risk of loss of mutual respect
      • If either is at risk, then to fix it, do one of these:
        • Apologize when necessary
        • Contrast to fix misunderstanding
          • This is not the same as an apology
          • Here you explain what you did not mean, and contrast that with what you meant. This acts as first aid to restore safety
      • Make sure that there is a mutual purpose
        • Commit to seek a mutual purpose
        • Recognize the purpose behind the strategy
        • Invent a mutual purpose if no mutual purpose can be discovered
        • Brainstorm on strategies (what you’re going to do) once mutual purpose is established
    • Master your Emotions
      • Emotions don’t just happen – you create them
      • Something external happens. You react to that. Then you get an emotion. In other words: when something external happens, your brain tells you a story related to that event, and then you get an emotion.
      • To fix the emotion, fix the story.
      • Figure out what story you told yourself:
        • Notice your behavior: silence or violence
        • Don’t confuse the story with facts
        • Watch for three clever stories:
          • Victim: It’s not my fault
          • Villain: It’s all your fault
          • Helpless: There’s nothing I can do
        • e.g. Wife finds a credit card receipt for a nearby motel for husband’s card. Story she tells herself he went there with someone. Then blows up at him.
      • Complete the story
        • Turn yourself from victim to actor (“Could I be contributing to it?”)
        • Turn others from villains to humans (“Why would a normal person do this?”
        • Turn yourself from helpless into able (“What can I do now?”)
  • Listen
    • Listen sincerely to others’ facts+stories
      • Be curious, even if the other person is furious. Be patient
    • When someone is not talking, use AMPP
      • Ask to get things rolling (What’s going on?)
      • Mirror to confirm feelings (You say your OK, but you seem angry)
      • Paraphrase what you’ve understood
      • Prime the pump – start guessing when all else fails
    • Remember your ABC: agree when you agree, build if incomplete, compare when you differ
  • Action
    • Dialog is not decision making
    • Figure out how decisions will be taken: Command, Consult, Vote, Consensus
    • Common mistakes:
      • In case of “command”: don’t pass orders like candy. Explain why.
      • Don’t just pretend to consult. Really do it. Announce what you’re doing. Report the final decision
      • Know when a vote is needed.
    • Action: figure out who, what, when and follow-up
    • Document your work

Audience Discussion

  • Question: What if one person feels that the conversation is crucial, but the other does not? Example: I feel a conversation is crucial, but boss does not. Should we treat all conversations as crucial?
    • Audience Reactions: 1. You can’t treat every conversation as crucial, otherwise you’ll get tired. 2. A boss just has to get used to the fact that every conversation with a subordinate is crucial. 3. If the other person’s emotions are not running high (i.e. s/he does not see it as crucial), that’s actually a good thing, since things will not blow up.
  • Question: This seems like too much to learn and digest. How would you pick what are the first things to take away from here. Related: When I read books like this, I remember only 10%. How do you pick up more?
    • Audience Reactions: 1. When you read something like this, keep track of what you already know, what you’re already good at, and what are the areas where you need to improve, and pick only those to work on. 2. Don’t just read the book. Sign up to present it to someone – that way you’ll learn much more.

(The SEAP Book Club meets on the first Saturday of every month at Sungard, Aundh. If you’re interested in joining, contact Saheli Daswani

2 thoughts on “SEAP Book Club Meeting Report: Crucial Conversations

  1. Yes, the SEAP Book Club meetings have been opened up for anyone to attend. Watch out for an announcement on PuneTech just before the next one.

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