Book Review: Crucial Conversations

By Chelsea Logan

February 6, 2024

Article, De Pree Journal, Marketplace Leaders

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High

Authors: Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler, and Emily Gregory

What’s the “Big Idea”

In a time when conversations seem increasingly harder to broach and navigate, we could all use a little help. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High is a helpful guide to healthier conversations in the midst of challenging situations. The authors classify a conversation as “crucial” when the stakes are high, where there is a difference of opinions, and when strong emotions are present. All of us can remember a time when we were engaged in a conversation that fit this description—and chances are, we can all remember one of these discussions not going quite as well as we hoped. That’s because, as the authors point out, when conversations turn crucial they become more difficult to navigate. We tend to belly flop rather than swan dive when it matters most.

With this book, the authors aim to give us a guide to avoid landing on our faces. They lay out tactics and tools to help us through these high-stakes discussions with respect and care. These tactics and tools include:

  • Discerning the point of the conversation—and then sticking to it;
  • How to achieve both candor with and respect for the person you are talking to, and the importance of both;
  • Ways to help us notice when others’ behaviors move into unhealth, but more importantly, how to monitor our own behaviors to stay on track, not be swept away by our emotions, and maintain respect and care for the other person; and
  • How to move these conversations forward with clear expectations and a united, mutually understood plan of action. 

This book is for everyone, at every level, in just about every profession or calling. These tactics can be used to help you address difficult family dynamics, encourage you to speak confidently and respectfully in work meetings, and help those you lead feel seen, heard, and cared for in the midst of their biggest struggles. 

Why It Matters To Our Inner Work

One of the most important and clear points this book makes is that central to a crucial conversation going well or going poorly is ourselves. Here are just three ways the book puts doing your inner work at the forefront of a successful conversation:

  1. Before You Talk, Look Inward
    Part 1 of the book, “What To Do Before You Open Your Mouth,” is dedicated entirely to the work that needs to be done before even starting the conversation. The work described does not encourage combative tactics like exploiting the weakness of the other person or helping you win an argument by any means necessary. Instead, the first third of the book walks the reader through the inner work needed to identify the heart of the matter, or what you truly want from the conversation and for the people involved.
  2. Practice Interrupting Negative Thoughts
    This important skill is essential to inner work and is modeled in several ways in the book. One example is to pay attention to the stories we tell ourselves about the people involved—ourselves included. How often do we decide, even before having the conversation, how the other person will respond? And how often do we villainize that person, or frame ourselves as the victim? This book encourages us to notice and interrupt those thought processes, and instead perform “mental interventions” designed to keep us from being taken hostage by our emotions.
  3. Consider Your Stress Response
    The authors offer a short assessment to help you gauge and increase your level of self-awareness. The test assesses your stress response to high-stakes conversations, revealing whether you are more prone to shut down and go “silent” or ramp up and go “violent” when discussions get risky. Knowing your default tendencies is the first step in overcoming them and forming healthier responses in crucial conversations.

Favorite Quotes

  1. “… self-honesty is the precondition to honesty with others.” 
  2. “The first thing that degenerates during a crucial conversation is not your behavior; it’s your motive.”
  3. “The first step in achieving the results we really want is to stop believing that others are the source of all that ails us.” 
  4. “The measure of whether a conversation is safe is not how comfortable I feel. It is whether meaning is flowing.”

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Chelsea Logan

Content and Production Lead

Chelsea Logan serves as the content and production lead for the De Pree Center. She holds a BA in the Study of Religion from UCLA and an MA in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. Chelsea has held leadership positions in various ministry and education settings, including serving a...

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