Episode 101 – Crucial Conversations – When you Need Results

Episode #101
Original Air Date: 03.16.2020

37 Minutes

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Our Guest This Episode: Carrie Woods

Why do we fail so easily at having difficult conversations? Every day we engage in conversations that play important roles in shaping our relationships, and navigating these conversations effectively takes certain skills. Our guest Carrie Woods explains what is meant by a Crucial Conversation and speaks about the book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High.

Carrie describes how facts and stories drive our emotions, and how we can ‘rethink’ a story that is driving a negative emotion to enable us to move from conversation to productive results. Listen in for some tools for talking so you can be at your best for conversations that matter, and how you can address the negative emotions in a critical conversation.

Carrie is an author, corporate leadership trainer, and executive coach who has worked with companies like ACT, Amazon, Olan Mills, Rockefeller Center, and many more. Carrie is DDi certified and is a certified Platinum Level Trainer by VitalSmarts in their Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, and Getting Things Done.

Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:

People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. And when they know that you care, they will start responding. And they will feel safe enough to show you their true meaning.

- Carrie Woods

We have the uncomfortable conversation as soon as possible, when the issue is as small as possible, and we work to prevent them from growing.

- Carrie Woods

When emotion shows up, logic leaves. Emotion and logic cannot hang out together. So emotion shows up, logic leaves. We want to be able to control that emotion so that we can maintain a logical response and keep our focus on our original intent.

- Carrie Woods

Share With Others

The podcast by project managers for project managers. Hear advice on how to achieve constructive crucial conversations, and how to ‘rethink’ a story that is driving a negative emotion.

CARRIE WOODS: People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.  And when they know that you care, they will start responding.  And they will feel safe enough to show you their true meaning.

Table of Contents

00:58 … Meet Carrie
02:15 … Getting into Crucial Conversations
04:14 … Crucial Conversation Definition
05:32 … Warning Signs of a Crucial Conversation
07:00 … Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication
08:32 … Achieving a Constructive Crucial Conversation
10:30 … Facts and Stories
15:00 … Using the Right Strategy in a Crucial Conversation
20:58 … Getting to the Root and Performing “CPR”
25:23 … Accountability and Changing Behavior
27:42 … Softening the blow in a Crucial Conversation
32:11 … Creating Safe Environments
33:02 … Moving from Conversation to Results
35:32 … Get in Touch with Carrie
36:50 … Closing

WENDY GROUNDS:  Hello I am Wendy Grounds and welcome to the Manage This podcast, this is the show by project managers for project managers! And so with me in the studio is a familiar voice, Bill Yates….

BILL YATES:  Hi, Wendy.  Good to be here. So you may notice that Nick Walker is not in the room, he was here for the first 100 episodes.  And Nick was actually, he acquired so much knowledge as a project manager, he’s taken a new gig as a project – just kidding.  He has retired, and he has moved closer to family so he can be with his grandkids, and he and his wife can spoil them.

WENDY GROUNDS:  I think he actually mentioned he was project managing a wedding coming up.

BILL YATES:  That’s true.

WENDY GROUNDS:  So, yeah, he’s using those skills.

BILL YATES:  Yes, that’s absolutely true.

Meet Carrie

WENDY GROUNDS:  You know Bill, we’ve all had those difficult conversations, those conversations where the stakes are high and everyone has a different opinion and then emotions get involved. Well, on this episode, we’re talking about just those conversations. Crucial ones and our guest Carrie Woods is going to describe to us how facts and stories drive our emotions and also how we can move from those crucial conversations to getting results. 

Carrie is an author, speaker, master trainer, and executive coach as well as a Certified Platinum Level VitalSmarts Trainer in Crucial Conversations.  Carrie, welcome to Manage This, we’re so glad you could join us today.

CARRIE WOODS:  Thank you.  Thank you so much.  It is absolutely fantastic to be here today.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Well, we’re happy to have you. So could you just tell us, what brought you into this line of work, and what makes you passionate about it?

CARRIE WOODS:  Absolutely, so about 14 years ago I transitioned from the corporate world into being a full-time writer, of all things. And with that, as my client base grew, I moved into instructional design, and from instructional design moved into facilitating the content that I was developing for various organizations, and so today we work with companies like Amazon, Volkswagen, Lincoln Electric, helping develop leaders at all levels to be more effective.

Getting into Crucial Conversations

BILL YATES:  Well, so one of the things we’re excited about is this whole topic of Crucial Conversations, and it comes from a book, a very popular book, something that a lot of life coaches and others put to work.  And I’m excited about seeing how we can relate this to the world of project managers.  How did you first get into this Crucial Conversations?  Did you read the book?  Did somebody recommend it?  Or how did you become a master trainer with this?

