Make it safe. This chapter in Crucial Conversations was not a quick read. I found myself rereading much of it and although I can summarize the chapter, making a conversation “safe” is not for wimps. The authors’ basic premise is that conversations are derailed when the participants don’t feel safe. If I feel disrespected or ignored, I am not likely to persist in an effective conversation. Instead, I will resort to “silence or violence.” OK, I can see that. So I am advised to step out of the conversation (looking at motives, reactions, emotions) and follow some helpful tips for re-establishing a safe conversation.
I found one point especially interesting and appealing: being authentic. It’s possible to talk about sensitive issues and still remain honest. I have floundered in this area. As a supervisor, I have wanted to withdraw my statement or evaluation, even if it was true. In Crucial Conversations, you learn to express yourself honestly but keep the dialog going by making it safe for all concerned. That means being aware of how my initial (honest) comment felt to the person hearing it. If they felt threatened, I must tell them what I DO NOT want (“I don’t want you to think that I’m dissatisfied with your effectiveness in administering a student’s behavior contract.”) and what I DO want (“I do want you to arrive at school on time.”)
Another aspect of being authentic relates to mutual purpose and respect. The authors state that mutual respect is a condition of entering an effective dialog with others and mutual purpose enables the conversation to move forward. They suggest that you find/invent a mutual purpose if one is not readily apparent. In the case of my obvious disconnect with an administrator, I could have agreed that we both wanted the students in school to succeed. Our strategies on achieving that success differed significantly, but had we taken time to talk about sensitive issues, I think we could have found some mutually acceptable solutions. In hindsight, I can see that neither of us felt safe, so those conversations did not occur. I haven’t read past chapter five, but it also seems that some conversations simply won’t take place when the person in charge makes unilateral decisions. And I do respect a supervisor’s right to do that.
I admire the authors’ emphasis upon honesty. Apologies must be genuine. Strategies for safe conversations are not a means to an end. Mutual respect and purpose must be genuine, not manipulative. I’m still encouraged by what I’ve read and given the way life is, I should have plenty of opportunities to practice!