Tag Archives: Crucial Conversations

Conversations: Crucial Conversations, Fierce Conversations – Have those Conversations!

As I have written many times, “you accomplish what you meet about.”  (I learn this and have this reinforced from so many sources, but it is especially described in vivid detail, with a clear action plan, in the excellent book Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish).

Meetings are simply well planned conversations.  And conversations are at the heart of all business progress.

There are books:  Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, Fierce Conversations.  But I like Susan Scott’s summary of the why in her more recent book, her “follow-up” to Fierce Conversations, Fierce Leadership:

The conversation is the relationship.  …business is fundamentally an extended conversation with colleagues, customers, and the unknown future emerging around us.  What gets talked about in a company and how it gets talked about determines what will happen.  Or won’t happen. 

A leader’s job is to engineer the types of conversations that produce epiphanies. 

In the old days, when we worked on farms or on assembly lines, we could work without many conversations, all day, day after day.  But in today’s world, for most of us, we work this way:

• alone, I get “my” work done.

• then, together, we get “our” work done.

And it is back and forth, from alone time to together time.  It is this rhythm that defines out work, and then within and from this rhythm we accomplish our work.

And at the heart of it all, we need conversations.  Conversations with ourselves, and collaborative conversations, and occasional confrontational conversations.

(And, by the way, some of those crucial confrontations are with ourselves, and some of those are with co-workers, and some of those are with our bosses…  and some of them might even be with our customers).

Here is an important reminder:  What is a conversation?  It is this (I heard this years ago, from either a pastor or theology professor, I don’t remember which.  So, my apology for not giving full credit; I simply do not remember the source):

• the first person speaks while the second person listens
• then the second person speaks while the first person listens
• this is called turn-taking (you take turns speaking, AND! you take turns listening.

It is that listening component that so many of us have trouble with.

Oh, and one more thing,  You have to schedule time, save time, take time for those conversions.  Remember, these are crucial conversations, and they are definitely worth your time!

So, here is your challenge for today:  Have more, have better, have lots of conversations.

How good are you at the art of conversation?  No matter how good you are, it’s probably time to get better.

But most of all, have those conversations!


Flattery; Charm – Essential “Tools” for the Road to Success (insight from Pfeffer, Carville & Begala, Kouzes & Pozner, & Mae West)

Flattery will get you everywhere.
Mae West

Ass-kissing is both an art and a science. No one gets to the top without learning how to deal with people you can’t stand. And usually the best way to deal with them is to pretend you can stand them. If it makes it easier for you, don’t think of it as ass-kissing. Think of it as charm. Anytime someone says to you, “That guy sure was charming,” what he’s really saying is “That guy kissed my ass. I liked it. Therefore I like him.”
James Carville and Paul Begala, Buck Up, Suck Up… and Come Back When You Foul Up (12 Winning Secrets from the War Room)

This story is a constant reminder to us of the power of a very simple principle of human performance:  people like to be recognized for doing their best.  Encouragement increases the chance that people will actually achieve higher levels of performance.
James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Pozner, Encouraging the Heart:  A Leaders Guide to Rewarding and Encouraging Others

One of the best ways to make those in power feel better about themselves is to flatter them.  Flattery engages the norm of reciprocity – if you compliment someone, that person owes you something in return…
Jeffrey Pfeffer:  Power:  Why Some People Have it – and Others Don’t


So, I’m deep into my reading of Power by Jeffrey Pfeffer.  I keep thinking about a section on flattery.  He is clear – flattery has a much better chance of getting you ahead than most anything else, (like confrontation, criticism…).  This is a theme that I’ve seen from a number of authors.  The Carville and Begala book (don’t let your politics, or theirs, put you off – this is an immensely practical, and smart book) put it right there in the title:  “Suck Up.”

Why does flattery work?  Well, think about the last time you were criticized, slammed, shamed, “dissed,” rejected, ridiculed…  How did you feel?  My guess is, not too good.  So it is with all others, including those “over” you.  Aim for flattery – tell others how good they are at what they do, tell others what value they bring — praise them!

In the Pfeffer book, he records the advice given by Jack Valenti to President Lyndon Baines Johnson (whom he served as an aide):

“What I am suggesting is that the President fasten down support for his cause by resorting to an unchanging human emotion – the need to feel wanted and admired.”

And then Pfeffer describes how Valenti himself lived out the practice of “flattering the other,” always, to everyone!

As a reader of many business books, I get confused at times.  There are books that talk about those crucial conversations that we occasionally need to have, those fierce conversations, that boldly confront the serious issues at hand.  Yet Pfeffer warns us that these conversations may really backfire.  In fact, he counsels not to criticize/correct your boss (get someone else to do it!).

In other words, a slight, an “attack,” a criticism, may never be forgotten, and may do serious long-term damage.  On the other hand, flattery might just get you… everywhere!