CARRIE WOODS:  Oh, my goodness, so several years ago, actually, the book was recommended to me, and as I shared – so we work with all kinds of companies. And what we found, especially with  my background as a writer, is communication and effective communication is the foundation of any leadership skill. So it doesn’t matter what topic I have on the screen – conflict resolution, driving change, employee engagement, we can go through all the buzzwords.  If you are not communicating well, then you are not being understood, and you cannot drive any of those behaviors towards the results and the outcomes that people need.

So I was always looking for how do people communicate well because it’s something that some people do inherently, it’s just a skill that they have.  And those are the people that we look at, and we go, man, they can just get things done.  What is different about them that they’re just successful while I’m sitting here stuck? And so it comes down to they communicate well.

So with that, the next step, being a trainer, and being somebody who designs learning content, you go, okay, how do I make that a transferable skill?  In my quest to identify that, somebody recommended the book “Crucial Conversations,” and so I read it, and I said, this is it.  I don’t have to figure this out because they’ve done it.  Why reinvent the wheel?  Because they have created an approach that is so transferable, so easy to apply, and so effective that it truly does change people’s lives in an amazing way.

Crucial Conversation Definition

BILL YATES:  So define, what is a “crucial conversation”?

CARRIE WOODS:  Absolutely.  Crucial conversations are those moments – so I tell my clients it’s where you find yourselves at a crossroads where you and I are having a discussion, and the stakes are high. Okay?  The outcome really does matter, we don’t agree on what that outcome should be, and now emotions are also running hot. So when you find yourself in the middle of that triangle of high stakes, very emotional, and outcomes matter, that is the reality of a crucial conversation. And I can explain that all day long, and so you can kind of look at it in retrospect and go, oh, yeah, I know what you were talking about.

BILL YATES:  That was one.

CARRIE WOODS:  That was one.  In the moment how you tend to recognize it is your body’s fight-or-flight response kicks in, and you might not realize what’s happening, but you can feel it. Those butterflies start in your stomach, or maybe your neck starts to get hot, your voice starts to quiver a little bit, and so you go, “Oh, something’s changed.  Something’s changed.”  And that’s your warning sign that this conversation has just turned crucial.

BILL YATES:  So those are some of the indicators about, okay, these are like signs that a crucial conversation is popping up.

CARRIE WOODS:  Absolutely.

Warning Signs of a Crucial Conversation

BILL YATES:  Sometimes I think project managers know they’re going into a crucial conversation because, oh, my goodness, I have to meet with the sponsor and ask for a 10 percent budget increase. Or I’ve got to meet with a customer and tell him that the big nasty risk actually occurred, so now I’ve got to deal with it. We need some extra money, some extra time, you know, something bad, bad quality issue.  Then there are other times, I think, where we’re kind of caught off guard by it.  So tell us, what are some of these warning signs that you can go into?

CARRIE WOODS:  So when your body senses a threat, you automatically go into the physiological fight-or-flight response, and what happens with that is in that moment your brain floods your synaptic cleft with everything you’ve got.  It’s like hitting the overdrive turbo boost on a car and just all your adrenalin, all your hormones, everything.  So the reaction to that is that all of these physiological changes happen, your hands start to shake, your voice starts to shake, butterflies in your stomach, your neck can get hot.  These will vary from person to person.

BILL YATES:  I sweat.  I tend to sweat a lot.

CARRIE WOODS:  You get that sweaty response?

BILL YATES:  Like I am full-on working out at the Y.  I mean, I am, like…

CARRIE WOODS:  Yes.  And so when I describe this, everybody, they relate because they know what theirs are, even though it might not match with everybody else in the room.  And when you feel that, you start to go, oh, okay, I need to pay more attention here because – and so it comes down to verbal/nonverbal communication, which we could do a whole ‘nother podcast on. 

Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication

But let me ask you guys a quick question.  If I had to ask what percentage of the communication that you put out in the world on a daily basis do you believe is verbal, so how much of what you say comes out of your mouth?

WENDY GROUNDS:  I would say maybe about 40 percent. 

BILL YATES:  And so I know the stats on, yeah, I think I know where you’re going with the nonverbal, and it’s way higher than you would expect, share those.  What are those facts?

CARRIE WOODS:  Way higher, so the research shows us that it’s approximately 7 percent.

BILL YATES:  Is verbal.

CARRIE WOODS:  Is verbal.  So only 7 percent of our communication is verbal, everything else is nonverbal.  It’s your inflection, your expression, your hand gestures, how you fix your hair, how you dress, how you stand, so all of these things.  And you can actually see the impact of this.  Have you ever sent a text or an email to somebody, and all of a sudden they’re mad, and you have no idea why?



