Dear Justin,

I believe in the Crucial Conversations skills and I’ve seen them work. But sometimes, no matter what I seem to do, I get poor results. People still get offended, dig their heels in, etc. What should I do if the other person doesn’t want to change his or her behavior—or even dialogue with me—despite my efforts to use the skills?

Seeking Wisdom

Dear Seeking,

Great question. While it’s true that Crucial Conversations skills don’t fix everything, there are a few points that can help when at a loss with a challenging person or situation that doesn’t seem to be getting better:

  • Don’t forget motive. The best place to start when the ongoing conversation isn’t getting better is with our heart, our motive. What is it that you REALLY want? Do you want the other person to “change”? Or do you want to stay in dialogue and build a relationship? If you are hoping, wishing, and praying for the other person to change (believe me, I’ve been there), your behavior might become forceful, coercive, and maybe even manipulative (I’ve been there, too). Conversely, when we focus on dialogue, results, and relationships, we’re more likely to have an open approach to others, which yields much better results.
  • It takes work, a lot of work. Not too long ago, I asked a Crucial Conversations graduate what she had learned from the course and how she’d benefited. Her answer changed my perspective completely. She said, “I was in a thirty-year relationship that was struggling significantly. I learned the skills and went to work on it. I worked and I worked and I worked . . . and I can honestly say it’s gotten better.” Isn’t that interesting? What she DIDN’T say was “The other person is finally fixed,” or “Everything is perfect now.” She saw progress for what it was—progress. She wasn’t looking for perfection in the other person, but for improvement. Often we need to shift our expectations of what “progress” really looks like.
  • Make it safe. I’ve come to realize that creating Safety can take time. Sometimes safety is created quickly in just one conversation and other times it requires more effort over a period of time. When we learn to think of safety as more than a quick-fix tactic, as a principle of creating Mutual Purpose and Mutual Respect, we realize how much time (and work) is required to establish a safety zone that allows for healthy dialogue. As much as we’d like painful, grievous, and frustrating situations to be resolved overnight, that’s not always possible. These things take time. So remember that safety is conversational and relational.
  • If all else fails . . . Sometimes we give a relationship all we’ve got and things still don’t improve. That’s the reality of life. In cases like this, we may choose to end the relationship (personal or professional) and move forward with our lives. Sometimes that means moving departments or ceasing to interact with a friend; either way that decision is personal. I find that if I care about the relationship at all, even if things are going very poorly, I owe it to myself and the other person to come back the next day and give it another shot . . . hopefully a better shot.

All the best,

Want to master these crucial skills? Attend one of our public training workshops in a city near you. Learn more at