TEA can help a crucial conversation

Useful tools that help teach ways to deal with difficult conversations.

Crucial Conversations, a book by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler contains useful tools and resources for handling conversations when “stakes are high.” This book is based on years of research that are covered in detail on the book’s companion website. There you will find research summaries that will help you with 33 different crucial conversations–anything from talking about drugs with your teens to discussing holiday spending, politics and working for a challenging boss.

You may wonder what differentiates a “crucial” conversation from any other conversation. First, opinions vary, second the stakes are high and third, emotions run strong. How we elect to deal with these conversations can be set in three ways: we can avoid them, we can face them and handle them poorly and we can face them and handle them well. There are several reasons why these crucial conversations tend not to go well including: emotions tend to rule, your body physically reacts, you are under pressure, you are stumped or you act in a self defeating way.

The Michigan State University Extension Leadership and Community Engagement team has used Crucial Conversations as a reference in the development of its Conflict Smoothies Online Series. The series begins with TEA: Beginning a Difficult Conversation -with honesty & respect. TEA is predicated on Preserving the Relationship, the first in a three step process that will be covered in subsequent articles.

The following TEA” strategy can help establish a safe environment in which to begin a difficult conversation. This is the key first step when engaging someone in a conversation that might lead to fight or flight—anger or withdrawal.

Tell the facts & feelings—your view of the situation and how it is affecting you and others. Speak from the heart but without judgment. For example:

I’ve noticed you often schedule meetings in our conference room without putting them on the shared calendar, and on several occasions your meeting has been well underway when my group has arrived for our meeting. This has caused some inconvenience and resentment as we have had to look for an alternative meeting space.

Explain the general outcome you’d like from this situation, and not the specifics of what you want for yourself. For example:

I’d really like us to resolve this in a way that works for both of us.

Ask for the other person’s views on the situation, tentatively and respectfully. Be aware that their ‘facts’ may be different from yours. For example:

I wonder if you aren’t aware of the online meeting room scheduling process. Or is there something I don’t understand? 

The next time that you find yourself in a “crucial” conversation, consider reading the Crucial Conversations book, signing up for Conflict Smoothies Online Series and practicing TEA. 

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