For a life-coach, critical conversations are not a rare thing. Avoiding conflicts and deriving positive solutions out of the conversations with the client is an integral part of their career. Therefore, improving dialogue skills is very important for a successful career as an executive coach. For the same reason, the book ‘Critical Conversations – Tools for Talking when the stakes are high’ is a highly recommended read for people aiming to enter into the coaching business and those who are already in it.

Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Swizler, contributors to the book ‘Critical Conversations’, with the content summarized by Paul Arnold, a trainer and facilitator himself, explain tips and techniques that are based on their experience and research for holding positive conversations. They have studied successful communicators for more than 25 years and dealt with more than 20,000 people, proving the fact that it was their ability to handle crucial conversations effectively that led them to be great communicators. The authors believe these people have the right skills to handle difficult conversations and the same are explained in the book.

As per the authors, critical conversations can be defined as a discussion between two or more people where stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong. Such occurrences are unavoidable in any coach-client relationship and the book is aimed at helping the process to be less painful for both parties. It outlines a seven-step process to handle critical conversations.

1Start with the heart

One of the basic things to remember is to never approach a situation with the wrong emotions and a negative mindset. Avoid entering a conversation during times of angeror resentment as it will not lead to positive outcomes. The book tells the reader why it is important to start with positive intent and good-will for the other person. The takeaway is that the first principle of conversation starts with ourselves and not the other person.

2Stay in dialogue

There should be a two-way flow of information during critical conversations as there is less hope of positive outcomes when the lines of communication go down. The second step in the process is to ensure that both parties stay in dialogue. When there is open communication, there are more chances of reaching the right solutions.

3Make it safe

In a conversation, it is important to make the other person feel safe. As per the findings in the book, the safer the clients feel the more open they become. When the situation is unsafe for the other person, or when we sense signs of unsafeness, it is better to step out of the conversation but with positive intent.

Furthermore, the book explains the steps to ensure powerful listening. The four paths to powerful listening are abbreviated as AMPP. It stands for:

  • Ask – To get things rolling
  • Mirror – To confirm feelings
  • Paraphrase – To acknowledge their story
  • Prime – During times when we get nowhere

4Don’t get hooked by emotions (or hook them)

Critical conversations are often emotionally high-charged, and are often contagious. The best way is to improve skills is to keep emotions out of the conversation. The book tells the reader how to effectively put emotions under control and carry on the conversation effectively. The key lies in developing skills to speak honestly and confidently but without offending the other person.

5Agree on a mutual purpose

Developing a mutual purpose that both sides agree to is the key to a successful conversation. In the book, the authors explain some key steps that lead to developing a mutual purpose. CRIB is an acronym to understand those steps.

  • C – Commitment to seek a mutual purpose
  • R – Recognizing the purpose behind the strategy
  • I – Inventing a mutual purpose
  • B – Brainstorm new strategies

6Separate facts from story

Facts and opinions are not the same. It is an instinct of the brain to construct a story based upon a set of observations. It needs constant effort always to put facts before interpretations and open our minds to other stories that fit the facts that have been observed. During highly charged situations, there are three types of stories one has to listen to to help deconstruct how a person is viewing the situation. They are Victim Stories, Villain Stories, and Helpless Stories. Reaching a shared meaning is the key.

7Agree on a clear action plan

The process ends when there is an action plan to improve the situation which will lead to a successful outcome of the critical conversation. The book explains how to make those actionable steps and how to ensure that it is acceptable for both parties.

A powerful guide

Mastering crucial conversations is an essential skill for life coaches, even in daily life. The book ‘Critical Conversations’ is a powerful one for people who are committed to becoming a successful leadership coach. It contains critical and inspiring information for ensuring efficacious communications. It is loaded with tools one needs to step up to life’s most difficult and important conversations and achieve positive resolutions. The book claims to help you in five ways, which are:

  • Prepare for high-impact situations with a six-minute mastery technique
  • Make it safe to talk about almost anything
  • Be persuasive, not abrasive
  • Keep listening when others blow up or clam up
  • Turn crucial conversations into the action and results you want

For all these reasons, it is at the top of the charts since its first publication in 2002.

To conclude, ‘Critical Conversations’ is a helpful guide for leaders and coaches alike to improve their interpersonal and communication skills through theory, practical advice along with examples. It not only leads to a colourful career in leadership coaching, but it also helps to improve you socially.

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