“Honored and not diminished.  That’s how we all want to feel.” This is the simple formula to remember (found in Encouraging the Heart).

So, learn to use flattery.  Even when you don’t want to.  Remember Carville & Begala’s advice:

Ass-kissing is both an art and a science. No one gets to the top without learning how to deal with people you can’t stand. And usually the best way to deal with them is to pretend you can stand them. If it makes it easier for you, don’t think of it as ass-kissing. Think of it as charm. Anytime someone says to you, “That guy sure was charming,” what he’s really saying is “That guy kissed my ass. I liked it. Therefore I like him.”

Face -To-Face Communication; Real Conversations – Everything Else Is A Choice with Lower Impact

(These thoughts were partly prompted by the video of Chris Anderson’s presentation How web video powers global innovation at TED, and this interview with him at beet.tv about the power of the spoken word: Video is a “Reinvention of the Spoken Word”).


Communication is not words, or images, or ideas – it is the sharing of such words and ideas and images from one person to another, shared in a “total communication package.”  There is something inherently different. “better” about the quality of a communication encounter between two human beings conducted in each other’s presence, face-to-face.

A phone call, a blog post, an e-mail, a set of PowerPoint slides on a screen – none of these have the power, the impact, of a face-to-face encounter.  Such an encounter allows for facial expressions, emotional connection, evaluation of motives, in a way that all other forms can keep hidden.

The spoken word, spoken to one other human being, with little to “hide behind” in any part of the moment, is the most powerful and the most honest communication.

Think about some really powerful examples of this in movies.  I could list many – I will just list one.  In the crucial scene between the characters played by Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men (the one in the court room, the famous “You can’t handle the truth” scene), it is as though they are the only  two people in the room, or even on the planet.  The close-ups, the eyeball-to-eyeball nature of the coversation, the unwavering, undistracted focus on the “other,”… it is the most powerful of moments.  Watch it again:  notice the absolute focus of the two participants on each other.  Notice their “presence” to each other in the conversation.

Now I love the convenience and the possibilities raised by modern communication methods, the technology of the modern era.  But here is a simple question:  are you comfortable with, and good at, face-to-face communication?  Are you good at giving undivided attention in a conversation to another human being?  If not, this is something to work on.  It will help you at work, in your community, in your most important relationships.

The world really does move forward in the midst of focused conversations.  We even have books describing the importance of such moments;  Crucial Conversations, Fierce Conversations.  And, to state the obvious, to have a crucial, a fierce, conversation, you first have to know how to have  a conversation.

(and, yes, “I’m talking to myself”,” also).


update:  right after I posted this, my blogging colleague Bob Morris posted Jenny Ming (President and CEO, Charlotte Russe) in “The Corner Office”. It completely reinforced the underlying premise of these reflections.  Here’s how it ends:

Bryant: And what was the lesson?

Ming: I learned very early on to communicate, to set expectations and not be afraid to tell the truth.

Coaching Anyone? – Some Practical Ideas You Can Use Right Now

Recently, I delivered my synopsis on the now classic Encouraging the Heart: A Leaders Guide to Rewarding and Encouraging Others by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Pozner.

From the book, here are the seven essentials of encouraging:

1.              Set clear standards
2.              Expect the best
3.              Pay attention
4.              Personalize recognition
5.              Tell the story
6.              Celebrate together
7.              Set the example

Side comment:  in Susan Scott’s excellent book, Fierce Leadership, she encourages every leader to intentionally plan, and then initiate, those important conversations they need to have.  She suggests that every leader prepare, carry around, and use this sheet of paper:

Conversations I Need To Have:

Name:  _____________________________   Topic: _____________________________

Name:  _____________________________   Topic: _____________________________

Name:  _____________________________   Topic: _____________________________

In the midst of the presentation of the Kouzes and Posner book, I shared this idea.  Take a sheet of paper.  Turn it sideways.  Draw four boxes – one box for each of the four people that you most need to coach/mentor/encourage.  (If you have more than four, then use two sides of the sheet of paper).

Assign one of the four names to each of the boxes.  Divide each box into two halves.  And, constantly update, and use your notes to have those crucial, improant conversations.

Each box will look something like this:

A couple of observations.  If you actually want to help people get “better,” and get the best out of people, it is important to do more praising than correcting.  A lot more praising.

Second observation:  a retired military sergeant told me that the boxes look very similar to an initiative that he followed in the military.  The point was the same, but the wording was different.  Instead of praise/teach & correct, they used:  sustain/improve.

I think this is a practical way to help a coach serve more effectively, and especially more intentionally.

(One footnote:  John Wooden used to plan all of his practice sessions, to the minute, on 3×5 cards. And he was very intentional and direct, calling players by name, praising them, and teaching/correcting them).