The Groundwork for Crucial Conversations

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In “The What and How of Crucial Conversations,” we discussed both the characteristics of of a crucial conversation, as well as the importance of communicating face-to-face. Today we’ll look at some organizational best practices as well as those important factors in laying the groundwork for successful conversations.

During a recent interview on Career Impact Radio, I spoke with Brad McAfee, Atlanta Managing Director of Public Relations giant, Porter Novelli. Brad’s office was highly successful and despite the trends in the larger economy, they were constantly growing.

However, during an assessment of the communication style of the office, Brad noticed something. While the communication amongst his practice groups was always supportive, something was missing. He realized there wasn’t an environment for them to engage in tough/ crucial conversations. Brad knew that while having a supportive environment was an essential aspect of esprit de corps and relationship building, the office was missing the equally important dynamic of crucial conversations and the impact they have on growth and development. Brad attributes embracing and integrating crucial conversations into the organization’s culture with the continued rise of his organization, as well as their industry low employee turnover.

Most organizations operate within a certain realm of efficiency and accountability when things are going well. The differences in organizational culture become evident when things don’t go as planned. Organizations that embrace those difficult conversations separate themselves from their peers.

The 4 organizational keys to crucial conversations are:

1)    Step Up – There has to be a willingness at the management/ partner level to accept and embrace crucial conversations. Sweeping issues under the rug will only foster resentment and squelch commitment from employees and stakeholders.

2)    Speak Up – Once issues have been identified, there must be a willingness to engage in the crucial conversations. Bringing issues to the forefront and then tabling them for later discussions, that never occur, is as bad as failing to acknowledge them in the first place.

3)    Solve Problems – Crucial conversations always have some issue, problem that needs to be addressed and solved. The organization has to adopt a problem solving mentality versus a dictatorial stance.

4)    Thrive as a Result – When properly implemented into an organization, the organization will move towards greater employee and leadership development.

When an organization or individuals commits to crucial conversations, what is the commitment?

There are 5 factors that lay the groundwork for a crucial conversation:

1)    Dialogue – There is a commitment from the parties involved to engage in a discussion. This means both sides are open to keeping the lines of communication open. The method of dialogue should be face-to-face communications.

2)    Safe Place to Express – Honest dialogue should be encouraged and expected. A crucial conversation is not the place to keep score or exert authority. It’s a place where all parties involved feel they can share their concerns/ points of view in a way that is both respected and heard.

3)    A Place to Explore Ideas – Open minds are required. While parties may have a certain pre-disposition prior to the conversation, there has to be an openness to look at ideas from a variety of perspective.

4)    Free Flow of Ideas – Once ideas begin to emanate from the conversation, they should be allowed the space to be considered and explored.

5)    Realization of the Value of the Shared Process – When crucial conversation participants approach the conversation from a shared process perspective, it helps to drive the discussion towards a solution versus avoiding or cultivating conflict. The key is to view the conversation as an opportunity to collaborate.

Some organizations create a culture of communications combat. Some will foster an environment of conflict avoidance. Success lies in neither of those paradigms. The key is to encourage crucial conversations. Conversations where both parties view the dialogue as collaborative versus combative. Essential versus avoidable. Crucial conversations can become a healthy part of your organization’s culture, if you let it.


Elliott Robinson, JD is an Executive Coach, Workshop Facilitator & Mediator with Trove, Inc. ( Elliott brings his unique insight to the areas of leadership development, communications and career advancement. Elliott’s writing can be found at:, and his relationship blog, Elliott is the co-host of Blog Talk Radio shows: The Wellness Blueprint ( and Career Impact Radio by Trove, Inc. ( You can follow him on Twitter at: @ERobinsoncoach. You can contact Elliott for information on coaching, workshops or mediation at



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