Nonprofit Network Blog

Make the Space for Crucial Conversations (Part 1)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017 9:52 AM | Tom Williams (Administrator)

Tom Williams

Capacity Builder

If you're feeling “stuck" and wondering why your organization isn't progressing as well as you'd like, the cause is likely the absence of a hard conversation that has not taken place.

When I speak of hard conversations, I am talking about those in which stakes are high, emotions are strong, and opinions conflict. When we are faced with these difficult or crucial conversations (as suggested by Kerry Patterson and colleagues in their book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High), our typical human response is either silence or violence. Said another way, we avoid the conversation all together or we get into an argument. The authors make a sound case for our limited options when these hard conversations arise. We can continue to avoid them (with all the consequences), address them poorly (with all the consequences) or learn the skills to have beneficial hard conversations. Learning to have crucial conversations in a beneficial manner moves barriers out of the way, both personally and organizationally, and sets a tone for growth opportunities.

Some samples of crucial conversations that meet all three of the above characteristics include

  • Staff performance evaluations
  • Executive director evaluations
  • Board interactions
  • Budget discussions
  • Initiating program changes
  • Charting a course for the organization to follow. 
Avoiding these issues (you know you do sometimes) eventually leads to complications. Resorting to “violence” or even public crankiness in these issues creates more division and stalled actions. Which is probably why we so often just avoid the topics altogether.

But addressing these situations skillfully results in clear communication, improved performance among board and staff, and stronger relationshipsall of which clear the way for tackling the mission we all signed on to address in the first place. In fact, we can actually schedule on our board calendar the date on which we will have a crucial conversation. Scheduling crucial conversations like staff evaluations, budgetary discussions, or organizational direction is a tool to assist us in keeping ourselves accountable.

Mastering crucial conversations starts with the person we have the most control over: our self. 

Let's go into these conversations being mindful of our intent and remaining self-aware of one another's behaviorsboth of these awareness pieces are key to avoiding missteps.

In our personal and professional careers, we all can identify topics we avoid or shy away from, but creating a safe meeting empowers us to address all pertinent issues, regardless of the topic. According to Patterson and Colleagues, a totally safe room permits conversations on almost any topic. So you're ready to take that first step and have a crucial conversation?  Then the task at hand is creating a safe room. We’ll explore this topic in more detail in part two of this blog post next week.

If you can’t wait till then, give me a call at 517-796-4750. 

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