CARRIE WOODS:  Okay, so this is why your iPhone now has 2,000 emojis, because they’re desperately trying to put nonverbal cues back into verbal communication.  Have a good day, smile smile smile smile smile smile.  Really?  Please don’t be mad.  Not, you know, good luck with that.  So when we go back to the idea of a crucial conversation, that physiological response, we pick up on those nonverbal cues automatically, and we start to react to them even though we’re not necessarily aware of them yet.  And so you feel that reaction.  And when you train yourself, when you become skilled, that’s your early warning sign to kind of back up, take stock of what’s going on, and go, okay, this has just become crucial.

Achieving a Constructive Crucial Conversation

WENDY GROUNDS:  So I’ve had crucial conversations with people, and I kind of walk away and think to myself, well, that didn’t go well.

CARRIE WOODS:  Who hasn’t; right?

WENDY GROUNDS:  Yeah.  And so how do we achieve a constructive crucial conversation?  What can I be doing to make sure I don’t walk away with that feeling?

CARRIE WOODS:  Oh, goodness, that’s the golden question; isn’t it?  Well, so I want to back you up just a little bit to help you understand how we get into these kind of in the first place.  And so this is the idea of facts and stories. So now, as we discuss facts and stories, I want to lay out right upfront, neither of these are bad, we’re not calling stories a bad thing.  What we’re doing is learning to label them for what they are.

Now, what happens is we all have a path to action, and so this path to action creates our emotions, which then creates our actions.  So when we control these stories, we are in essence able to control our emotions and therefore control our actions, which helps us when we get in those crucial conversations like you were talking about because we’re able to think objectively.  When emotion shows up, logic leaves, emotion and logic cannot hang out together.  So emotion shows up, logic leaves.  We want to be able to control that emotion so that we can maintain a logical response and keep our focus on our original intent.

So think about it, you said you’ve had those conversations where afterwards you’re like, yup, that one was not what I was hoping for. What happens then is the first thing that deteriorates is not our behavior, it’s our intent.  So we go into this discussion, so say a project manager goes into a discussion hoping to gain agreement with a colleague about a changed deadline.  Hey, we really need to move this up.  Well, then emotion shows up, tempers start growing, and all of a sudden it’s not about achieving that deadline anymore. Now it’s about winning, so it’s about I am right, and you are wrong.


Facts and Stories

CARRIE WOODS:  Those protective goals take over, so we lose that intent, and we start responding with emotion.  So facts and stories, what is a fact?  Let me ask you guys, what’s a fact?

BILL YATES:  So I’m thinking – I’m thinking Spock, I can see him in my head, right?


BILL YATES:  He’s like, I just want the facts, you know, binary, black and white, true/false.

CARRIE WOODS:  I can see it.  I can hear it, I can touch it, and I can measure it.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  I can test it and measure it; right.

CARRIE WOODS:  These are facts, so a story, then, is any judgment, any assumption, anything where we take that fact and go to the next step.  So if I came in, and I said, “Man, he was so angry today when I talked to him,” well, do you think that’s a fact or a story?

BILL YATES:  Sounds like a story.  Spock says that’s a story.

WENDY GROUNDS:  I would say it’s a story.

CARRIE WOODS: So why would Spock say that’s a story, though?

BILL YATES: So all Spock’s going to do is look at what was said – just, you know, take the text, don’t worry about the context or the emotion or what the person was wearing or how they were using their hands, or their tone, their inflection.  Just ignoring all that, just looking at the facts.

CARRIE WOODS:  Just looking at the facts because angry is my judgment of his behavior, so based on whatever he said, whatever he wore, whatever his presentation was, I determined that he was angry.  He didn’t come in and go, “Oh, Carrie, I am so angry today.”  No.  I said he was angry. It’s all in our perception.


CARRIE WOODS:  So those perceptions, those stories then drive our emotions.  Let me give you an example, so let’s say I come in here today, and they go, “Oh, Carrie is the new boss.”  And you all are like, well, okay. So I give everybody an assignment, and now I’m coming in every 10 minutes to check on you, those are the facts, I’m coming in every 10 minutes to check on what you’re doing.  So how does that make you feel?

BILL YATES:  Micromanaged.

CARRIE WOODS:  Yeah.  She’s micromanaging me.  She doesn’t trust me.  What’s she thinking?

WENDY GROUNDS:  Just let me do my job.

CARRIE WOODS:  Oh, wow, so how does that make you feel?

BILL YATES:  My story is I’m mad.

WENDY GROUNDS:  I would be irritated.

BILL YATES:  I feel disrespected.  Yeah, yeah.  I’m going to go over your head.

CARRIE WOODS:  So now the story is that I’m micromanaging, I don’t trust you, I’m creating a tense environment.  The emotion is now you’re mad.


CARRIE WOODS:  You’re frustrated.  So I come in again, and how do you act?

BILL YATES:  Ticked off.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Irritated.

