JJ's (July '06) Tips in this issue:

1. Crucial Conversations-Tools for talking when stakes are high!
2. Favorite Quotes
3. Tele-Coaching & Tele-Mentoring

Use the following tips as training tools.

Present this situation to your group and brainstorm solutions together, or submit your own situation question to be answered in an upcoming newsletter.


When regular conversations at work and home escalate into important areas that are critical, I don't do well. How can I turn these conversations in a positive direction that will help me progress in my job and communicate well at home too? 


There are many ways to gain awareness on how to communicate better. You may be fortunate to have a mentor who can observe your conversations and point out how to become better at it. Ideally, having feedback from someone in your personal as well as your business life could help you cut your learning curve. 

Ironically, a few weeks ago one of my readers and long-time business associate, Jay Michlin emailed me about a new book on communication he had found to be very helpful.

He said, "I'd like to recommend a new book, Crucial Conversations, that you will like both professionally and personally. It's about conversations at home and at work, between staff at a business, husband and wife at home, children and parents and many more."

I bought the book and started reading it on my travels. He was right, it is a great book that others should know about and it can help solve our situation question today too.

Reprinted with permission. "Crucial Skills Newsletter, VitalSmarts, L.C.,
www.vitalsmarts.com. All rights reserved."

Here's an excerpt:

When talking turns tough, do we pause, take a deep breath, announce to our inner selves, "Uh-oh, this discussion is crucial. I'd better pay close attention" and then trot out our best behavior? Or when we're anticipating a potentially dangerous discussion, do we step up to it rather than scamper away? Sometimes. Sometimes we boldly step up to hot topics, monitor our behavior, and offer up our best work. We mind our Ps and Qs. Sometimes we're just flat-out good.

And then we have the rest of our lives. These are the moments when, for whatever reason, we either anticipate a crucial conversation or are in the middle of one and we're at our absolute worst-we yell; we withdraw; we say things we later regret. When conversations matter the most-that is, when conversations move from casual to crucial-we're generally on our worst behavior.

Why is that?

We're designed wrong. When conversations turn from routine to crucial, we're often in trouble. That's because emotions don't exactly prepare us to converse effectively. Countless generations of genetic shaping drive humans to handle crucial conversations with flying fists and fleet feet, not intelligent persuasion and gentle attentiveness.

For instance, consider a typical crucial conversation. Someone says something you disagree with about a topic that matters a great deal to you and the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The hairs you can handle. Unfortunately, your body does more. Two tiny organs seated neatly atop your kidneys pump adrenaline into your bloodstream. You don't choose to do this. Your adrenal glands do it, and then you have to live with it.

And that's not all. Your brain then diverts blood from activities it deems nonessential to high-priority tasks such as hitting and running. Unfortunately, as the large muscles of the arms and legs get more blood, the higher-level reasoning sections of your brain get less. As a result, you end up facing challenging conversations with the same equipment available to a rhesus monkey.

We're under pressure. Let's add another factor. Crucial conversations are frequently spontaneous. More often than not, they come out of nowhere. And since you're caught by surprise, you're forced to conduct an extraordinarily complex human interaction in real time-no books, no coaches, and certainly no short breaks while a team of therapists runs to your aid and pumps you full of nifty ideas.

What do you have to work with? The issue at hand, the other person, and a brain that's preparing to fight or take flight. It's little wonder that we often say and do things that make perfect sense in the moment, but later on seem, well, stupid.

"What was I thinking?" you wonder.

The truth is, you were real-time multitasking with a brain that was working another job. You're lucky you didn't suffer a stroke.

We're stumped. Now let's throw in one more complication. You don't know where to start. You're making this up as you go along because you haven't often seen real-life models of effective communication skills. Let's say that you actually planned for a tough conversation-maybe you've even mentally rehearsed. You feel prepared, and you're as cool as a cucumber. Will you succeed? Not necessarily. You can still screw up, because practice doesn't make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.

This means that first you have to know what to practice. Sometimes you don't. After all, you may have never actually seen how a certain problem is best handled. You may have seen what not to do-as modeled by a host of friends, colleagues, and, yes, even your parents. In fact, you may have sworn time and again not to act the same way.

Left with no healthy models, you're now more or less stumped. So what do you do? You do what most people do. You wing it. You piece together the words, create a certain mood, and otherwise make up what you think will work-all the while multiprocessing with a half-starved brain. It's little wonder that when it matters the most, we're often at our worst behavior.

We act in self-defeating ways. In our doped-up, dumbed-down state, the strategies we choose for dealing with our crucial conversations are perfectly designed to keep us from what we actually want. We're our own worst enemies and we don't even realize it. Here's how this works.

Let's say that your significant other has been paying less and less attention to you. You realize he or she has a busy job, but you still would like more time together. You drop a few hints about the issue, but your loved one doesn't handle it well. You decide not to put on added pressure, so you clam up. Of course, since you're not all that happy with the arrangement, your displeasure now comes out through an occasional sarcastic remark.

"Another late night, huh? Do you really need all of the money in the world?"

Unfortunately (and here's where the problem becomes self-defeating), the more you snip and snap, the less your loved one wants to be around you. So your significant other spends even less time with you, you become even more upset, and the spiral continues. Your behavior is now actually creating the very thing you didn't want in the first place. You're caught in an unhealthy, self-defeating loop.

Or consider what's happening with your roommate Terry-who wears your and your other two roommates' clothes (without asking)-and he's proud of it. In fact, one day while walking out the door, he glibly announced that he was wearing something from each of your closets. You could see Taylor's pants, Scott's shirt, and, yes, even Chris's new matching shoes-and-socks ensemble. What of yours could he possibly be wearing? Eww!

