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INTRODUCTION

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

—MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.

To be honest, we didn't study our way into a discovery of Crucial Conversations. Instead, we stumbled into it.

Over the years, we worked with dozens of leaders in a variety of industries who were trying to implement dramatic changes. Part of our consulting methodology involved helping them find opinion leaders embedded throughout their organizations who might be helpful in the effort. We did so in a pretty straightforward way. First, we asked people to name the two or three people they turned to first when they were struggling to get something done. Over the past decades, we've asked tens of thousands of people to identify the individuals in their organizations who knew how to make things happen when others felt stymied. We wanted to find those who were not just influential, but far more influential than the rest.

Each time, as we compiled the names into a list, a pattern emerged. Lots of people were named by one or two colleagues. Some found their way onto five or six lists. These were people who were good at influence, but not good enough to be widely identified as top opinion leaders. And then there were the handful who were named 30 or more times. These were the best—the ones who could make big things happen in their areas. Some were managers and supervisors. Many were not.

One of the opinion leaders we became particularly interested in meeting was named Kevin. He was the only one of eight vice presidents in his company to be identified as exceedingly influential. We wanted to know why. So we watched him at work.

At first, Kevin didn't do anything remarkable. In truth, he looked like every other VP. He answered his phone, talked to his direct reports, and continued about his pleasant, but routine, routine.

THE STARTLING DISCOVERY

After trailing Kevin for almost a week, we began to wonder if he really did act in ways that set him apart from others or if his influence was simply a matter of popularity. And then we followed Kevin into a meeting.

Kevin, his peers, and their boss were deciding on a new location for their offices—would they move across town, across the state, or across the country? The first two execs presented their arguments for their top choices, and as expected, their points were greeted by penetrating questions from the full team. No vague claim went unclarified, no unsupported reasoning unquestioned.

Then Chris, the CEO, pitched his preference—one that was both unpopular and potentially disastrous. However, when people tried to disagree or push back, Chris responded poorly. Since he was the big boss, he didn't exactly have to browbeat ...

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