CARRIE WOODS:  Short.  Blunt.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  We need to have a crucial conversation, now.

CARRIE WOODS:  So this is it, maybe we have a crucial conversation, all right.  But now let’s go back to the beginning of that, same exact set of facts. We’re not going to change one fact at all.  So what is a completely different story you could tell yourself?

WENDY GROUNDS:  We could say that Carrie is concerned for us, wants to make sure we’re doing okay, she cares about the project, and so she’s coming in to give support.


BILL YATES:  Maybe she’s trying to learn more about what we’re doing and kind of get up to speed, so you know, here’s what we’re doing, and here’s why it’s important.  This is the support we need.

CARRIE WOODS:  So I care, and I’m trying to learn, okay.  Well, now what emotions do you have?

BILL YATES:  I’m not as ticked off.


WENDY GROUNDS:  Yeah, I’m not threatened.

CARRIE WOODS:  Not threatened.

BILL YATES:  Maybe she’s supportive, yeah, yeah.

CARRIE WOODS:  Maybe she’s supportive.  Maybe this could work out.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, benefit of the doubt, maybe.

CARRIE WOODS:  So now how do you act?

 WENDY GROUNDS:  I’d be more welcoming when you came by my desk.

CARRIE WOODS:  What changed?


CARRIE WOODS:  The story.  That’s it. So the only thing that changed is the story, and what’s unfortunate is, especially in our culture, is we have a predisposition to jump to the worst-case scenario.


CARRIE WOODS:  We believe the worst in people, and we allow those stories to control us, so when we start controlling them, we start controlling our outcomes.

BILL YATES:   So when we walk into a crucial conversation, we need to have awareness of our stories.

CARRIE WOODS:  Yes, yes.  And that’s…

BILL YATES:  We need to know what we’re bringing into this thing.

CARRIE WOODS:  We need to know exactly what we’re bringing into it, and so we get into this portion of training, and people tend to get very upset, and I warn them before we go on.  I’m like, look.  At least one of you is going to be mad at me in the next 23 minutes.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, okay.

CARRIE WOODS:  I’m just throwing it out there, because they get very attached to those stories, we’re not calling stories bad.  You need stories for context, for the nonverbal part of why this matters, but you also need the awareness to label them for what they truly are, and not let those stories become fact in your head and inadvertently control you.

Using the Right Strategy in a Crucial Conversation

BILL YATES:  Okay.  Now you’ve gotten right to that point.  So project managers, I think they can follow up to here, and they’re like, okay, “I got you, Carrie.  This makes sense.”  Now, help me.  How do I do – I’m walking into this crucial conversation, it’s going to be difficult, I know, and know I can also just hear the voices in my head going, you know, they’re against me.  They’ve done this in the past.  They’re working behind me.  So how do I put those voices, how do I quieten those, and what’s the right strategy to take?

CARRIE WOODS:  So we have to remember that intent.  When I work with my project managers, I often get tickled at them because when they come in to training for the first time, their goal is to control others.  All right, Carrie, so you’re going to teach me these skills, and I’m going to get better at getting people to do what I want them to do.

BILL YATES:  Totally.

CARRIE WOODS:  Because the reality in most project management situations is they are held accountable for individuals and behaviors over which they have absolutely no authority.  So I have accountability, but I have no authority, that’s fun.  But such is the nature of the role; right?  So we have to learn how to work within that.  So they come in thinking it’s about controlling the conversation, and once they really start applying the skills, they find out it’s about gaining real understanding of what is actually going on, of taking the time.

You’ve got that person, so let’s say you’re a project manager in a production company, and your projects always tend to hit a snag when they get to the paint department.  Every time they go to paint, they hit a snag, they hit a snag.  And you go down there, and as soon as you go down to the floor and you see that supervisor, you can see that he is locking up, and that he is bracing for the fight before you ever even talk to him.

BILL YATES:  He knows what’s coming.

CARRIE WOODS:  So he knows what’s coming, and I’m sure there’s a few people listening right now going, “Yup.  I have done that before.  I know that person.”  Well, instead of going down there and trying to force him into behavior, maybe we need to take the time to truly understand what it’s like to be on his side of the issue.

I’ve been in so many production companies where, yeah, maybe the paint department in this particular company is the bottleneck because everybody keeps sending through reworks.  And so they’ve already done their job.  Maybe they’ve done it two and three times, and somebody scratched it, or it got all the way to finish and the customer wants it purple instead of yellow.  Or whatever has happened.  Oh, we moved a door that wasn’t there before, now we have to repaint this whole side. These things are the reality, so if you understand truly what’s going on from that person’s perspective, then you start having the right conversation.