Your response, quite naturally, has been to bad-mouth Terry behind his back. That is until one day when he overheard you belittling him to a friend, and you're now so embarrassed that you avoid being around him. Now when you're out of the apartment, he wears your clothes, eats your food, and uses your computer out of spite.

Let's try another example. You share a cubicle with a four-star slob and you're a bit of a neat freak. In Odd Couple parlance, you're Felix and he's Oscar. Your coworker has left you notes written in grease pencil on your file cabinet, in catsup on the back of a french-fry bag, and in permanent marker on your desk blotter. You, in contrast, leave him typed Post-it notes. Typed.

At first you sort of tolerated each other. Then you began to get on each other's nerves. You started nagging him about cleaning up. He started nagging you about your nagging. Now you're beginning to react to each other. Every time you nag, he becomes upset, and, well, let's say that he doesn't exactly clean up. Every time he calls you an "anal-retentive nanny," you vow not to give in to his vile and filthy ways.

What has come from all this bickering? Now you're neater than ever, and your
cubicle partner's half of the work area is about to be condemned by the health department. You're caught in a self-defeating loop. The more the two of you push each other, the more you create the very behaviors you both despise.

Some Common Crucial Conversations

In each of these examples of unhealthy self-perpetuation, the stakes were moderate to high, opinions varied, and emotions ran strong. Actually, to be honest, in a couple of the examples the stakes were fairly low at first, but with time and growing emotions, the relationship eventually turned sour and quality of life suffered-making the risks high.

These examples, of course, are merely the tip of an enormous and ugly iceberg of problems stemming from crucial conversations that either have been avoided or have gone wrong. Other topics that could easily lead to disaster include:

Ending a relationship:
Talking to a coworker who behaves offensively or makes suggestive comments
Asking a friend to repay a loan
Giving the boss feedback about her behavior
Approaching a boss who is breaking his own safety or quality policies
Critiquing a colleague's work
Asking a roommate to move out
Resolving custody or visitation issues with an ex-spouse
Dealing with a rebellious teen
Talking to a team member who isn't keeping commitments
Discussing problems with sexual intimacy
Confronting a loved one about a substance abuse problem
Talking to a colleague who is hoarding information or resources
Giving an unfavorable performance review
Asking in-laws to quit interfering
Talking to a coworker about a personal hygiene problem


Let's say that either you avoid tough issues or when you do bring them up, you're on your worst behavior. What's the big deal? How high are the stakes anyway? Do the consequences of a fouled-up conversation extend beyond the conversation itself? Should you worry?

Actually, the effects of conversations gone bad can be both devastating and far reaching. Our research has shown that strong relationships, careers, organizations, and communities all draw from the same source of power-the ability to talk openly about high-stakes, emotional, controversial topics. 

So here's the audacious claim. Master your crucial conversations and you'll kick-start your career, strengthen your relationships, and improve your health. As you and others master high-stakes discussions, you'll also vitalize your organization and your community.

Kick-Start Your Career

Could the ability to master crucial conversations help your career? Absolutely. Twenty-five years of research with twenty thousand people and hundreds of organizations has taught us that individuals who are the most influential-who can get things done, and at the same time build on relationships-are those who master their crucial conversations.

For instance, high performers know how to stand up to the boss without committing career suicide. We've all seen people hurt their careers over tough issues. You may have done it yourself. Fed up with a lengthy and unhealthy pattern of behavior, you finally speak out-but a bit too abruptly. Oops. Or maybe an issue becomes so hot that as your peers twitch and fidget themselves into a quivering mass of potential stroke victims, you decide to say something. It's not a pretty discussion-but somebody has to have the guts to keep the boss from doing something stupid. (Gulp.)

As it turns out, you don't have to choose between being honest and being effective. You don't have to choose between candor and your career. People who routinely hold crucial conversations and hold them well are able to express controversial and even risky opinions in a way that gets heard. Their bosses, peers, and direct reports listen without becoming defensive or angry.

What about your career? Are there crucial conversations that you're not holding or not holding well? Is this undermining your influence? And more importantly, would your career take a step forward if you could improve how you're dealing with these conversations?

For Crucial Skills Newsletter:


For Crucial skills Archives:



"When something goes wrong, we have a choice. We can find fault or we can
find a solution. Instead of figuring out who is to blame, itıs more helpful to ask, how can we communicate more clearly to prevent this from happening again?"
- Sam Horn

"Our task is not to fix the blame for the past, itıs to fix the course for the future."
- John F. Kennedy

"I'm not a Pollyanna thinker, but I am a positive thinker. That makes you able to dismiss tragedies and failures and try again."
- Art Linkletter


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JJ Lauderbaugh, CMC
408 445-1590 or 800 500-9656
1716 Husted Ave.
San Jose, CA 95124.

JJ works with companies that want to give exceptional customer service to increase sales, and with Directors and Call Center/Help Desk Managers who want to improve human performance.

She's an international speaker, trainer, facilitator and certified management consultant (CMC) on customer service management, specializing in performance improvement, call centers, up/cross selling and outbound calling.

For training resources, free articles, tips and streaming video, go to our web site at


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İ JJ Lauderbaugh, CMC, Lauderbaugh & Associates, Inc., 2006. Reprinted with permission from JJ's Tips, a monthly internet newsletter. For your own personal subscription:

E-mail:  jj@jjlauderbaugh.com


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