Crucial Confrontations (Literature Review)

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Crucial Confrontations, tools for resolving broken promises, violated expectations, and bad behavior by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillian, and Al Switzler prescribes a six step approach when dealing with conflict in the work place. For the purpose of this literature review the two stakeholders in the conversations will be referred to as management, the person initiating the conversation and labor, the individual being confronted. Although crucial confrontations can take place not only between management and labor it is important to qualify these labels as to not narrow the scope of application crucial confrontations presents.

The first part of crucial confrontation guides management to focus on two initial elements: 1. What? This initial part explores the motivation and/or ability of labor to carry out a given request. 2. If? Will the social system support their effort (Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzler, 2004 p. 43)?

The second part explores how ‘stories’ influence perceptions of others prior to engagement in a confrontation as well as during the confrontation. Three elements of attributes emerged that provide a guideline for contextual understanding of people and situations. The authors point out that we all have perceptions of people’s actions and when one tries to contextualize the motivations of stakeholders within the situation greater understandings emerge. Most often management focus’ on dispositional attributes as a source of conflict. Dispositional attributes are viewed as uncontrollable personality factors that influence individuals. The authors add in parallel to dispositional attributes, situational attributes. Situational attributes allows for the exploration of environmental forces which influence behavior. Exploration of the situational attributes can reduce the influence of the Fundamental Attribution Error. The fundamental attribution error assumes others actions are based on personality characteristics while ignoring other motivations. (Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzler, 2004 p.60) Two ways to reduce the influence of assumptions is to ask humanizing questions to refocus dispositional aspects of the situation.

The third part of crucial confrontation describes the gap where problem acknowledgement and solutions enter the conversation. The pathway set forth by the authors is to make it motivating and easy. When management engages labor in crucial conversations the discussion must start with safety as management must find a way to state the concern illiciting the least amount of defensiveness from labor. If required management may need to restate concerns in order to reduce defensiveness. (Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzler, 2004 p. 100) As management and labor work through the issues it is important for management to share her/his path. (Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzler, 2004 p. 104) Management needs to be clear about her/his focus, stay external, explain what and not focus on the why, and gather facts rather than deal in obscure vagaries of detail. Management must stay clear of absolutes as absolutes only share conclusions not emerging facts. Finally end with a question as this allows labor to state her/his response and share her/his story. (Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzler, 2004 p. 104)
Management also needs to consider labors action in relation to motivation. (Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzler, 2004 p. 114) The authors state that people act based on consequences she/he anticipate and labor may be under the influence of multiple consequences and as a result act on perceived consequence bundles. As a means of motivation management would want to explore natural consequences or those elements that are embedded into the situation labor would be aware of and are not imposed by management (Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzler, 2004 p. 126).

The next step in this part is to match the problem solving method to situational circumstance. Concrete solutions help management and labor to finish on a positive note. A crucial aspect of finalizing the crucial confrontation is to detail expectation, review accountability, and set a timeline for follow up. (Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzler, 2004 p. 139) However, if motivation is not the issue then management needs to explore ability barriers of labor in the initial event(s) that led to the crucial confrontation.

Part five of Crucial Confrontations pays particular focus on management staying flexible and focused. Often when dealing with problems other problems may arise. When this happens put the original problem on hold and deal with what is most urgent. Once that element of the situation has been resolved both parties may refocus back the original problem. Management does not need to overkill labor by hammering at more than one issue, especially if the confrontation has been emotionally taxing (Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzler, 2004 p. 173).

The final step in crucial confrontation is to create a plan. The plan as agreed upon by both management and labor needs to make sure all details and expectations have been resolved in the situation. Both management and labor need to know where she/he stand after the confrontation has been resolved (Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzler, 2004 p. 205-8).


Patterson, K., Grenny, J., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2004). Crucial confrontations: tools for resolving broken promises, violated expectations, and bad behavior. (p. 284). McGraw-Hill Professional.


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