Becoming Better at “Crucial Confrontations”

We’ve all been there before. We’ve all needed to have one of these uncomfortable conversations with a team member, or someone else close to us, because certain expectations aren’t being met. These conversations can often cause a rift between two people, and have the potential to cause more harm than good. When done correctly, these conversations can build trust, and help both parties improve and become better in their respective roles.

This is a skill that by no means have I mastered yet. Throughout my career thus far, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of these conversations. Over the years I’ve leaned on a book that my employer introduced me to called “Crucial Confrontations.” This book has helped me immensely at making these conversations more productive and helpful. The authors of this book do a great job of outlining a few simple steps that can help.


One of the principles of the book that has stood out to me is being able to effectively “describe the gap,” because really, that’s why we’re having the conversation in the first place. We’re not there to bully or beat up on anyone. These conversations aren’t our opportunity to finally unleash all of the bottled up frustration we have with that person (if we’re doing it right, we won’t have these pent up frustrations that have been lingering since the Clinton administration). If we approach these conversations as an ally to the person we’re talking with, in the spirit of improving and growing, it will guide the conversation in a positive direction. Our posture and approach in the first 30 seconds will set the tone for the whole conversation with that person.

By “describing the gap,” the authors mean identifying the expectation or standard that you’d like to see, and contrasting that with the current level of performance being delivered, and then collaboratively coming up with solutions to bridge the gap. This book outlines how to effectively go through that process, and is a great resource for anyone who’s regularly having these conversations.

Along these lines, a co-worker of mine recently share this YouTube video, which illustrates the power of replacing BUT with AND. This simple change in vocabulary can have a really big impact in the way you’re interacting with others. Take a look:


John Wooden

One of my all-time favorite influential leaders is John Wooden.  If you aren’t familiar with him, do a quick google search, and you will find that he was one of the most successful basketball coaches in the sports’ history.  He led the UCLA Bruins to 10 NCAA National Championships in a 12 year span.  At one point, his team won a record 88 consecutive games.

However, if you were to have asked Wooden if all of those wins and championships equated to success, he would have told you, “no.”  According to Wooden, success is not measured by wins and losses.  His definition of success was this: “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.”

Wooden believed that winning was simply a bi-product of everyone on the team fully committing and giving their best effort at all-times.  Over the years Wooden developed what later become coined as his “Pyramid of Success.”  Wooden believed that if he could instill within in his players the attributes found on his Pyramid of Success, that his players would play to their full potential, and ultimately be successful.

pyramid of success

In his later years, Wooden wrote a book about his views on leadership, entitled “Wooden on Leadership.”  In the book he describes in detail all of the attributes found on his Pyramid of Success, as well as other insights into leadership, and how he went about leading young men in their pursuit of excellence.  This book is a must read for anyone interested in leadership and/or self-improvement.  Below is a Ted Talk that John Wooden gave back in 2001, give it a watch:


The Desired State

This blog is designed to provide insights and ideas related to leadership and management. A lot of what I’ll be sharing are things that I’ve read, learned from others, or learned from my own experiences. I hope that as you visit this blog you will find things that will be helpful and applicable to your own management/leadership experiences, and that you will comment back with helpful tips and ideas that you’ve learned along the way as well.

I’d like to start my first blog post by sharing something that I learned from Bob Stapp, a professor for one of my MBA courses. Throughout his course he frequently referred back to a model for change called “The Current State and the Desired State,” (I’m not totally sure if that’s the official name of the model, but let’s go with that). Stapp said that he frequently challenges individuals and organizations to describe their “current state,” meaning, how are things going currently? He then asks individuals/organizations to describe their “desired state,” meaning, how do you want things to be? What’s the ideal scenario for you/your organization?

After the “current state” and the “desire state” have been established, he suggests identifying “restraining forces” and “attracting forces.” Restraining forces would be those things that are holding you back from the desired state and keeping you in your current state. Attracting forces would be anything that’s trying to pull you out of your current state, and helping you get to your desired state. Once you’ve gone through this exercise, it’s important to come up with strategic action that will help you bridge the gap between your current state and your desired state.

I went through this exercise with my team at work soon after learning about it, and I found it to be a valuable exercise that helped us develop a set of guiding principles (and goals related to these principles), with the intent of moving from our current state to our desired state. While there is no quantitative data to go along with it, I feel that this process has made a positive impact on our team, and has given us a clearer picture of our purpose, vision, and direction as an organization. If you haven’t gone through a similar exercise, either personally or with your work team, I would encourage you to do so. I think you will find it to be well worth your time.

Graphic courtesy of Bob Stapp:

desired state