A “Crucial Conversation” About HOBY

The time has come for us to have a “crucial conversation.” As I consider it, though, this conversation is not the easiest thing to talk about. A “crucial conversation” can briefly be described as a dialogue between two people that is high stakes, has opposing opinions, and where emotions can also run high. For many years, Louisiana HOBY has always believed that everything is great. I am now starting to see that our organization needs to have a crucial conversation about staff communication. During our seminar this year, numerous volunteers stated that they feel their voices are not being heard by our upper-level volunteers. Several volunteers even feel that they are seen as the enemy by the other officials. It is important that we have a staff meeting next year to address these concerns.  In this blog post, I will outline a plan that we can all find useful to incorporate into our seminar planning program. In the past few weeks, I have outlined a “why” and my influencer strategy about how I plan to accomplish behavior changes. In this essay, I will go through the eight steps of having a crucial conversation and how we can reach these goals.

In the past, we have always had crucial conversations about important topics at HOBY. However, oftentimes I did not feel comfortable in expressing my concerns as other people did not want to hear what I had to say. With this framework, however, I hope to change all of that by having us use a design that allows us to have these conversations anytime it is needed. So, now let us begin the process.

Step 1: Get Unstuck

  • Bring all HOBY volunteers together
  • Make sure all volunteers feel safe having their voices heard
  • Have a conference call or meeting to obtain input from everyone
  • Work together to ensure all goals are met
  • Make sure that all volunteers become “unstuck”

Step 2: Start with Heart

  • Make sure that all motives are good
  • Be willing to compromise to ensure all sides of an argument are heard
  • Ensure that all volunteers have their heart in the right place
  • Let all volunteers have a stake in the organization’s ideas

Step 3: Learn to Look

  • Ensure that all seminar operations are in check, including hotel rooms
  • Have regular staff meetings to ensure Louisiana HOBY’s seminar runs effectively
  • Take caution to ensure that Leadership Seminar Chair is not overworked
  • Discuss communication at staff meeting to make sure that topics like succession planning are heard by all

Step 4: Make It Safe

  • Create “safety” in Louisiana HOBY by making sure that all staff feel safe discussing their ideas
  • Realize that all ideas can have value in our organization
  • All all volunteers to make a contribution to our discussions
  • Create a “safe environment” that allows for the free flow of ideas regarding seminar operations

Step 5: Master My Stories 

  • Look at what emotions are running the gambit and discuss how to handle them
  • Teach all volunteers to learn how to control their emotions
  • Create new emotions, perhaps of happiness, that drive people to work together
  • Build better relationships among all volunteers
  • Tell stories that are entertaining to listen to during our meetings
  • Consider using comedy as a means to have a “crucial conversation”
  • Work toward open communications at HOBY
  • Consider using a model that can be duplicated at chapters across HOBY

Step 6: STATE My Path

  • Use the “STATE” model to convince others to improve their communication
    • “Share the facts” about Louisiana HOBY by giving general information about he direction we are moving in
    • “Tell our story” to decide what direction we should move in as an organization
      • Keep “safety” by not becoming defensive in any way
      • Use “contrasting” to ensure that people hear no more and no less than we want them to hear
    • “Ask for other’s ideas” during our conversation to make sure that all volunteers give their input about what they see as important
    • Make sure that all stories are shared to ensure good communication by “talking tentatively”
    • “Encourage testing” by making sure volunteers feel safe whenever they want to say something
  • Become more productive and open-ended with our staff to ensure better meeting in the future

Step 7: Explore Others’ Paths

  • Create a “safe environment” where people can talk about their ideas openly and honestly, so they do not “blow up” or “clam up”
  • Restore safety when necessary
  • Use patience to help when people are feeling uncomfortable
  • Be sincere and stay curious during “crucial conversations”
  • Use inquiry skills and paraphrasing to retrace the steps of our volunteers

Step 8: Move to Action  

  • Use our words during our staff meeting to inspire meaningful action
  • Make decisions that allow our volunteers to leave a better impact upon our ambassadors
  • “Command, consult, find a consensus, and vote” on resolutions that we came up with in the meeting
  • Follow up with people who seek a larger role in potential succession planning
  • Launch a “group effort” to ensure that our “crucial conversation” leads to collective action


What’s in it for us?  

The final part of this “crucial conversation” takes place in the same way that it began—by looking at the past for guidance. At the beginning of this course, we had to spell out our “why” by looking at what we were seeking to accomplish. At HOBY, our OUTSTANDING “why” can be summed up into something a bit like the following link. HOBY seeks to prepare future leaders by equipping today’s youth to be tomorrow’s leaders.  The backbone of this strategy also comes from the use of an innovation plan, which can be seen hereI want to use these statements to drive the need for change in Louisiana HOBY. In addition to this, I previously came up with two target goals in my influencer strategy that extend the conversation even further. Please click the links to see more. These goals are:

If we all do it, these target goals can be a helpful guideline to having a “crucial conversation.” We can discuss these ideas at our staff meetings and use them as part of a larger strategy to affect change throughout the HOBY organization. Another part of this influencer strategy was the six sources of influence to our organization. I outlined them, and they can be viewed here.

These six sources of influence further outline the motivations behind the crucial conversation that will be held at HOBY. I want to use these six figures to further understand the reasons why we do the things we do in our organization. If we all work out our problems, there is an even greater chance that we can affect change in our organization. I also had the chance to devise a strategy using the Four Disciplines of Execution, and the following is a brief summary of the strategy that I have designed for use at HOBY:

  • Getting Clear – A WIG (wildly important goal)
    • Increase volunteer’s technology literacy rate to 100 percent in the next seminar year
  • Launch
    • Seek to accomplish the WIG by half during the middle of the seminar year
  • Adoption
    • Design a checklist and have conference with other seminar sites about where they are in relation to the WIG
  • Optimization
    • Give prize (cash or award) to seminar site that hits all the marks on the national scoreboard to achieve 100 percent of the WIG
    • Engage ideas about how to use innovation plans at seminar sites
  • Habits
    • Have each seminar site send surveys about where they ended up in relation to the WIG and the goals that they set during the seminar year

According to A Failure of Nerve by Edwin Friedman, a self-differentiated leader is one who can take a stand, even when others disagree, and still stay connected to the group. I want to use the 4DX model as a framework for which we can begin to have a “crucial conversation” at HOBY about how we communicate with each other. In order to affect organizational change in our organization, I want to seek to have crucial conversations about a great many things, like the overall health of our organization, that is very difficult for people to talk about. I hope to be a self-differentiated leader that appeals to the hearts and minds of our great leadership community by changing their behaviors by first looking at the “why” as a reason for change. 

During this multi-faceted process, I hope to use these psychological motives to cause a “crucial conversation” to take effect. In the book, Friedman goes on to summarize, “A society’s culture does not determine its emotional processes; rather, a society’s culture provides a medium through which a society’s emotional processes work their art.” I want to listen attentively, give good instructions, get feedback, and be a good ear that anyone can talk to safely at HOBY whenever it is possible. Organizational change can always be a positive experience even in a world of negativity. The organizational change process can begin with this and a big burst of positive “crucial” enthusiasm. As a self-differentiated leader, I want to bring this to HOBY and be a part of the OUTSTANDING change in the organization. This will be my “crucial conversation” at HOBY.  


Friedman, E. H., Treadwell, M. M., & Beal, E. W. (2007). A failure of nerve: Leadership in the age of the quick fix. New York: Seabury Books.

Patterson, K. (2002). Crucial conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high. New York: McGraw-Hill.



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