Crucial Conversations

Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High

Written by: Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler

Published By: McGraw-Hill

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            There are just some books that you won’t read on your own.  Sometimes you need a little shove before you are willing to even give that book a second look.  Such was the case with the book Crucial Conversations, a book recommended by a trainer at my job.  The trainer suggested that this book would help people learn how to communicate more effectively with one another.  As with any other book recommended in a training class I have taken over the years, I decided that I should pick this one up – after all, reading Crucial Conversations could only help me be a better communicator and possibly aide me in my career.

            A crucial conversation, as defined in this book, is “a discussion between two or more people where stakes are high, opinions vary and emotions run strong.”  The writers of this book – Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler – are all colleagues at VitalSmarts, a company dedicated to improving companies all over the world.  They have worked with union, corporate and government leaders as well as employees in various companies, including some in the Fortune 500.  The writers of this book have done extensive research into what works and what doesn’t when attempting a crucial conversation with groups of people and one-on-one.

            The book not only discusses reasons behind failed crucial conversations, but goes into how to improve the outcome of these conversations with a few simple tools.  First, the book forces you to examine yourself and how you reason, react and communicate.  Second, the book asks you to examine how others reason, react and communicate.  Once you realize why people react in certain ways, you can now examine finding a better path so you can get the desired effect during a crucial conversation.  You learn that people often withdraw from crucial conversations via silence or violence.  Once you recognize these reactions, you can use tools provided in the book to help bring the person(s) you are speaking to back to a safe zone, making the person(s) you are talking with feel safe to add to the discussion, or the “Pool of Shared Meaning.”

            You will also learn why people will sometimes over-react to things by creating stories that are not based on fact.  How many times have you heard these lines: “It’s not my fault,” “It’s all his fault,” “There’s nothing I can do”?  These are defined as creative stories and are labeled as follows: villain / victim / helplessness.  Once we can learn to keep ourselves from creating such stories, we can have a more effective conversation. 

            After reading this book, you will find yourself thinking before having a crucial conversation and changing paths in the midst of a crucial conversation in order to affect a better outcome.  There are so many tools offered by the authors of this book that will aide you toward that goal.  Happily, I discovered that I was already using some of the techniques.  However, I am a firm believer in the idea that there is always room for improvement.  Therefore, I plan to put more of the methods taught in the book into practice in the future.

            Crucial Conversations was recommended as a tool for work, but it is just as effective outside the workplace.  The home front can be greatly affected by the crucial conversations taking place there.  This book can be used in your family life as well, helping to get the right message across and bringing about a better outcome for all crucial conversations.  I would recommend this book to anyone in the workplace – workers, supervisors and managers alike will find it beneficial.  I would also recommend it to people who are having issues at home in having important conversations with their loved ones.  Using the techniques in this book can not only help you be a better communicator, but it can help you better understand the people you are communicating with.  At $15.00US, Crucial Conversations is actually invaluable when you consider how much anger, regret, stress, etc you will avoid just by using some of the techniques taught within.  This is money well spent and an investment that will last you a lifetime.


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