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A problem well-stated is a problem half-solved.


The moment you open your mouth to hold a Crucial Conversation, you've already made a decision—you've decided what to talk about. One of the biggest mistakes we make is assuming that just because we're talking, we must be solving the right problem. It's not that simple. If you're not addressing the right issue, you'll end up in the same conversation over and over again.


Human interactions and relationships are complex. There are multiple issues and side issues and tangents. You've probably been in that conversation before. You think you're talking with your brother about plans for an upcoming family gathering. Suddenly, you're in a completely different conversation about the time your parents bought you a brand-new bike because you have always been their favorite and your brother could never measure up. Whoa, you think, where did that all come from?

Crucial Conversations are most successful when they're focused on one issue. Because human interactions are inherently complex, focusing a Crucial Conversation on a single topic takes effort. It requires us to thoughtfully unbundle and then prioritize the issues at hand.

For example, let's look at the case of Wendy and Sandrine. Wendy is a project manager at a global technology company. She's been there many years and has successfully led numerous projects, large and small. She recently began working with a new manager, Sandrine. Sandrine joined the organization a year ago with a reputation as a hard-charging, get-things-done, break-eggs-when-needed executive. Sandrine asked Wendy to put together a timeline for a new project, and now they're sitting down to review it.

Sandrine: I'm excited to have you and your team dig in on this project. Let's talk timelines.

Wendy: It'll take us just over six months.

Sandrine: Oh … Well … when I looked at it, it seemed like you should be able to finish the whole thing by the end of this quarter.

At this point, we have the first element of a Crucial Conversation—a difference of opinion. Wendy thinks the project will take at least twice as long as Sandrine expected.

Wendy: Well it's a good thing we're talking about it now before we've made any commitments, because there's no way to finish it by then. I mean, that's half the usual time for a project like this.

Sandrine: That's why I put you in this role in the first place. You are able to do the impossible. Let me give you the full context of just how important this is. I need you to figure out how to get this done by the end of the quarter. Other project launches are at stake. The accelerated schedules are already in the master plan. Our senior team is counting on us. Or, more specifically, ...

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