Let’s talk about human nature for a little bit, so this is something I love to do to all of my classes.  So when I am teaching, typically everybody has water or a soda or coffee on the table in front of them.  So we’re all sitting there, everybody has something to drink. And so I will tell people, I’ll go, imagine I’m standing up here right now, and I told you I forbid you from touching that drink for the rest of this class.  Yes, exactly, Bill just reaches out for the drink he doesn’t even have.  As soon as somebody draws a line in the sand, we are biologically pre-dispositioned to step to that line, that’s how we work.  Oh, you forbid me.  Really.

BILL YATES:  Oh, really.

CARRIE WOODS:  That’s cute, so let me take a sip.  But how many times do we take that approach and employ it professionally?  We try to force things to happen instead of facilitating the outcomes that we want.  So if we go into these conversations differently, so you say, you know, how do I quiet the voices, we quiet the voices by taking time on the front end to really think about our intent.  What do I really want for this relationship?  What do I really want from this project? So what do I really want for this outcome?

  All right, now here’s the kicker, so if that were true, how would I be behaving right now?  Because the biggest part of a crucial conversation is spending that mirror time owning your own actions and holding yourself accountable for your own behavior before you try to change somebody else’s.  So is my behavior supporting my outcome?

BILL YATES:  So then there’s homework that we need to do.  I can’t just take all my amped-up emotion and caffeine and walk into the paint department and find that manager and…


BILL YATES:  …go boom ba boom boom.  So I need to take the time to do some research, to think about kind of where I am emotionally and why, what is my goal, what’s the perfect outcome, and then try to put myself in the other person’s position and think about, okay, what about their perspective?

CARRIE WOODS:  And so in the conversation, you only get to answer as many questions as you ask.


CARRIE WOODS: So you want to work to deeply understand.  Anybody here, if I came in and told you one time that I wanted you to change a long-held behavior from now until forever, and then walked off, what are the odds that that’s actually going to happen?  Yeah, nada.  Not even a possibility.

But yet how often do we do that to other people? We come in to a department over which we have no authority.  So we pop off with what we expect them to do differently from now on, and we walk out and expect that it’s going to be gospel and followed no matter what.  But yet again, we wouldn’t hold ourselves to that same standard.  So we want to be understood, yet we also want to seek to deeply understand the other people involved in this conversation so that we’re getting to the root of the problem. We’re not treating symptoms all of the time of this long-held issue.  We’re getting down to what is the real issue, and then how can we truly eradicate it.

Getting to the Root and Performing “CPR”

BILL YATES:  So Carrie, as we’re talking about these crucial conversations and setting this up where we walk into it, we know we need to have an important conversation with someone.  And we want to understand our own emotions. So we want an understanding of where the other person is coming from, and what’s at stake, and we know there is enough at stake.  We are going to have this conversation.


BILL YATES:  So how do we get to the root of it?  What advice do you have?  What’s the root issue that we need to address?

CARRIE WOODS:  Gosh.  This is so important, and there’s a couple of things here.  One, a lot of times when we know we need to have this conversation, what people tend to do is they just avoid it.  If I avoid it long enough, it will what?

BILL YATES:  It’ll go away, take care of itself.

CARRIE WOODS:  Yeah.  And how’s that working for you?

BILL YATES:  Not at all.

CARRIE WOODS:  Not at all.  But yet we all keep trying it.  So you reach the point where you can’t ignore it anymore, and the first thing that we have to do when we talk about getting to the root of that issue is step back, and they say perform CPR.


CARRIE WOODS:  Now, this is not the CPR that you all know about it, but it will make it stick in your head.  And CPR is breaking the issue down into what we call “content, pattern, and relationship.”  Now, a content issue is something that has happened once.  It is something fresh, it is something new, it may be twice, and so you can typically handle it with a fairly easy exchange.  So, for example, let’s go back to I’m the new girl here today.  And you go – what time do you guys start around here?

BILL YATES:  7:30.

CARRIE WOODS:  7:30.  Okay.  “So start time is 7:30, Carrie.”  All right.  Week two, one day I roll in about 8:15, act like no big deal.  This is a new behavior.  If it is addressed at this point, typically it can be nipped in the bud, and we don’t deal with it anymore.  Well, but let’s say it’s not addressed.  And then the next week it’s 8:00, and 8:20, you know, and that becomes a pattern over the next two, three months.  So now it’s not I showed up late once.  It’s I show up late two or three days a week, and then I just go about my business like it’s nothing, normal.

Now, that pattern, here’s the danger.  We didn’t engage when it was content because it was uncomfortable, or because they are your friend, or because you’re afraid that they’re going to get upset.  Whatever reason, all of these things that prevent us from digging in.  But now the pattern has developed.  And the danger here is that pattern can affect the relationship.  So Wendy, you and I work side by side.  We have desks right next to each other, and you see me rolling in at 8:15, 8:20, all these different times, and nobody says anything.  And you show up late one day, and immediately they say, “Now, Wendy, you know we start at 7:30.” So this resentment starts to take hold.

