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How to Have a Crucial Conversation

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According to Ron McMillan of Vitality Alliance, Inc., "A crucial conversation has three ingredients: opposing viewpoints, strong emotion and high stakes. How people conduct themselves during these times will have a tremendous effect on a relationship, or on a company. Unfortunately, studies show that when the conversation matters the most, people do the worst." Crucial conversations take place in business and personal settings. It is important to be familiar with the communications skills that should be used during crucial conversations in order to assure a successful end result.

Choose the most appropriate objectives that you want from the conversation and set your expectations toward them. For example: If you are talking to a friend about her child misbehaving, your motive should not be to make her mad or say bad things about her child; it should be to inform her and offer helpful advice if she seeks it.

Pay attention as you are communicating. Consistently ask yourself, "How are we communicating?" Stop and rethink your words if the answer to the previous question is negative; true communication doesn't involve demeaning or laying blame.

Do not intimidate, use harsh words or speak in anger. Keep the conversation safe and use constructive, positive words.

Don't lie to yourself. People tend to believe things they tell themselves even if they aren't true, which causes them to feel inferior; if someone already feels inferior at the beginning of a conversation, it is more likely that they will take offense at much of what is said.

According to ROM McMillan, you should, "State your path." The letters in "STATE" stand for: Share your facts; tell your story; ask for other's path; talk tentatively, and encourage testing." Share your thoughts; explain why you have those thoughts; ask the other person for their thoughts; talk about it; and test the result.

Ask the other person to share their thoughts. Listen to the person you are conversing with, repeat back to them what you heard to make certain that you understood their words.

Take action. Decide what will take place and encourage responsibility by writing down the solution and stating who will take part in the result.


Mutual purpose and mutual respect must exist in a conversation for it to be successful. People tend to lean toward either silence or violence in a crucial conversation. There are six steps between silence and violence that will ruin the conversation: silence, withdrawing, avoiding, masking, controlling, labeling, attacking and violence. If any of these behaviors are present, the conversation needs to be changed or temporarily cancelled until good motives can be reached by both parties.


Never allow someone to speak abusively to you in conversation. Abusive speech can quickly lead to violent behavior.