Crucial Confrontations Summary and Interpretation

Crucial Confrontations Book Summary

In my continual quest to understand conflict and finding ways to help people become autonomous at addressing conflict, I have read and analyzed dozens of books. I have always looked for processes that people can easily adapt and practice.

In their series Crucial Conversations, the authors Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler share practical information you can use, now. I provide a summary of what they offer to help you.

Note: Most of the information provided here come from their book. I did apply these notions several times to help people prepare themselves to face conflict efficiently.

I believe the true nature of the book can be summed up in this statement; “By learning to manage crucial confrontations, you can unleash the true potential of a relationship or organization and move it to the next level.”

“It creates a new climate of willingness on everyone’s part to confront tough (difficult) issues with colleagues.”

“It provides tools for resolving broken promises, violated expectations and bad behaviour.”

As the authors say, crucial confrontations is about studying ways to handle missed commitments and failed promises at work, at home, at paly and in life.

“To confront means to hold someone accountable face-to-face. It is to deal with them in a way that both solves the problem and saves relationships.”

To begin the learning process, it is useful to establish a list of situations when people didn’t talk and the result was disastrous. I often see this in a condo association where residents do not participate, do not address issues, do not come to meetings but complain to their neighbours.

The key is to learn how to respond in respectful, healthier and more effective ways. Many people procrastinate in addressing issues because they just don’t know how.

“Crucial confrontations live and die on the words people choose and the way they deliver them.”

When we ask people about their problem, many people give a lengthy and convoluted answer. The authors say,” How do you dismantle a bundle of problems into its component parts and choose the one you want to confront?”

Signs You Are Dealing with The Wrong Problem

Your solution doesn’t get what you really want

You’re constantly discussing the same issue,

“If you find yourself having the same problem-solving discussion repeatedly, it’s likely there’s another important problem you need to address.”

You’re getting increasingly upset.

Take the time to unbundle the problem

Decide what is bothering you the most

Be concise

How does it affect you?

Distill to a single sentence

Think CPR

The first time a problem comes up, talk about the Content, what just happened. Ex. “You lost your temper, raised your voice and accused senior management at the meeting.”

The next time a problem comes up, talk Pattern, what has been happening over time. Ex. “This is the third time you come to the Executive meeting ill prepared. I’m concerned I can’t count on you to act professionally.”

Frequent and continued violations affect the other person’s predictability and eventually harm respect and trust.

As the problem continues, talk about Relationship, what is happening to us. Relationship concerns are far bigger than either content or pattern. The string of disappointments has caused to lose trust and is affecting the relationship.

To understand various kinds of content, pattern and relationship issues consider: Consequences, Intents, Wants


The authors go on saying that the problem lies in the consequences or the impact. What really bothers you?

When you want to clarify the issue you need to address, STOP and ask yourself;

What are the consequences of this problem to me?

What are the consequences of this problem to our relationship?

What are the consequences of this problem to the task?

What are the consequences of this problem to the stakeholders?

Analyzing the consequences helps you to determine what is most important to discuss.


Intentions (motives)

Perceived intent bothers you? We’re often drawing conclusions about another person’s intent. We make many assumptions and may be wrong.

Ask about What You Do and Do Not Want

What do you want for yourself, the other person and the relationship?

To decide what to confront

Think CPR

Expand the list of possible issues by considering consequences and intent

Choose from the list by asking what you do and do not want for yourself, others and the relationship. (Spelling out what we don’t want helps to focus.)

Not speaking when you should

To help diagnose whether you’re clamming up when you should be speaking up, ask the following questions;

Am I acting out of concerns?

Is my conscience nagging me? How is it affecting me?

Am I choosing the certainty of silence over the risk of speaking up?

What do I perceive to be the risks?

Is my body sending me hostile signals?

Am I dropping innuendos, sarcasm, hints?

I have attempted to provide a summary of the principal elements of “Crucial Confrontation” to help my audience learn more about conflict. It is up to you to take the next steps.

Jean-Paul Gagnon, ACC, CHRP is a professional coach, certified as CINERGY Conflict Management Coach. He is also a trained practitioner in conflict resolution. He is a mediator in the workplace and a volunteer community mediator. He has over 35 years of experience in Human Resource Management.                    

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