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ATD Blog

How Can We Significantly Improve Bottom-Line Results?

Monday, March 16, 2015
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After more than 20,000 interviews, 10,000 hours of observation, and 25 years of research, we identified an important answer to the question: How can we significantly improve bottom-line results?

To improve the bottom line, improve the way people in your organization conduct crucial conversations. 

Our research effort was a best practices study. We sought to find the most influential leaders and the top organizational performers in the very best companies. We then worked with and observed these leaders in an effort to understand what the best do that the rest of us don’t. 

Observations revealed that most of us who hold responsible positions in organizations are good communicators most of the time. We do well enough with casual, regular, routine communication. However, when the conversation turns crucial—when the stakes are high, opinions differ, and emotions run strong—we botch it up. 

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When conversations turn crucial, most of us toggle between some form of silence or verbal violence: either we withdraw from sharing our information or try to force it on others by raising our voice or overstating our point. Ironically, when it matters the most, we do our very worst. 

What differentiates master communicators from the rest of us is the way they deal with crucial conversations. They skillfully hold these high-leverage conversations in a way that achieves significant results and builds important relationships. 

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Crucial conversations are key to both results and relationships. In fact, whenever a team or organization gets stuck (is unable to progress in any given area), it’s almost always because of crucial conversations they’re either not holding—or not holding well. By helping people learn how to effectively conduct these crucial conversations, organization can minimize emotions, find solutions, prevent problems, motivate team members, increase collaboration, and improve bottom-line results. 

So, how can you significantly improve bottom-line results? 

Instead of fostering a working environment where employees are afraid to speak up—thus hindering ideas, harming relationships, and destroying morale—teach your employees the skills of crucial conversations. Here are some helpful tips that can affect your bottom line. 

  • Reverse your thinking. Most of us decide whether or not to speak up by considering the risk of doing so. Don’t think first about the risks of speaking up; think first about the risks of not speaking up. Realize that if you don’t share your unique views, you will have to live with the poor decisions that will be made as a result of holding back your informed opinions. 
  • Change your emotions. The primary reason we do badly in crucial conversations is that by the time we open our mouths we’re irritated, angry, or disgusted with the other person’s opinions. Inevitably, our negative judgments will creep into the conversation. So, before opening your mouth, open your mind. Try to see others as reasonable, rational, and decent human beings. 
  • Help others feel safe. Unskilled people believe that certain topics are destined to make others defensive. Skilled folks realize people don’t become defensive until they feel unsafe. Start your next crucial conversation by assuring the other person of your positive intentions and your respect for them. When others feel respected and trust your motives, they let their guard down and listen. 
  • Invite dialogue. After you create a safe environment, confidently share your views. Once you’ve done so, invite differing opinions. If you are open to hearing other points of view, people will be more open to yours. And finally, if you can’t remember anything else in the heat of the moment, ask yourself: “Are we in silence or violence?” If either, do your best to return to healthy dialogue. 
About the Author

Joseph Grenny is the New York Times best-selling co-author of Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything, a dynamic keynote speaker, and a leading social scientist for business performance. With thirty years of experience, Grenny has delivered engaging keynotes at major conferences including the HSM World Business Forum at Radio City Music Hall. Co-founder of corporate training and leadership development innovator VitalSmarts, Grenny’s work has been translated into 28 languages, is available in 36 countries, and has generated results for 300 of the Fortune 500.

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