How can I say this without offending you?

crucial conversationsI’m cleaning out my digital closet and I’ve come across a few useful notes.

A while back I read a book called  Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high. Indeed, figuring out how to effectively communicate sensitive messages is a vital skill (if we ever hope to get past the flushed cheeks and beating hearts).

Anyway, for what it’s worth, I thought I’d post the notes I made and spark some interest in the book and/or its raison d’etre. The notes are by no means complete–and they’re much less powerful out of context and without examples–but I think this short list still contains some useful information. Happy conversing!


Crucial Conversations:  stakes are high, opinions vary, emotions start to run strong

  • emotions don’t exactly prepare us to converse effectively
  • we’re often making it up as we go along because we haven’t seen real-life models of effective communication skills
  • often our behaviour actually starts creating the very thing we didn’t want in the first place—we find ourselves caught in a unhealthy, self-defeating loop
  • “In truth, everyone argues about important issues. But not everyone splits up. It’s how you argue that matters.”
  • People generally fall into 3 categories:
    (1) those who digress into threats and name-calling (2) those who revert to silent fuming (3) those who speak openly, honestly and effectively
  • “Over time, couples who found a way to state their opinions about high-stakes, controversial and emotional issues honestly and respectfully remained together. Those who didn’t, split up.” (13)
  • Do you hold in ugly opinions only to have them tumble out in sarcastic remarks or cheap shots?
  • When it comes to risky, controversial, and emotional conversations, skilled people find a way to get all relevant information (from themselves and others) out into the open. That’s it. At the core of every successful conversation lies the free flow of relevant information.” (20)
  • Tortured technique: giving our loved ones the cold shoulder in order to make them treat us better. What’s the logic in that?

Start with the Heart—Stay focused on what you really want


    • If you can’t get yourself right, you won’t get your message right
    • “Although it’s true that there are times when we are merely bystanders in life’s never-ending stream of head-on collisions, rarely are we completely innocent. More often than not, we do something to contribute to the problems we’re experiencing.” (29)
    • Principle: [Work on me first]—Not only am I likely to benefit by improving my own approach, I’m the only person I can change anyway.
    • Dialogue-smart people believe that dialogue, no matter the circumstances, is always an option
    • How do you handle your emotions when under attack?
    • REFOCUS YOUR BRAIN—as the conversation heats up, pay attention to what’s happening to your objectives. Are you starting to change your goal to save face, avoid embarrassment, win, be right or punish others? Here’s the tricky part. Our motives usually change without any conscious thought on our part. When our adrenaline does our thinking for us, our motives flow with a chemical tide. In order to move back to motives that allow for dialogue, you must step away from the interaction and look at yourself much like an outsider.

Ask yourself: “What am I doing, and if I had to guess, what does it tell me about my underlying motive?” As you make an honest effort to discover your motive, you call into question the shifting desires of your heart. Then you can make a conscious choice to change them. To put it succinctly, when you name the game, you stop playing it. (34)

  • Find your bearings–Take charge of your body—When we ask ourselves what we really want we affect our entire physiology
  • Wanting to win is a dialogue killer—we don’t always realize that this desire to win is continually driving us away from healthy dialogue. 

3 thoughts on “How can I say this without offending you?

    • Isn’t he a motivational speaker focused on individual skills? I’d say this is more of an instructive text focused on interpersonal skills.
      But if you mean to say it’s cheesy, point taken. I was tempted to replace “start with the heart” with something more like, “check yo-self, foo!”

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