Posts Consent for Crucial Conversations

Consent for Crucial Conversations

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In my last post, I discussed the need for consent in making organizational changes. These changes become more effective if you have engagement with the employees being affected by the change. Now I am talking about making a different kind of change. What happens if you need to make a change in someone else’s behavior. We start from the same place; we use the same tools to evaluate our motives to the motives of the person whose behavior needs to be changed. Now comes the time for a crucial conversation.

Crucial conversations are hard, because they are made crucial by being unfavorable but necessary. If we ignore consent during these conversations, we greatly reduce their ability to be successful. Consent is based on trust, the feeling of control, and an explicit request.



A crucial conversation is a conversation intended to deliver unfavorable news and sometimes change behavior related to that news. Each of these goals are very different, but engagement by the person in the conversation greatly improves the chances of success. Engagement relies on trust. Trust relies on consent.

To have this conversation, we will need meaningful consent. If you are curious about what I mean by “meaningful” consent, you can read the first post in this series.

Since this is a professional blog about professional workplaces, I can imagine someone saying that “This conversation has to happen so why do I need consent”. Well, that depends on our goal. If our goal is to have a meaningful impact on the person’s life and ensure we are understood, then consent allows us to begin that process. If our goal is to fulfill HR and legal requirements so that we can fire the person, then strictly speaking consent is not needed, though it can help.


Trust is the first step in gaining consent. It is important that the person trusts that the conversation is coming from a selfless perspective. They need to understand the situation that brings the conversation to bear and know that you are trying to ensure their best welfare. They need to trust you and your motives.

Option to Opt Out

With crucial conversations, giving the option to opt out is the hardest part. It starts with the recognition that the person already has that option. They can choose to not listen to what is said. They have the option to implicitly opt out by not listening, all we are doing here is making that option explicit. The next part is even harder. Explaining the potential consequences of the situation without sounding like a veiled threat. It is important that the person is aware of the consequences but made to understand that those results are not dependent on participation in the conversation but rather dependent on the effects of either behavior not changing or not being given the information.

When we are approaching from a position of power it becomes even harder not to sound like a threat and more care must be taken. Taking time to ensure that you are not self-centered throughout the conversation will greatly help with this.

The Option to Challenge

When we engage in a crucial conversation, we are making a big assumption. We are assuming we have some knowledge of the situation that the recipient does not have and would benefit from. We need to also approach this with the assumption that the person will have knowledge we do not have, and that we will benefit from. This will make gaining consent easier, if they trust that they can challenge what is said in a meaningful way.

If the person has no way to challenge, it will be harder to gain consent, but if you are honest with the person about the situation it can help.

Remember to Ask

Once you have laid the groundwork, you cannot assume you have consent. You need to ask. This is the most crucial part of this. By asking for permission, you are gaining a chance to be truly heard. Without asking, you are not making way for the person to be engaged in what you say. You are also not giving the option to opt out.

Respect the person’s will, and let consequences happen.

This article is not on how to have crucial conversations, there is a whole book on that. However, what I will talk about is the role of “opting out” during this conversation. It is really important that the person you are having this conversation with understands that they have the ability to explicitly opt out at any time. It makes the permission you gain much more meaningful if the person granting permission knows they can withdraw it.

Call to Action

Before your next crucial conversation, stop and spend time thinking about how you can gain explicit and meaningful consent to have that conversation.

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.