Crucial Confrontations

These are my notes from reading “Crucial Confrontations” (multiple authors, Kerry Patterson listed first, more info on  Here’s a quick quote showing what the book is about:

Behind the problems that plague organizations, teams, and families, are individuals who are either unwilling or unable to deal with failed promises, broken rules, and missed deadlines. Others neglect to keep commitments or just plain behave badly—and nobody steps up to the issue.

New research demonstrates that crucial confrontations – conversations that occur not just when there is disagreement but disappointment – are not only irritating—they’re costly. These disagreements sap organizational performance by 20 to 50 percent and account for up to 90 percent of divorces.

This is the second of three books, after Crucial Conversations and before Influencer.  I read the third one first and worked my way back to the second.

Basic flow of a confrontation:

  • (Before) Work on me first
    • Choose “what” and “if”
    • Master my stories
  • (During) Confront with safety
    • Describe the gap
    • Make it motivating
    • Make it easy
    • Pop the question
  • (After) Move to action
    • Agree on a plan
    • Agree on follow-up actions
    • Ask to make sure you’re not leaving out details, or missing possible barriers
  • Contingency plans: Stay focused and flexible
    • New problem?  Choose to shift discussion if appropriate
    • Fear?  Make it safe

Work on me first:  Choose “what” and “if”

  • Choose what problem to confront
  • CPR ranking of problems: Content, Pattern, and Relationship
    • Content: What specifically happened this time?  Why?
    • Pattern:  Has the problem happened multiple times?  Is there a trend?  Is it resistant to solutions already proposed?
    • Relationship:  Is the relationship itself troubled?
  • To stay focused on the right problem, decide what outcome you really want
  • Realistically weigh consequences of confronting vs. not confronting
  • Don’t let fear do your reasoning.  Decide whether you *should* confront before deciding you *can’t* confront

Work on me first: Master my stories

  • Tell the rest of the story
    • Ask why a reasonable, decent, rational person would do this
    • Ask yourself what role *you* may have played in creating the problem
  • Look at all six sources of influence
    • Try to look at both motivation and ability, at all levels: personal, social, structural
  • Seek to humanize, not demonize — you need to find common ground
  • De-escalate your own emotions before stepping into a confrontation
  • Separate facts from your interpretation.  Question your attribution of motive/intent.

Confront with safety

  • While speaking, watch for fear signs. Pre-emptively offer Contrast if appropriate
  • Start with safety: Start with facts, not accusations, conclusions, generalizations, etc.
  • Share what was expected vs. what was observed
  • Tentatively share your story
  • Finish with a question

Make it motivating; make it easy

  • Listen for motivation problems, ability problems, or both


  • What doesn’t work well
    • An inspiring speech
    • Threatening/power play
    • Perks
  • Consequences motivate
  • Explore natural consequences (discuss, not threaten)


  • Make impossible tasks possible, and nasty tasks less nasty.
  • Jointly explore root causes.  Don’t jump in with your own ideas.  Don’t try to “guide” discussion.  Collaborate.
  • If nothing is coming to the surface, prime the pump.  Discuss all levels: personal, social, structural

Pop the question

  • End with a proposal, if X problem is addressed, would you be able to carry out the expectation?

Move to action

  • Agree on a plan
  • Agree on follow-up actions
  • Ask to make sure you’re not leaving out details, or missing possible barriers

Contingency plan: Deal with fear, make it safe

  • Reassure the other person that you’re not attacking, accusing, etc.
  • Establish common ground: mutual respect and mutual purpose
  • If the other person feels threatened:
    • Contrast to show what you’re not saying
    • Find common ground

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