A mentor and dear friend of mine specializes in Human Resource Training. She comes into companies, analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of their professionals and then develops training programs to improve the human capital. When I met Trish in 2008, she had just started at my firm. She had never worked for an architecture firm before and it was neat to see her discovering our world. Sometimes she would come by my desk to ask me questions about an architecture term she had heard or a method within the design process. But as much as she was fascinated by our world, I was fascinated by hers. She had worked for big companies like Wells Fargo and GE, training their principals and employees into world-class professionals. Just skimming her resource books at her desk (probably 100 were there) her knowledge of professional and self-improvement was unquestionable.
One morning we were chatting over fresh cups of coffee at her desk and I began venting to her about the designer on my project. He was the most difficult person to communicate with. In design review I would propose a few solutions he had ask for the previous day (at 4pm), he would then stare at my drawings, mumble something, draw a few lines over the fresh printouts and then walk out without explanation. What the heck?!? I had cancelled my evening plans to get this done for your deadline and I get no feedback?!?! And it wasn’t just me, he was like this with the other young designers too! Trish shook her head, and then she smiled. She looked into her “Library of Improvement” and pulled out Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler. “Read this all the way through but let’s chat when you get done with a few chapters. This book is excellent for both the crucial conversations you’ll have in your career and in your personal life Meg.”
It seemed like a roundabout way to go at the issue. Why did I need to change? He was the poor communicator! (Sound familiar to you?)
Crucial Conversations definitely put me in my place though. The book first guides you to focus on yourself first and what you really want as an outcome of a crucial conversation. Next is making the setting safe for a dialogue where both parties can give their full attention. The authors then coach you on how to stay in dialogue when emotions start flying, how to speak persuasively, and how to actively listen especially when others are emotional. The book advises to finish a crucial conversation by taking the talk into an action plan.
It seems rudimentary and I’ll admit I had a “too cool for school” attitude about it at first, but fast-forward two years later and the lessons I took from Crucial Conversations come into play daily. And amid my “Library of Design” there’s now a professional development section with a gap in it for Crucial Conversations. It’s being lent out right now.