The following is an article from the August 2019 issue of "Get Your Ducks in a Row" Carolina Family Estate Planning's free newsletter. You can read the rest of the issue, as well as back issues of our newsletter online at or subscribe for free at

Do you cringe and avoid difficult conversations (or difficult people)? Would you like to have better interactions with your significant other, your children, your siblings, your boss, your customers... pretty much everyone? Me too.

At our firm, we talk about helping people live better lives by planning for a secure future. I’d like to share with you another way that practically every one of us can have a better life--at least, every one of us who has regular human contact.

Recently, I was talking with a mentor about a less-than-enjoyable hard conversation I was avoiding. My mentor recommended the book Crucial Conversations, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. Overcoming my initial intimidation at taking on a book with four authors, I gathered myself and picked up a copy. I committed to reading the book. And when you have a couple days, I highly recommend you do the same.

I’ll not spoil the entire book, but I will share a few key points that I found valuable:

1) Learn to recognize crucial conversations in your life.

For me, these are the conversations that I dread. They make me jumpy and a little sick to my stomach. The authors say a “crucial conversation” is one in which the stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong. Learn how the prospect of such a conversation affects you. That’s your cue that it is something you need to dig into. As the authors say, the hallmark of an influential person is that they master their crucial conversations.

2) Learn to recognize when and why you feel unsafe.

When crucial conversations go awry, people begin to feel unsafe. They tend to go down a path of “silence or violence.” If you care about the outcome of the conversation, recognize what’s happening, and work to restore safety. Safety depends on mutual purpose and mutual respect. When it comes to purpose, what do you want out of the conversation for yourself, for the other person, and for the relationship? Are you behaving like someone who wants what you say you want? Can you find mutual purpose?

3) There are facts, and there are stories.

We all take facts and spin stories around them. Ask yourself what story you’re telling yourself. Is it a “clever story”--one that is conveniently one-sided or a story that makes you completely helpless or blameless? Consider that the story may not be accurate. Share the facts first. Then tell the story as you have experienced it. Then ask for their facts, stories, and feelings.

In addition to these key points, there are numerous, critical life lessons in this book that hit me like a bus. Things like: respect is like air: no one notices when there is plenty of it, but when there’s not enough, it’s all you can think about. And the Four Methods of Decision Making.

But what I found most helpful in my copy, the 2nd edition of the book, was the Afterword: “What I’ve Learned About Crucial Conversations in the Past Ten Years.” In the final pages of the book, the authors humbly relate what they’ve learned since the first edition of the book. What a relief to realize even the masters—the men who wrote the book on crucial conversations-are still learning. Sometimes painfully. However, it is easy to start being a little more aware of our conversation style. And we can get better with each conversation we have. And as we do, I am confident we will find that it is totally worth it.


Dan Bedard
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