HR Management & Compliance

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High

Employment law editor Michael Maslanka reviews the book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. Review highlights tactics in book for effective communication between supervisors and employees.

Michael Maslanka reviews the book Crucial Conversations

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High‘s big idea: There are tactics you can use to open up the lines of communication between employees and supervisors and avoid miscommunication. It’s a good book, and we wanted to tell you about one of the tactics.

‘I know what you’re thinking’

One of the problems with conversations is that one side often believes she knows exactly what’s going on in the mind of the person sitting across from her. You’re saying one thing and trying to be precise, and she’s hearing another and blowing it out of proportion.

The book uses an example in which a manager wants to talk to an assistant about his lack of punctuality. When the manager shares his concern, the assistant appears crushed, and the manager tries to water down the content: “You know, it’s really not that big a deal.” The book says don’t do that. Taking back what you mean to say leaves an employee with a misimpression. Not an ethical thing to do. So how do you fix it?

‘You don’t know what I’m thinking’

We try employment cases. And when we do, a technique we like to use is to tell the jury what the case isn’t about, then proceed to let them know what it is about. Same here. An employee who hears you talk about his lack of punctuality may be translating that in his head as: “He doesn’t like the job I’m doing at all, and I’m letting him down as an employee.” Use the don’t approach initially to clear away the cobwebs of erroneous belief and dispel what the employee may be thinking. Something like this:

Let me put this in perspective. I don’t want you to think I’m not satisfied with the quality of your work. I don’t want you believing your efforts are unappreciated.

It’s at this point that you put the contrast in to clarify what you really mean. According to the book, you can follow up with something like this:

I want us to continue working together. I really do think you’re doing a good job. But punctuality is important to me, and I’d like you to work on the punctuality issue. If you will be more attentive to that, there are really no other issues.

Bottom line

Effective communication is the key to running an effective business. And operations will be looking to HR and the legal department to help them do just that. The don’t/do approach stops a misunderstanding in its tracks and preempts arguments. The book is full of useful information like this, and we recommend it.

Michael Maslanka is the managing partner of Ford & Harrison LLP’s Dallas, Texas, office. He has 20 years of experience in litigation and trial of employment law cases and has served as Adjunct Counsel to a Fortune 10 company where he provided multi-state counseling on employment matters. He has also served as a Field Attorney for the National Labor Relations Board.

Mike is listed in The Best Lawyers in America and was selected as a “Texas Super Lawyer” by Texas Monthly and Law & Politics Magazine in 2003. He was also selected as one of the best lawyers in Dallas by “D” Magazine in 2003. Mike has served as the Chief Author and Editor of the Texas Employment Law Letter since 1990. He also authors the “Work Matters” column for Texas Lawyer.

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