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Do you ever find yourself trying to communicate with someone who isn’t hearing anything you say? Perhaps they talk over or interrupt you, or even worse, make you feel bad for saying what needs to be said.

two_women_arguing_at_work-wOr maybe you try to share something important, that really matters to you with a partner or coworker, and they ignore you or walk away.

Perhaps you find yourself doing the same to others, and wonder how you got to this place, of not being able to communicate important stuff to other people.

I know I’ve butchered more than a few relationships because I wanted to get a point across rather than listen to other’s ideas, or to avoid feeling foolish or stupid.  And I can’t count the times I’ve made assumptions about what mattered to others, only to discover too late how wrong I was.

I had a client, David, who wanted to implement new procedures for his employees to provide data in the field so he could help oversee operations as they worked. The procedures were state-of-the-art, and should have worked to achieve his goals.

But the new procedures failed miserably. David neglected to get the employees’ input on how and when to use the database, or whether it was something they felt was useful. He avoided the crucial conversation before he went into the field because he was afraid to hear how his employees might perceive the new procedures.

Even if David needed to implement the new procedures regardless of his employees, hearing their concerns and gaining their insights might have helped to streamline the process and create support.

Angry Couple in RelationshipWhen you have something important to relay, and you can’t seem to get your message across without tempers flaring or getting the silent treatment, it’s a “crucial conversation.” According to Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzler in Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when Stakes are High, crucial conversations are those in which emotions run strong, opinions differ and the stakes are high.

arguing men suitsLike when a problem arises at work and you and your boss disagree on the best strategy to resolve it.

Or when financial decisions have to be made at home, but discussions are strained with your spouse. Or perhaps when you and your ex are making choices about how to deal with your children’s behavior.

Crucial conversations can involve anything where you disagree with someone about an issue important to you both. And have no idea how to talk about it without getting into an argument.

Marriages split, workers leave good jobs, and children rebel against their parents’ best advice because they can’t talk about stuff that matters without resorting to silence or violence.

You can’t possibly get along with other people in your life without learning to communicate effectively.

And communication is really about creating a “pool of shared meaning”, or a free-flow of ideas between you and another in a safe environment that creates respect and dialogue.

conversation women couchRight. Like that happens frequently.

And the challenge is, you can’t engage in dialogue because you don’t know what you really want out of most conversations, or what you’re trying to avoid.

Do you want to be right, and therefore force your opinion onto your spouse? Or maybe you want to be admired, and spew facts onto your colleagues?

Perhaps you think a coworker’s requests are annoying, and you avoid her attempts at a conversation. Or you don’t want to negotiate with your teen because you don’t agree with his logic, and ignore his pleas altogether.

You may be one of those whose behavior is poorest when conversations go from casual to crucial. You yell, or withdraw, or say things you later regret.

Learning to master crucial conversations can propel your career and heal your personal relationships. The most effective, influential and happiest people are those who are able to get things done, and build relationships at the same time.

When you can masterfully create shared meaning, you will open doors to a future you haven’t imagined.

When you become skilled at crucial conversations, your significant others (even your children) will want to spend more time with you because of your openness. Your colleagues will seek you out for your problem-solving skills and discernment. And, like David, your ability to negotiate what is in yours and others’ best interest becomes more natural.

The rare combination of flexibility and integrity that comes with mastering crucial conversations will allow you to speak the truth about crucial issues with respect and compassion for others.

Not only that, but easing the stress and strain of poor communication can improve your personal health by improving your immune system, and reducing (and reversing) the incidence of life-threatening diseases, as Dr. Dean Ornish writes about in Love and Survival: 8 Pathways to Intimacy and Health.

Given how fundamental it is to be able to communicate well with others, you may be asking how can you become skilled at crucial conversations?

In the next few articles, I’ll outline some important steps to help you become more adept at difficult conversations.

In the meantime, if you’d like to get started on mastering crucial conversations, contact me for a Free 30-minute Strategy Session to see how you can move forward. Or download the free e-Book Calm Your Body & Mind, Reduce Your Stress: 10 Easy Ways to Counteract Life’s Rollercoaster and find simple ideas to reduce the stress related to difficult conversations.


Holly Woods, Ph.D. uses Integral Coaching, Somatic Experiencing and other methods to help adults who want to find hope for a life without limits. She works with people in-person, by skype or phone. She can be reached at 970-331-1639 or