What I’m Reading: Crucial Confrontations

7 December, 2010 (10:00) | Books | By: Mark V

Crucial Confrontations: Tools for talking about broken promises, violated expectations, and bad behavior

I don’t pay much attention to claims from books about how to make your life better in 87 pages or anything like that. Nor do I feel that if I had voted for Pedro, all my wildest dreams would have come true. And I find it highly unlikely that a book titled “How To Make $28,000 Per Second Just By Blinking” could possibly have any value. However, on the back cover of Crucial Confrontations is a claim that I can support:

“Whether it’s a broken promise, violated expectation, or just plain bad behavior, Crucial Confrontations teaches you skills for enhancing accountability, execution, and resolution.”

If you deal with human beings at all, then I highly recommend reading this book. It has been making the rounds at Digineer, the Twin Cities based consulting firm I work for and adore. I am only a little over half-way through this book and I can tell you that I have learned a ton already. I will go through a few of the key points I have picked up on here.

Before we get too far, let’s define what a crucial confrontation is (according to the authors):

“A crucial confrontation consists of a face-to-face accountability discussion – someone has disappointed you and you talk to him or her directly.”

One reason these are called crucial is that how you handle them can have a large impact on your relationship with the person you are confronting.

“Master My Stories”

That is what the authors call the act of making sure your own head and attitude are in a good place “before opening your mouth.” A few years ago at Digineer, an account executive wrote some things in an email to me that I interpreted as an accusation of disloyalty to the company. I was really bothered by it. It would have been easy just to let my first interpretation (my “story” behind his words) rule the day and essentially prosecute him for it silently in all our future dealings. Instead, I am proud to say, I gave him the benefit of the doubt and asked him to join me one on one in a conference room for a moment. I discussed the email with him and how I interpreted what he had written. He apologized and assured me that was not his intent. We had a great discussion and both of us left that conference room with greater respect for each other than when we entered it only a few minutes before.

Too often, when someone disappoints us in some way, it is just easy to come up with a negative “story” to explain their actions. We can then end up clinging to that story as the only possibility. It is only by mastering our own stories behind the words/actions of others that we can overcome the leap to conclusions and not only decide to have the crucial confrontation, but enter into it willing to listen. In this particular case, Crucial Confrontations reinforced the idea I had stumbled upon myself.

“Don’t Use Power”

The authors describe this quagmire well.

“Raw power, painfully applied, may move bodies, may even get people to act in new ways, but it rarely moves hearts and minds. Hearts and minds are changed through expanded understanding and new realizations. The flagrant and abusive use of a authority, in contrast, guarantees little more than short-term bitter compliance.”

This is one that I trip on as a parent. While I try very hard to avoid ever saying “because I said so,” I will sometimes allow myself to use words or actions that convey roughly the same message to my children: you need to do what I say simply because I am in charge. My theory, supported well by this book, is that by teaching them how to relate cause and effect in their own behavior, they will have to tools necessary to find what the authors call the “natural consequences” of their words and actions. Flexing my power over them as their father does not expose those natural consequences; it just links consequences with my presence.

Because I sometimes allow myself to assert my power as their father in an effort to achieve compliance, there have been times when I have all but seen their thought processes evaluating the possible negative consequences of my reaction against what they perceive as the gain in performing a certain action. When they determine that the only negative consequence they see (my being stern with them, a timeout, or what have you) is outweighed by their perceived gain, then they go ahead and do it. If I have not helped them to find the natural consequences, their likelihood to take these actions is greatly increased when I am not around. Out of sight, out of mind, eh? On the other hand, if I have helped them to see the natural consequences, then their choices will be base on those rather than the presence or absence of their father or anyone else.

There is so much more to this book than I can feasibly capture here. The examples the authors use are from their own experience and extensive research and observation at real companies, families, etc. The copy of Crucial Confrontations I am currently reading actually belongs to Digineer. I am going to return it soon and purchase my own copy since I really want to read it through more than once.

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