And so now Wendy and I have a problem working with each other because she feels that she’s being treated unfairly, that I’m getting away with something that she doesn’t, that I’m getting special treatment.  So she comes to Bill, and she says, “You’ve got to deal with this.  This is a problem.”  Well, we’ve got a few issues.  The relationship is now affected, and because people can see that, that’s what they engage in.  They want the relationship to be harmonious so that there’s no hostility within the team. They engage in that relationship issue.

So Bill brings us in, he sits us down.  “Hey, you guys, you haven’t been working well together.  I need you to deal with this.”  We’re like, “Oh, okay, fine, we’ll play nice.  We’ll do what we’re supposed to.”  But he doesn’t address the issue of me coming in late.  And so all of that ground that we covered on the visible of we’re not getting projects done, or we’re not being kind to each other, whatever’s happening erases the next day as soon as I show up late.  Because the root of the issue, the root of the problem is that I’m late.

Now, when these issues develop, and we all know that they do, I’m sure everybody can think of at least one where something like this has happened, now how do you, Bill, come to me and address that I’ve been late?  Because I’ve been doing it for months.  So as soon as you come have this conversation with me, “Well, you know, Carrie, we start at 7:30.”  “Oh, I know that.”  “Well, you know you need to get here at 7:30.”  “Well, you know, I do, but some days I’m a little late. But I get my stuff done.  I stay late.  It’s never been a problem before.”  Right?  And you’re going, “Well, actually it’s been a problem from the beginning.”  “Oh, well, then why didn’t you tell me about it then?”


Accountability and Changing Behavior

CARRIE WOODS:  Oh, wait a minute.  Now it’s somebody else’s bad behavior that is being uncovered by having to have this conversation.  Somebody else is now accountable.  So the issue just grows.  So with all that, you know, you say, how do we get to the root of the issue?  We deal with things quickly.  We deal with things at the content level.  We have the uncomfortable conversation as soon as possible, when the issue is as small as possible, and we work to prevent them from growing.

BILL YATES:  To me, the more I put off a conversation that I know I need to have, whether it’s a customer or a team member, the more uncomfortable it gets.

CARRIE WOODS:  Absolutely.

BILL YATES:  I mean, the sooner you address it, the easier it is, and the more likely that it’s going to be an easy correction for the other person receiving it.

CARRIE WOODS:  Because the behavior has become habit.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, right.  It’s hard to break.

CARRIE WOODS:  And now you have the accountability, you not only are changing the behavior, but of why did you allow the behavior to develop when you knew it was a problem.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  A quick example, I was thinking as we were prepping for this, Carrie, I was thinking about a lot of the projects that I’ve done have been external customer facing.  And we would have to hold each other accountable as team members.  Hey, if you lose your cool in front of the client, that’s not a good thing.  You know, it’s unprofessional, makes us look bad, et cetera, et cetera.  So when we would, you know, from time to time a team member would lose it, and we had to hold each other accountable because if you do it once and you get away with it, you may just do it again; right?  And it starts to poison the water of the whole team.

CARRIE WOODS:  Yes, the bad apple.  People revert to behavior that works.  When you look at communication habits, we start developing those as soon as we’re born.  And we do this exercise in class where we talk about how did you get your way as a child?  And we go through all these things.  And usually you have at least one person that goes, “I threw a tantrum.”  And somebody else is like, “Oh, I didn’t do that.”  I’m like, “Why?  Why didn’t you throw a tantrum?”  “Oh, I tried that once, and it didn’t work.”

So when it doesn’t work, we start seeking behaviors that do.  So people revert to behavior that works.  When the behavior no longer works, the first thing somebody does is escalate.  And then, if it still is not successful, they will start seeking another path.  But you have to be consistent with everybody.  You have to hold the standards, not allow the behaviors to work, and move people towards the results you need them to achieve.

Softening the Blow in a Crucial Conversation

WENDY GROUNDS:  When I have to bring up something difficult, when I have to have that tough conversation, how do I soften the blow?  So how do I make it just a little bit easier for that person to swallow?

CARRIE WOODS:  So when we think about softening the blow, it’s like that insincere messy sandwich, right?


CARRIE WOODS:  Oh, Wendy, your hair looks amazing today.  Can we talk?

WENDY GROUNDS:  Oh, my goodness.  Yeah, no.

CARRIE WOODS:  Yeah.  Welcome to the South.  When I moved to the South, it was always amazing to me how you could say “Bless your heart” and wrap it with anything, and it would be just like, “Bless their heart, they’re as dumb as a box of rocks.”  And I’m like, that’s not a thing; okay?  But yet somehow we feel like the insincere compliment is going to make it easier.  So instead, what I talk about is, one, you’re always going to be facilitating strong relationships with people, that’s baseline.  But even if you’re not, when you have those crucial conversations, we’re going in with a different approach to achieve a different outcome, and this is a 16-hour class.  This is a whole book.  This is a huge training.

