A few months ago, we asked people across the world, “If you had a magic wand that would eliminate consequences for just one conversation, what would you say and who would you say it to?”
If they had permission to say anything they wanted to anyone they wanted without any consequences, what would they say?
I want to share some of the responses we received.
“To My Boss — For eight years you single-handedly drove away every good employee we’ve ever had. I can no longer tolerate your condescending tone, your passive micro-managing, your overt verbal sexual harassment towards female employees, your hypocritical management of work time or even your insincere compliments.”
Wow! What do you think the cost or consequence is of keeping those thoughts and feelings inside? And, how is it showing up today?
Here’s another one:
“To My Wife — We’ve been together a long time, but it is time for us to consider going our separate ways.”
So many broken relationships aren’t broken because it was inevitable. They are broken by silence. They were broken because the lag-time between feeling a problem and discussing the problem in a healthy way grew so wide that the relationship broke.
“To My Supervisor — You’re an idiot.”
What do you think silence looks like in this case? Is silence truly silent when you think your supervisor is an idiot? Or, does it show up?
“To My Colleague — I betrayed your trust by sharing confidential information that you shared with me with another peer. I apologise and would change it if I could.”
How does guilt show up when it’s undiscussed?
“To the Woman Next to Me — Do you have a cat or something that makes your coat/shoes/bags? There is a really bad odour from you and your desk. It is very nauseating and offensive to me.”
That’s a sensitive issue to put on the table. But let’s ask ourselves, what is the cost of silence, and how is it showing up?
The principle we found over time — the reason these moments have such disproportionate influence — is because you and I don’t get to vote on how they affect relationships.
At VitalSmarts, we often say, “If you don’t talk it out, you act it out.”
We know this is true, and it shows up in hundreds of different ways.
If a critical issue isn’t discussed, it’s acted out and shows up in your behaviour like this:
“To My Husband — I feel frustrated by the mess and clutter in our house. I love you, but I can’t stand this anymore. I’ve been patient for a long time. It appears you don’t care. In addition, I think you need professional help to deal with hoarding tendencies. I want to get some counseling and I think you should too.”
I want you to contemplate this for a moment: Is silence truly silent, or is it showing up somewhere?
Finally, what if you were the boss, and you were carrying this around inside?
“To My Direct Report — Find a different job. Now. While I cannot prove you know it, I know that you stir up trouble between your coworkers. You don’t pay attention to your job. You lack respect for anyone. You take no responsibility for your actions and blame others.”
What we’re trying to show when teaching Crucial Conversations, at least at the most basic level, is this: one simple concept that can dramatically change how people show up in crucial moments is just to read the title of the book, Crucial Conversations.
For the first time in their lives, it causes people to start calculating the cost of silence, realising that silence isn’t truly silent, and to carefully and thoughtfully list the risks of NOT speaking up.
What are the costs right now? How is it showing up? And, what is the default future if this continues to go undiscussed?
We know that crucial conversations aren’t just a problem to get over, but they have the potential of becoming an accelerant of intimacy. Crucial conversations, when held well, accelerate the building of trust between individuals. Not only do they NOT damage it, they create a sense of connection with people that can’t come most any other way.
And yet, here’s how we continue to view crucial conversations:
The contribution we’re trying to make to the world is to help them understand that crucial conversations are the pathway to the ‘Super Awesome Goal,’ not something that keeps us from it.