One of my favorite books on soft skills is the classic Crucial Conversations by Vital Smarts. I first read the book a few years ago and since then I constantly find myself reflecting back on many of the insights I gained when reading it the first time.

Below are my detailed notes from various readings and searching on the internet for discussion and notes on the book. While my notes down there are fairly lengthy, the book itself does a fantastic job of teaching the material. I highly recommend reading that first.

1. Start with heart

  • Person you can directly control is yourself
  • Focus on what you really want for yourself, the relationship
  • Refuse the fools choice
    • Search for healthy options to bring you to good dialogue

2. Learn to look

  • Be aware of where the conversation is heading
  • Be aware of how people are reacting in the conversation
  • Look for when the conversation becomes crucial
  • Look for safety problems
    • People moving towards silence or violence
  • Look for outbreaks of your Style Under Stress
  • Ensure that all parties are comfortable and able to add to the positive pool of dialogue

3. Make it safe

  • Step out of the conversation
    • Is Mutual Purpose at risk
    • Is Mutual Respect at risk
  • Apologize if appropriate
  • Contrast to fix misunderstanding
    • What you don't intend or mean
    • What you do intend or mean
  • When you are at cross purposes, use CRIB to get back to mutual purpose
    • Commit to seek Mutual Purpose - state that we need to find a mutual purpose, bring the dialogue back to identify one
    • Recognize the purpose behind the strategy - Ask people why they want what they are pushing for, separate demand from the purpose it serves
    • Invent a Mutual Purpose - If still at cross purposes, invent a higher level purpose to find mutual motivation a goal
    • Brainstorm new strategies - With a clear mutual purpose join forces to find a solution that serves everyone

4. Master my Stories

  • See and Hear > Tell a story > Feel > Act
  • Analyze your stories, question your conclusions, look for other possible explanations behind your stories
  • What story is creating what emotions
    • Get back to facts
  • Abandon your stories and concentrate on the hard facts only
  • Watch out for clever stories
    • Victim - "It's not my fault"
    • Villain - "It's all your fault"
    • Helpless - "There's nothing else I can do"
  • Ask yourself, to tell the rest of the story
    • Am I pretending not to notice my role in the problem?
    • Why would a reasonable, rational and decent person do this (remember your mutual purpose)?
    • What do I really want?


  • When you have a tough message to share
  • When you are convinced of your own rightness
  • Don't push too hard
  • Remember to STATE your Path:
    • Share your facts - State your persuasive, true and non controversial facts, not your opinion!
    • Tell your story - Explain what you’re are beginning to conclude, in a light manor
    • Ask for others paths - Encourage others to share their facts and stories
    • Talk tentatively - State your story, don’t disguise it as fact!
    • Encourage testing - Make others feel safe to express differing and opposing views

6. Explore others paths

  • Make it safe
  • Use AMPP to help get people to explore paths
    • Ask - Express interest in other persons views
    • Mirror - Acknowledge the emotions people are feeling
    • Paraphrase - Once people start sharing, restate what they said in your own words to show that you understand
    • Prime - If others are not sharing, take a guess and share what you think they may be feeling
  • As people begin to share their views remember ABC:
    • Agree - Agree when you share views
    • Build - If others leave something out, agree and then build
    • Compare - When you don't agree, don't say they are wrong, compare your two views "I think we see things differently", use STATE to explain your views

7. Move to action

  • Turn a successful crucial conversation into great decisions by moving to action
  • Determine how to decide:
    • Command - Decisions made without involving others
    • Consult - Input is gathered and subset decides
    • Vote - An agreed upon percentage swings decision
    • Consensus - Everyone comes to an agreement
  • Decisions should be put into action through assignment
    • Who?
    • Does what?
    • By when?
    • How will you follow up?
This article was first noted down on the 11th of September, 2015.