Crucial Conversations

We’ve all heard the phrase “It’s not so much about what you say, it’s more how you say it that really matters” and, let me tell you, I learned the hard way how true that actually is.  Conversations can be tricky–especially when one or more of the people involved are upset.


Back in the 1980s when I first started BNI®, there were only a handful of chapters in existence, as the organization was in its very beginning stages, and it was still small enough to where I was able to make personal visits to chapter meetings.  One day, the chapter president of a local Southern California BNI chapter called me up and asked me if I would come sit in on their next meeting and offer some insight into how they could improve because they were having some challenges keeping their networking group running smoothly and effectively.

I was more than happy to help out however I could so I went to their next meeting, sat back and observed, and then when the chapter president called me up to the front of the room and asked me to offer my feedback, I stood up and began to go over my list of suggestions and changes they should make in order to improve their effectiveness.  All of a sudden, one of the chapter members raised her hand and said, “Excuse me but who in the heck do you think you are, sashaying in here (I didn’t know that I “sashay”)  and telling us everything you think we’re doing wrong?!–You don’t know anything about us!”

How did I respond?  I didn’t respond . . . I reacted.  I went with my gut reflex which was to defend myself, saying that I was the founder of the organization and I tried in vain to argue that my points were valid and that they needed to listen to what I had to say if they wanted to improve.  The way I handled it was completely ineffective because, in a heated situation where somebody was obviously very upset and already convinced I was the enemy, I had no strategy for guiding the conversation in a positive, solutions-focused direction and trying to argue and stick to my guns only made things worse.

That day, on my commute back home from the meeting, I spent the first twenty minutes fuming about how rude the woman was to me in spite of the fact that I had gotten up early to drive out to their chapter meeting and taken time out of my day to go above and beyond to help them.  In the privacy of my own car, with my blood boiling, I drove through traffic flaring my nostrils, vehemently muttering several choice words (which I will not detail here) while I verbally bashed them for being so ungrateful (suffice it to say, I definitely would have been in trouble if there were anyone else in the car to hear me!).

But then I started to calm down and think about how I might have handled the situation differently and it was during that same lone car ride that I came up with BNI’s corporate policy (which is used to this day) on customer support and handling customer complaints.  Below are a few select bullet points from the policy:

  • Remember–people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care
  • Listen and let them talk.  Then . . . listen, listen, listen.
  • Ask questions.  Then . . . listen!
  • Acknowledge the information
  • Understand their complaint and ask how you can help
  • Follow up
  • Thank them
  • Remember–diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have your way.  Be diplomatic!

Some years later, I came across Crucial Conversations, a book which teaches people how to prepare for high-stakes situations, transform anger and hurt feelings into powerful dialogue, create situations where it is safe to talk about almost anything, and to be persuasive not abrasive.

Not only are some of the tactics and strategies right in line with what I outlined for BNI’s policy on dealing with tense situations, but it contains a slew of additional tactics that are immensely helpful for ensuring that whatever it is you are trying to say in any given situation is presented in the best possible way (i.e., “how you say it”) in order to achieve the best possible results for everyone involved.

If you really think about it, all conversations are crucial on some level because once you say something you can’t take it back and saying the wrong thing can have sometimes have tremendously negative repercussions.  Whether you are conversing with your fellow networkers, your business associates, or with those close to you who you love and care about, it’s always best to know what you want to say and how you want to say it (and to have a plan to diffuse things if the conversation gets heated) before anything comes out of your mouth . . . take it from someone who definitely learned this the hard way. 😉

To learn more about Crucial Conversations, please CLICK HERE or visit:


5 thoughts on “Crucial Conversations

  1. Dear Ivan, this blog came as a present from heaven, as i am stepping in to start a new chapter, just one week after becoming a DC. I realize how sensitive people are on how they are working, and commenting on this, even with the best intentions, is not appreciated… It is all about trust again.. It seems it always comes back to that…. I sure hope my new core group starts to trust me as soon as possible and your blog helps me to be aware that I have to be cautious to implement my ideas and remarks in a way that is positive.
    I want to thank you for this. Best regards , Stef, Belgium

  2. Wonderful! The “tone” that you use and just trying to prove you are right definitely will get you no where (as you found out!). I always try to start with positives whenever I can, I am much better received that way. I will be sharing this for sure!

  3. Thank you for this great blog! Only from reading, I know its true. I am a newbie DC in The Utrecht Region and I can almost launch the chapter cause we’re having 22 members. Last week I had a difficult talk with one of the members and I wish I read this blog before. 🙂

    Every week I tell about your concept and what members need to do when they join the chapter and off course about the way we handle competition between 2 members if there is and about how we handle similar activities between different professions. He still did not understand. We talked about it and again I tried to explain. I told him to reconsider our conversation because I think he can’t close the door to another member because off doing something the same. Something but just a small thing of his business. He didn’t agree. When I came home after a short car ride I felt terrible because I think I I did fall short. Now I read this blog I think I could have listen more to him and not put up a (little) defensive attitude about the concept. So I learned my lesson, thank you for this eye opening blog. Next time I listen, listen, listen, ask a question and listen…

    Kind Regards and Nice Wetter, Karin Huiberts, The Netherlands

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