They are familiar, very real, scenes: It’s time to raise a sensitive issue with your boss or maybe you need to address performance concerns with an employee or pitch a controversial idea to your team.
At University of Pretoria Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS), an elective course helps EMBA students successfully maneuver their way through tough talks. “The Crucial Conversations™ online elective teaches students the skills for communicating when the stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong,” says Hayley Pearson, faculty member at GIBS who facilitates the elective.
“Students learn the dialogue skills, as demonstrated by top performers, that empower them to talk with anyone about anything, helping reach alignment and agreement on important matters.”
The course uses Crucial Conversation™: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, material that VitalSmarts™ developed. “Students learn and develop the very practical skills needed for creating alignment and agreement and improving performance within organizations through open dialogue around high stakes, emotional, or risky topics at all levels of the organization,” she says.
They also explore another important piece of the puzzle—the role that psychological safety plays in creating an environment where employees feel safe to take interpersonal risks in the workplace.
“Students develop the understanding that simply having the tools to hold a crucial conversation is not enough, and if managers are to drive performance through open communication and effective feedback, a psychologically safe work environment is an antecedent to high-performing teams and organizations.”
Students identify one or two situations where a crucial conversation could make a difference in performance. During the course, they can practice and apply the skills that they learn.
Although primarily an online asynchronous course, students are able to meet face-to-face at the beginning and end of the course. Students also engage with each other through a formal online meeting at the course’s midpoint. The fully online elective approach helps increase access to students who need to manage their time and travel, says Pearson.
As students hone their skills, those skills ultimately turn into behaviors, which help improve decision-making, productivity, relationships, and accountability.
“The aim is for students to be able to discuss anything, with anyone, and get the outcomes both parties want and deserve,” says Pearson.
Based on past experience with previous face-to-face programs, students note a difference.
“Students really appreciate the practical application of the tools and have had great success in mastering dialogue to improve engagement, change behavior, and drive high performance and culture in the workplace.”