Few chores in business are as daunting as preparing for a crucial conversation. How should you begin? How do you present my concerns? What about tone? And what if the other person decides to be difficult?

While these are all valid questions, says social scientist Joseph Grenny, the primary predictor of your success in a crucial conversation has less to do with how you use your mouth, and much more to do with what you do before you open it.

The following four steps can dramatically improve the chances your crucial conversation will succeed.

1. Cultivate the right motive

The first thing to do when preparing for a crucial conversation is to examine your motives. You can do this by thoughtfully answering four simple questions:

  • What do I really want for me?

  • For the other person?

  • For the relationship?

  • For any other affected parties?

Thinking deeply about these questions can connect you to your better self—the person you really want to be. This can motivate you to reject selfish motives and focus on what will be best for all. Having the right motive can transform your approach in a tough conversation.

2. Organise your emotions

Unhelpful emotions sabotage productive conversations. Being angry, scared, hurt, or defensive, however, often has less to do with what the other person is doing, and more to do with the story we tell ourselves about what they are doing.

It’s easy, for example, to construct victim and villain stories. We become the victim (“I did everything I could. I have been patient, supportive and kind.”) and the other person becomes the villain (“He brought this on himself! He has an attitude problem!”)

But is the problem really that black-and-white? Is the person truly a villain? Or are they are good person just in the wrong role.

Recognising and challenging the stories we tell ourselves can moderate our emotions. We become more reasonable or philosophical, which goes a long way to governing our approach to a tough conversation.

3. Focus on facts

We typically enter a crucial conversation with opposing views. You say what you think. He says what he thinks. Then repeat.

Don’t start a crucial conversation with conclusions. Start with the facts and premises that led you to your conclusion. Lay out your data. Explain the logic you used to arrive where you did. This can lead to more objective—and less emotional—conversations.

4. Try to understand the other person’s perspective

Listening to people makes you more compassionate—and persuasive. “The best way to persuade others is with your ears, by listening,” said long-time U.S. politician Dean Rusk. And when you listen deeply and sincerely, others feel more inclined to listen to you.


Facing a tough conversation can be daunting. But it’s important to focus first on your motives, assumptions, and thoughts. Crucial conversations are mostly about getting your head, heart, and gut right. Doing this improves the chances your conversation will turn out right.



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