Jay Owens

I am so pleased that I picked up an article where  my old friend Jay Owens is mentioned.  I have not seen for over 5 years: since my last visit to South Africa.

It looks like Jay is still active in training and running seminars and conferences.

Before retiring, Jay was running the Covey Leadership center in  Park Wood ,South Africa. He was of great help to me, he was sorting out the profiling of the participants of the Covey week end seminars I was conducting for a number of years. The center in South Africa was very convenient, the processing was faster and cheaper that sending off the documents to Utah, USA.

Thanks to Jay that I was given the opportunity to run a Covey seminar in Guinea Conakry. I took up the challenge of conducting a seminar with half of the audience speaking English and the other half speaking French. The Malaysian Telekon had taken over the national telephone company in Guinea and wanted to train all its managers on time managment the  Franklin Covey way.

Resolving business issues through crucial conversations


There are crucial conversations that we all tend to avoid. Our lives are poorer and our businesses less profitable because of it.

The need for crucial conversations in business covers a wide area of possibilities. They are the many topics we would rather avoid. In your place of work they could look something like this:

  • Issues that involve gender, racial, cultural or other controversial factors
  • Dealing with the poor performance of a subordinate, like giving an unfavourable performance review
  • Talking to a co-worker, perhaps a manager, who behaves offensively or makes suggestive comments
  • Disagreeing with a management decision
  • Dealing with a serious disagreement between two or more departments in your business
  • Resolving a serious disagreement between business partners
  • Critiquing the work of an equal or someone senior to you
  • Confronting a partner or manager who is contravening the company’s financial code
  • Talking to a colleague who is hoarding information or resources
  • Dealing with a difficult BEE or employment equity decision.

Most of us would rather avoid this sort of thing altogether. That is the comfortable route to take, but we follow that path to the detriment of our businesses and our relationships with other people.

The authors of Crucial Conversations – Tools for talking when stakes are high, say that no more than 10% of our daily conversations cover crucial issues. These are the pivotal issues, which if handled well make an immense difference to any organisation.

When facing difficult issues people react in one of three ways: we avoid them, handle them poorly or face them and handle them well. Jay Owens of The Human Edge, who will be hosting a Crucial Conversations workshop later this year, suggests three factors in which crucial conversations are most necessary. They are: high stakes matters on which results depend, differing opinions on which the parties involved feel strongly, and other matters that produce high emotions.

“Powerful emotions are the cause of most inability to communicate well,” says Owens. “Physiologically we don’t handle strong emotions well. To overcome this inherent human weakness a distinct skills set is needed. There are a few people who have it naturally. Most of us have to learn it.”

Owens teaches that our ability to influence other people, and therefore important outcomes, depends on how well we hold our crucial conversations. “Too often when crucial matters are raised people go over to silence, not contributing to the group’s understanding of the problem.”

Some endure the silence until eventually they can no longer contain themselves. Then they go over to violence, trying to control, compel and coerce others into their way of seeing things. “Silence and violence are the twin enemies of the productive sharing of information,” says Owens. He talks about the silence in the meeting room, followed by the violence in the corridor – people who do not contribute in the meeting, gossiping about the resultant decisions in the corridors.

The objective of Owens’ training is to create an environment where the best ideas can be put forward without fear. And fear is the fundamental problem when trying to get to the core issues that are holding back a company. People are afraid that the ideas they raise may meet with ridicule, tarnishing the image they have. Some may not want to leave a meeting to attend to something else that may have arisen for fear of being blamed while they are not in the room. Everyone may hold back on suggesting a new project for fear of it failing. Better for someone else to go first – in case it turns out to be a disaster. Under these conditions when people do not feel safe enough to air their views an environment exists in which people do not contribute towards the development of the company.

“An environment has to be created in which people feel free to put forward their best ideas,” says Owens. “We must guard against the reasons for silence in any staff member. This is the barrier that stops him or her from contributing.”

According to the authors of Crucial Conversations, two vital elements in resolving any issue are mutual respect and mutual purpose. Without the former, any sort of dialogue will be artificial and without the latter there is no point in even resolving the issues.

Owens’ first step towards holding a crucial conversation is to identify where you are stuck. Ask what the issue is that you are dealing with, that you also had to deal with yesterday and the day before yesterday. Once you have identified it, step away from the issue and ask yourself what the conversation is that we are not holding.

Once you have stepped out of the issue and into the process of dealing with it, three hard-hitting skills are recommended.

  1. Apologise when appropriate. When you have made a mistake that has hurt others, start with an apology.
  2. Contrast to fix misunderstanding. When someone may feel disrespected, but that was not your intention, step away from the argument and use a skill called contrasting. In it, you confirm your respect for the person and clarify your real purpose.
  3. Employ CRIB:
    • C – commit to seeking mutual purpose
    • R – recognise the purpose behind the strategy
    • I – invent a mutual purpose
    • B – brainstorm new strategies.

In all of this the word purpose comes up again and again. Without a mutual purpose, there is no point in resolving anything.

If agreement exists on a mutual purpose, you will almost certainly need crucial conversations to deal with the issues that are bound to arise among human beings. Even the most talented among us need the co-operation of others.

Source: Succeed Magazine, www.succeed.co.za