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Crucial Conversations Returns In April

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Do you ever find yourself dreading an important discussion with a colleague, employee, or supervisor? Do you hope ignoring the situation will make it go away, while knowing down deep it will only make it worse?

Two years ago Sherri Yerk-Zwickl, LTS Client Services, was in the same boat. There wasn’t one particular situation that was gnawing at her, but she knew she wasn’t good at opening up uncomfortable dialogues, no matter how important they might be.

So Sherri made an important choice. She registered for Crucial Conversations“I needed to feel more confident dealing with people about issues that need to be resolved,” she recalled. “I wanted tools for having those awkward conversations that we tend to put off.”

What Is A Crucial Conversation?

Authors Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Kerry Patterson, and Al Switzler coined the term “crucial conversations” in their book by the same name.  According to them, a crucial conversation is a discussion between two or more people where:

  • Stakes are high,
  • Opinions vary, and
  • Emotions run strong.

In their research, the authors discovered that top performers are much more effective during those critical moments when a crucial conversation was necessary. Conversely, when they are handled poorly or ignored, crucial conversations lead to less-than-desirable results.

How Crucial Conversations Training Works

Over the course of four weekly sessions – one full day and three half days – Lehigh Workplace Learning and Performance staff trained in the authors’ system lead participants through a program that helps them:

  • Learn how to create conditions where people speak with complete candor (no matter the topic) and with complete respect (no matter the person)
  • Gain skills that enable spirited dialogue and reduce deference and defiance
  • Build acceptance rather than resistance — give and receive feedback in a way that enhances relationships and improves results
  • Begin stepping up to tough issues and sharing opinions, feelings, and information safely and freely
  • Learn how to promote the best ideas, save time with fewer meetings, and build more agreement with better decisions.

Using Crucial Conversations: Every Day In Little Ways

Sherri took Crucial Conversations two years ago and the system has become an integral part of how she communicates. “I use it every day in little ways,” she said. “Reframing the way I think about situations that need addressing makes me less hesitant to broach a topic, and so I find I don’t have to have the bigger confrontations.”

She also agrees that the system teaches you to use communication to build agreement and cooperation. “I work with many people in my job who do not report to me, but who I need to do things for me.” Sherri remarked, “I find [Crucial Conversations] has helped me present my perspective to them better, so that while I don’t necessarily have authority over that person, he or she understands my needs and works with me. It has been useful from that angle.”

When Sherri found herself bringing the book home to her husband, she knew the program had been worth the time investment. She even uses the techniques she learned with her teenage son.

“It’s not always easy to have a productive conversation with a 16 year old,”
she said. “My Crucial Conversations training helps me, especially when his objectives may be different from my view of what I think he should do.”

Crucial Conversations Class Now Forming

Think Crucial Conversations could work for you? This program is beneficial for all employees, regardless of your Lehigh role.

Human Resources covers the $1,195 open market cost of this program.  Participants receive tools and access to materials during and after the course completion including:

  • Crucial Conversations Participant Toolkit
  • Crucial Conversation Action Planner
  • Contract cards and model cards
  • A copy of Crucial Conversations:  Tools for Talking When Stakes are High
  • Crucial Conversations Audio Companion (6-CD set for strengthening Crucial Conversations skills)
  • A subscription to the Crucial Skills newsletter, a weekly e-mail service
  • A follow-up process that includes multiple web resources (a self-scoring Style Under Stress self-assessment, video examples, downloads, and more) .

Registration is now open for the spring 2012 session of this four-part course.  Class will be held:
Wednesday April 18, 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Wednesday, April 25, 8:30 a.m. to Noon
Wednesday, May 2, 8:30 a.m. to Noon
Tuesday, May 8, 8:30 a.m. to Noon

Go the HR Training Registration page to sign up. Space is limited, and the class usually fills up quickly.

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Spotlight is published monthly by Human Resources. Please address any comments to Hillary Kwiatek, Spotlight Editor, Human Resources, 428 Brodhead Avenue, send email to, or call extension 85165.

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