Millions of people worldwide have used the skills found in the bestseller Crucial Conversations and the accompanying Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue course to speak up candidly and respectfully. But occasionally I’m asked, “What can I do if I’ve had Crucial Conversations with the same person several times but the behavior persists? We discuss the issues, the conversation goes well, but things don’t change.”
This is a Crucial Conversations Groundhog Day moment. Remember the 1993 classic movie starring Bill Murray? The main character, Phil, lives out the same day hundreds of times until he handles the day in the right way. Having to repeat Crucial Conversations can be tedious, but the lesson is the same: If you’re having the same conversation repeatedly, the problem is not them—it’s you. You’re having the wrong conversation.
The moment you open your mouth to hold a Crucial Conversation, you’ve already decided what to talk about. And one of the biggest mistakes we make is assuming that, because we’re talking, we must be solving the problem. It’s not that simple. If you’re not addressing the right issue, you’ll end up holding the same conversation over and over again.
Instead, you need to use an approach called CPR—which stands for content, pattern, relationship.
There are three levels to consider when holding a Crucial Conversation. The first relates to content. This is the immediate pain or single instance of the problem. But one common mistake is waiting to talk about content until long after it’s become a problem. That’s like pulling off the head of a weed and thinking we have gotten to the root of the matter. If the problem has progressed beyond the single content instance, the “weed” will just keep coming back until we address the root issues.
These deeper issues often involve a pattern. The problem isn’t what recently happened; rather, what recently happened is just one instance of a pattern. It’s been happening for a while.
Finally, there are relationship issues. These are often the most difficult kind of Crucial Conversation to have and the ones we avoid. You know you must address a relationship issue when things like trust and respect have been negatively affected.
The vast majority of issues that people write me about are not content issues, but content issues that have been swept under the rug or ignored for so long that they have metastasized into patterns or hairy, scary relationship issues. Before you begin your next conversation with this person, stop and honestly consider: What is the topic I need to address? Is it simply content, is it a repeatable pattern, or is it a deeper relationship issue? Only then can you bring it up in a way that preserves and strengthens the relationship and workplace dynamic.