But we talk about look at how you’re approaching somebody.  You know, we tend to come in all fired up and, oh, you know, I’m going to hold you accountable, when instead we tell people to slow down, watch the cadence of their voice, and work to facilitate safety right from the very beginning.  And so what we mean by “safety” is encouraging dialog, encouraging that back-and-forth where I can share my true meaning only because I am willing and even seeking to understand your true meaning.

BILL YATES:  So you mentioned, going back to my problem with the paint department, so instead of me just going, unloading on Fred the manager there, you already said I need to come in with questions, you know, think about my own perspective and then ask questions of, “Fred, what are you guys dealing with?”  So you know, “Tell me more of what’s your number one thing that you wish you could get rid of.”  You know, “What’s the biggest problem on your plate?” and then bringing them around.

CARRIE WOODS:  Yeah, and so I tell people, you don’t always have to barge in the front door, you can walk in the side and typically get a better result.  So we don’t come at Fred and go, “You missed the deadline again, you’ve got one job.  One job.”  Right?  I have a project manager that actually admitted to me that that’s what he used to do.  He also admitted to me that he was famous for sending emails and then walking down the hall almost before it had arrived and was like, did you get my email?  Bing, and then it shows up.

But so instead of coming out like that, we come out and we go, “Hey, tell me about your week, what’s going on?”  “Oh, man, so they sent us a whole truckload of the wrong paint. We can’t put it on any of our stuff because it’s got the wrong base, we had to ship it all out, we’re working with half of our normal stock.”  You know, so look at what’s going on in their world, and try to understand what’s going on in their world, and understand the power in that.

So there’s a – it’s kind of gimmicky, but it works beautifully – exercise that I give all of my participants, and I tell them, I’m like, “Who goes out to eat?”  And everybody’s hand goes up, and so I tell them, “The next time you go out to eat, I want you to ask for the manager at the end of your meal.”  Now, what happens when you ask for the manager?

WENDY GROUNDS:  It’s usually a complaint.

CARRIE WOODS:  What’s wrong?  What’s wrong?

WENDY GROUNDS:  Yeah.  Yeah.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, the waiter’s going to be scared, yeah.

CARRIE WOODS:  They’re scared, so you see that body language change, they stiffen up. 

BILL YATES:  They’re like, oh, no.

CARRIE WOODS:  Nothing’s wrong, I just want to talk to the manager.  Manager comes up, so what’s the first thing they say?

BILL YATES:  What’s wrong?

CARRIE WOODS:  What’s wrong?

BILL YATES:  How was your meal?

CARRIE WOODS:  You have said nothing’s wrong, and I also want you to look at them, look at how they are physically braced for the blow they think you’re about to deliver.  They’ll be so uptight, shoulders locked, jaw sometimes a little clenched.  Now, what you do you think I want you to say?  Do you think I want you to complain?

BILL YATES:  I really enjoyed my meal.  Your wait staff’s outstanding.

CARRIE WOODS:  Yes.  Hey, you guys are so slammed tonight, we had a great experience.  Thank you so much.  And watch what happens, because that person who was physically braced for that blow they thought you were about to deliver will melt.  Typically they come down, they put one arm on the table, they lean over, they start talking to you.  They’re like, “Oh, man, thank you so much.”  You know, “We are short-staffed tonight,” or “Our food delivery didn’t get here, one of our ovens is down, the grill’s not right.”  Whatever it is that’s going on that nobody out front even realizes, and they feel so relieved that somebody is actually seeing them, actually seeing the effort they put in, that the whole conversation changes.

I’ve had people get free dessert,  I’ve had people get chased out of restaurants with free barbecue sauce, but the impact.  And so when you see the impact of being able to change the conversation, all they did was change their approach.  That’s it.  And the whole conversation shifts.

Creating Safe Environments

BILL YATES:  Carrie, how do we create safe environments?  So let’s say I’m a project manager, I’ve got my team, I’ve got my customer, my management above me, how do I create a safe environment?

CARRIE WOODS:  You create the reality where you truly want to know and understand what the other person is facing. So you make it apparent, you listen, you slow down, you only get to seek as many of your wants, things on your list, as you are willing to ask for on theirs.  So to truly understand what is going on, get to that root, and when you do that – people know when you care.  People don’t care what you know until they know that you care, and when they know that you care, they will start responding, and they will feel safe enough to show you their true meaning.

Moving from Conversation to Results

WENDY GROUNDS:  How do we move from that?  So now, we’ve had this conversation, we’ve got things out in the open, and how do we take that into results?  How do we get something productive coming out of that conversation where everybody is at peace with the decision?

