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Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes Are High

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler


This book (the first of a series) is based on extensive research into how people communicate under stress, and why some people are much better at communicating effectively in all circumstances.

Although this is not a mediation book, there are many useful techniques and ideas for mediators. This is a book that can literally change your life and the lives of those around you…seems like hype? Well, how often do you come out of a really critical meeting or important discussion with a loved one and think–boy, that didn’t go well, why on earth did I say that stupid thing? When conversations become crucial, the fight or flight response usually kicks in, our brains shut down, emotions run high and instinct takes over. This works well when running away from a sabre-toothed tiger but not so well when dealing with a boss, co-worker or family member.

Not only do they describe what happens when conversations deteriorate into silence or violence, but they also provide useful tools on how to communicate more effectively, manage emotions and how to make it safe to talk about almost anything. It makes it easier to hold people accountable and to challenge unacceptable behaviour in a constructive and productive way.

The research is explained in through clear and interesting stories, the language is professional and easy to understand and the techniques are given in outline and in detail. There are even suggestions about different ways to read the book to suit you and your needs. I have found sharing some of the techniques with mediation participants has resulted in more constructive interactions.

The team suggest that to manage a crucial conversation, you

1. “Start with the heart” (what do you want for yourself and others?)
2. “Learn to look” (how am I behaving? how are others behaving?)
3. “Make it safe” (how to keep communicating effectively)
4. “Master my story” (what evidence is there for what you believe? Could there be another story?)
5. “STATE my path” (“Share your facts, Tell your story, Ask for others paths,Talk tentatively, Encourage testing”)
6. “Explore others Paths” (“Ask, Mirror, Paraphrase, Prime” “Agree, Build, Compare”)
7. “Move to Action” (what will we do? how will we do it)

Each of the above is covered in detail and practical illustrations from work, home and social situations show how the theories work in practice.

I have recommended this book to so many people, and without exception, everyone has come back later and thanked me for suggesting such a useful book. I think it should be on the national curriculum.

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