The Coaching Effect Blog

The Coaching Effect Blog

    Sales Leadership Challenge: Crucial Conversations (Part I)

    by Kathy Collins / May 1, 2014

    Photo by Hattie Kingsley Photography

    You are either building, flat lining or destroying your relationships one conversation at a time."-Susan Scott

    Relationships are a priority in life. The conversations that help us build those relationships ultimately effect the quality of your life and the lives of others around you. Those "crucial conversations" can be defined as a discussion between two or more people where the stakes are high, opinions vary and emotions are strong. Research shows that strong relationships, careers and organizations are all able to draw power from the ability of team members to speak openly. People who can get things done, and at the same time build on relationships, are ultimately able to master the challenge of their crucial conversations.

    Crucial conversations have the ability to improve your entire organization if learned to execute at all levels of leadership. The best companies hold everyone accountable regardless of position. Each of us enters conversation with our own feelings, positions, opinions, theories, experiences, etc.  But, mastering the art of the crucial conversation can be an important difference maker in the ability to achieve higher performance for your team. In Part I of this blog topic, we will address the first three areas of mastery in order to become an expert at crucial conversations. First, it's important to:

    Start with Heart--your own heart. If you don't know how you truly feel regarding a subject, you'll have a hard time getting the dialogue right during conversation. When conversations become crucial, it's important to have pre-thought out your feelings.  The most talented people are the people who are constantly trying to improve their dialogue skills.  When you start with honing your own self, you realize that more often than not, we do something to contribute to the problems we're experiencing. As much as others may need to change, or we want them to change, the only person we truly have the control to change is ourselves.

    Learn to Look--Be aware of how the conversation is progressing. If people start to feel uncomfortable in the conversation, they either become silent or completely withdrawn. Silence is almost always a method of avoidance and can restrict forward movement toward a resolution.  Sometimes, when in the moment of a crucial conversation, it's difficult to see exactly what's going on under the surface.  One way to problem solve is to look for the three most common forms of silence: masking, avoiding and withdrawing.  Masking is when someone begins understating or is selectively showing their true opinion.  Avoiding involves steering completely away from the subject at hand, and withdrawing is when the other person pulls completely out of a crucial conversation.  By being aware of these behaviors, you can better problem solve how to keep the conversation moving toward a positive end result by keeping everyone engaged in the matter at hand.  Sometimes, you can build trust back in the conversation if the other party begins to practice any of these three behaviors by asking a question, re-iterating interest in another person's viewpoint or taking a few minutes for a break in order to regain forward momentum.

    State your Path--When you have a tough message to share, it's importance to state your path. There are five distinct skills that can help you talk about even the most challenging topics. These five tools can be easily remembered by the acronym STATE.  

    • S=Share your facts. Begin with the least controversial and progress to the most persuasive elements of your conversation.
    • T=Tell your story.  Explain why you have come to the conclusion that you have, why it's important to you and how you feel it could impact others.
    • A=Ask for other's stories.  Encourage others to share their own story and conclusions as to why they feel the way that they do.
    • T=Talk tentatively.  Be sure to share your 'story' as a story and not a fact.  It is an opinion.
    • E=Encourage testing.  Make sure that others feel safe to express differing opinions or viewpoints.

    Crucial conversations are one of the top reasons executives and managers can become derailed. Mastering this skill helps us understand how to become a better leader through personal relationship building. Next week, in Part II of the blog, we will continue with information that will help you master the art of the crucial conversation.

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    Kathy Collins

    Kathy Collins

    Kathy Collins is the VP of Client Success at Ecsell Institute. She currently handles software maintenance, client needs and support and all company operations. As an empowered facilitator, she dedicates her work to efficiently improving upon strong organizational process and the corresponding measurement and tracking that coincides.