CARRIE WOODS:  Absolutely, so now, this is where we go from talking to acting, and we want to lay out those action steps because this is that crucial point where everybody is on the same page.  You have agreement, finally we’re going to move towards the same goal at the same time.  Not quite.

So instead, we go further, and we start laying out very specific action steps.  Okay, so we have agreed this is the goal, the goal is to move up our timeframe by 20 percent, ask for an extension by an additional 20 percent by the client.  That will get us to that 40 percent point that we need in order to achieve the goal here and get the project out in full and on time. Okay, well, who is going to reset the internal timeframe?  Who is going to work those schedules?  What is the deadline for getting that done? So how should I follow up with you to see if there’s anything that you need from me or anything that I need to be doing.

Okay, so I’m going to reach out to the client, I’m going to do that by 4:00 o’clock today.  By 4:00 o’clock tomorrow afternoon, I’m going to get with you as to their full and complete response, hopefully earlier.  If you don’t hear from me by 4:00 o’clock, this is how I would like for you to respond.  So you set those very clear steps, who is going to do what, by when, and then how and when do we follow up?  And so if you can do that, and do it well, not only does everybody leave the conversation understanding what action means, we’re not guessing.  So this is a huge hole in a lot of conversation, we leave gray area for people to guess.

But you also set the foundation, if any of those goals are not met, now you can have a very safe accountability discussion.  You know, “Hey, Bill, yesterday we talked about you would have me the schedule change by 4:00 o’clock.  It’s 4:30, and I haven’t heard from you, so can you help me understand what’s going on here?”  So you have the expected behavior versus the observed behavior equals a question. This is the one formula I can give you for conversation.  It’s not usually this cut and dried, but expected plus observed equals a question.  Always.  And if you set the actions properly, the accountability is inherent, and so that conversation is easy to have.

Get in Touch with Carrie

WENDY GROUNDS:  Excellent advice.  Thank you, Carrie, this has been really good. So this has been a conversation that I think is going to help many people going forward.

CARRIE WOODS:  I hope so, definitely.

WENDY GROUNDS:  I really do. So if our listeners want to know more about crucial conversations or want to get in touch with you, what’s the best way that they can do that?

CARRIE WOODS:  So “Crucial Conversations,” I would always say read the book, you guys.  It’s on Amazon.  You can get it, Amazon Prime, two days.  We say that all the time around our office, so you can get it all the time.  You can find me at any time at CatalystNorthTraining.com, and also you can reply to my team or reach out to my team, and we are happy to help you reach those goals, no matter what they are.  We tell people we help them find success as they define it, and we’ll do just that.

BILL YATES:  Excellent.  Hey, we’ve got something for you.  We really appreciate you taking the time to come into our studio and record this, and so we are hoping that you’re a coffee drinker.

CARRIE WOODS:  Always.  Who doesn’t drink coffee?

BILL YATES:  Wonderful, because we have this Manage This mug that holds copious amounts of coffee.

CARRIE WOODS:  Aww.  How kind.

BILL YATES:  Or what other liquid you’d put in there and so hopefully that will help be a reminder of your time with us.

CARRIE WOODS:  Thank you.  So you guys give me presents on air and, like, make me all grateful and stuff.  Thank you so much, it’s been a blast coming down here and hanging out with you guys this morning, we’ve really enjoyed it.  Thank you for having us.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Thank you, Carrie. 

WENDY GROUNDS:  Thanks for listening, folks.  You just earned some free PDUs by listening to this podcast.  So to claim them, go to Velociteach.com and choose Manage This Podcast from the top of the page.  Click the button that says Claim PDUs and then follow the steps. So that’s it for this episode of Manage This, thank you for joining us.  We hope you’ll tune back in on April 7th for our next episode, until then, keep calm and Manage This.

7 responses to “Episode 101 – Crucial Conversations – When you Need Results”

  1. Steven Hedger says:

    Great advice — every manager will at some time need the skills you have shared. It is important to diffuse a situation rather than exacerbate a bad outcome into something worse. Thanks!

  2. Sameer says:

    I like the way you say that the first thing we do is escalate and then start seeking another path. So many times you escalate to get work down. Facilitate strong relationships is key to build a relationship.

  3. Sameer says:

    The last 10 minutes of conversation has been best of all. Keep clear expectations and measurable goals and follow up later on same.

  4. Hawa Iyamabo says:

    Thanks Carrie for this high level on crucial conversations. great refresher for me as i had read the book on CC when the stakes are high. Such an effective tool

  5. Sheryl Cartee says:

    I loved this episode…especially this line:
    People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. And when they know that you care, they will start responding. And they will feel safe enough to show you their true meaning.

    How true is this statement? It’s all about the approach you decide to take as a PM.

    Sheryl Cartee

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