According to leadership experts Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler, “Crucial Conversations” are those tough, day-to-day interactions in which the stakes are high, people have conflicting views, and emotions run strong. The surprising thing about these conversations is that they often occur when least expected whether in the boardroom or by the water cooler. Mastering them can transform businesses and careers, strengthen teams, increase productivity, and boost the bottom line.
The two riskiest times in crucial conversations tend to be at the beginning and at the end. The beginning is risky because you have to find a way to create safety or else things go awry. The end is dicey because if you aren’t careful about how you clarify the conclusion and decisions, you can run into violated expectations later on.
When you’re considering how to make better business decisions, it helps to have a way of talking about the available options. There are four common ways of making decisions: command, consult, vote, and consensus. These four options represent increasing degrees of involvement. Increased involvement, of course, brings the benefit of increased commitment along with the curse of decreased decision-making efficiency.
Let’s start with decisions that are made with no involvement whatsoever. This happens in one of two ways. Either outside forces place demands on us (demands that leave us no wiggle room), or we turn decisions over to others and then follow their lead. We don’t care enough to be involved — let someone else do the work.
In strong teams and great relationships, many decisions are made by turning the final choice over to someone we trust to make a good decision.
Consulting is a process whereby decision makers invite others to influence them before they make their choice. You can consult with experts, a representative population, or even everyone who wants to offer an opinion.
Voting is best suited to situations where efficiency is the highest value — and you’re selecting from a number of good options. Voting is a great time saver but should never be used when team members don’t agree to support whatever decision is made. In these cases, consensus is required.
This method can be both a great blessing and a frustrating curse. Consensus means you talk until everyone honestly agrees to one decision. This method can produce tremendous unity and high-quality decisions. It should only be used with (1) high-stakes and complex issues or (2) issues where everyone absolutely must support the final choice.
When choosing among the four methods of decision making consider the following questions:
1. Who cares? Determine who genuinely wants to be involved in the decision along with those who will be affected. These are your candidates for involvement. Don’t involve people who don’t care.
2. Who knows? Identify who has the expertise you need to make the best decision. Encourage these people to take part. Try not to involve people who contribute no new information.
3. Who must agree? Think of those whose cooperation you might need in the form of authority or influence in any decisions you might make. It’s better to involve these people than to surprise them and then suffer their open resistance.
4. How many people is it worth involving? Your goal should be to involve the fewest number of people while still considering the quality of the decision along with the support that people will give it. Ask: “Do we have enough people to make a good choice? Will others have to be involved to gain their commitment?”
A crucial conversation about your decision-making practices can resolve many frustrating issues.
The above is an adapted excerpt from the book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.
Copyright © 2002 Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler , authors of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High
This award-winning team of authors produced the two New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when Stakes are High (2002) and Crucial Confrontations: Tools for Resolving Broken Promises, Violated Expectations, and Bad Behavior (2005). Kerry Patterson has authored award-winning training programs and led multiple long-term change efforts. He received the prestigious 2004 BYU Marriott School of Management Dyer Award for outstanding contribution in organizational behavior. He did doctoral work in organizational behavior at Stanford University. Joseph Grenny is an acclaimed keynote speaker and consultant who has designed and implemented major corporate change initiatives for the past 20 years. He is also a cofounder of Unitus, a nonprofit organization that helps the world’s poor achieve economic self-reliance. Ron McMillan is a sought-after speaker and consultant. He cofounded the Covey Leadership Center, where he served as vice president of research and development. He has worked with leaders ranging from first-level managers to corporate executives on topics such as leadership and team development. Al Switzier is a renowned consultant and speaker who has directed training and management initiatives with dozens of Fortune 500 companies worldwide. He is on the faculty of the Executive Development Center at the University of Michigan.