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The Healing Power of Conversation

In the work world or as a parent (or child of an aging parent) we're each presented issues almost daily that deserve our attention.

Is there a very important conversation you are avoiding or delaying?
In my October 2015 column, “The Four Habits: A Pathway to Healthy Communication,” I wrote about the power of interactive dialog and empathy in being able to hear someone, especially for myself as a physician.

I want to share another powerful tool for when you need to have a deeper conversation—or even a difficult one—where the stakes are high, both from a personal sense and also from a business and leadership perspective.

Based on the book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High (Second Edition) by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler, this technique has often helped me get “unstuck,” personally or professionally. First, it’s important to be able to determine when a conversation is going to be “crucial”: that is, if it’s likely to have opposing opinions, strong emotions and high stakes.

I try to focus on my heart first: “What am I really hoping to accomplish for the good” with this conversation? If I can start with my heart and the best intentions, then my language is more likely to be authentic.

We all have a style that comes out during times of stress, and knowing whether that stress-style for yourself will let you stay on the right path. Most people’s stress style is either “fight” (controlling language and labeling someone) or “flight” (silence, avoiding dialog or even withdrawing).

Many crucial conversations involve delivering a message that won’t be received well. In turn, this can lead to our avoiding them, as conflict isn’t usually sought out. In Crucial Conversation classes, our leader taught the pneumonic STATE: When the going gets tough, STATE your path.

S: Share your facts

T: Tell your story

A: Ask for the other paths or perspectives

T: Talk tentatively

E: Encourage testing

The first three are “what” skills and the last two are “how” skills. Let’s break them down.

Share your facts. Facts are more persuasive and less insulting than opinions. Leading off with feelings and stories can often keep us from the facts.

Tell your story. A relevant story can complete the picture of the facts, just as painters use layers of paint to create depth, but does not belabor the facts.

Ask for other paths or perspectives. It’s important to stay in dialog rather than soliloquy. Letting your colleague challenge facts and “tell their complete story” can be powerful.

Talk tentatively. The story you choose to connect the facts to next steps shouldn’t undermine a middle way but rather allow for choices (if they exist) as an outcome. Try saying: “I’m wondering if it would make more sense to…” or “Maybe this might work for our team.”

Encourage testing. Asking for help with solutions can be powerful. Silence of volatile language is often the only choice a colleague might have, especially if there’s a hierarchical relationship. Figuring out what might work—not a compromise if the issue is critical, around quality or an ethical issue, allows for another to contribute to the solution.

In the work world or as a parent (or child of an aging parent), we’re each presented issues almost daily that deserve our attention. Having the right approach and a scientifically proven strategy to come to resolution is a good start. You can access much of the information here and even sign-up for a newsletter:

Remember to start with your heart and STATE and the path is more likely to be amicable. Be well.




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