Self-differentiated Leadership & Crucial Conversations

As a leader trying to influence and create important change in an organization you will have to deal with a great deal of anxiety and fear in yourself and in the individuals within your organization. Your ability to control your own anxiety and fear while drama is thrust at you is what differentiates you as a leader. In his book A Failure of Nerve, Friedman points out what happens in a lot of cases (Bardwell. M 2010). One person finds another who will share their anxiety or team-up to form an emotional triangle. They want to show that they are the majority but they are not.

Good leaders recognize this and respond without getting caught up in these triangles of emotional responses. Sabotage happens when their is a great deal of anxiety throughtout the organization and a good leader will turn that anxaiety into opportunities for crucial conversations. The growth mindset (Stanford 2014) treats challenges like these as an opportunity. Crucial conversations are those that have High Stakes, Strong Emotions and Opposing Opinions.

The 8 steps in crucial conversations are as follows.

Get unstuck – We may have that brief period of anxiety ourselves as a leader, but using the tenuous situation as an opportunity to get the dialog moving is the right move for a good leader.

Start with the heart – Letting people know your why and trying to get agreement on why we are having the dialog. Know what you really want.

Learn to look – Looking for those who are passively or aggressivlely staying silent or getting emotional. Avoid your own typical response to stressful situations.

Make it safe – Help determine if the participants are feeling safe about what is being or might be said. Try to find and focus on a mutual purpose even if you have to invent one. Let others know you respect them and apologize if that respect has been violated. Once safety is assured, continue to brainstorm on strategies to meet the goal. Using CRIB as a reminder may help. Commit to seek a mutual purpose, Recognize the purpose behind the strategy, Invent a mutual purpose, Brainstorm new strategies

Master my stories – Everyone must avoid victim and villain stories that may work their way into your thoughts or their thoughts and try to get these stories out in the open to increase safety and understanding.

STATE my path – Explaining how you got to your position using facts and stories. Using STATE as a reminder may help. Share your facts as they are most likely to be agreed upon. Tell you story and how it relates to your position. Ask for other’s paths of what facts and stories brought them to their position. Talk tentatively by trying to avoid being too dismissive or too bold. Encourage testing by making it safe for there to express differing or opposing views.

Explore other paths – Listening curiously to how participants got to their position can help determine common threads and restore safety. Using AMPP as a reminder may help. Ask about another’s views. Mirror by acknowledging others emotions. Paraphrase by restating what you have hear from others to show understanding, but avoid repeating word for word. Prime if others seem to be holding back, take a guess at what they may be thinking or feeling.

Move to action – Ultimately you will want to agree to agree by choosing a decision method like voting or letting a consulting group decide. You finish clearly by determining who does what by when and decide on a time to follow-up.

Making change happen will bring about drama, anxiety, and a mixture of feelings. Differentiated leaders will recognize and avid getting trapped by these and have crucial conversations to influence participants toward mutual agreement and ultimate action towards achieving the wildly important goal.


Mathew David Bardwell. (2010, November 10). Friedman’s theory of differentiated leadership made simple [Video]. YouTube.

Patterson, K., Grenny, J., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2011). Crucial conversations tools for talking when stakes are high, Second Edition (2nd ed.). McGraw-Hill Education.

Stanford Alumni. (2014, October 9). Developing a Growth Mindset with Carol Dweck [Video]. YouTube.

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