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Isaac Lee
Isaac Lee

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How to Manage Conflicts: Decide

Based on the bestseller "Crucial Conversations" and my experiences, I am giving a 3-part talk to my Toastmasters club on how to make conversations that matter the most to us. The third part is called Decide.


In 2017, I was a coach to a Toastmasters club that had been struggling for two years. They were down to 7 members and I had just four months to help them grow to 20. I needed to present a plan and get buy-in from the members fast. Many of their members had more experience in Toastmasters than I and could overrule me in the case of a conflict.

Using the skills that I learned from Crucial Conversations, I was able to lead difficult conversations with them. We analyzed why the club had trouble growing and what we could do differently. We listened to each other’s concerns (step 1) and spoke our minds without fear of judgment (step 2).

It was time to make the third and last step of a crucial conversation: Decide. Most likely, all of you have had a situation where you felt great about exchanging ideas, then felt dismayed when no actions materialized. You wondered what went wrong and perhaps whom to blame.

In my experience, ideas fail to turn into actions for two reasons:

  • People have unclear expectations about how decisions will be made.
  • People do a poor job of acting on their decisions.

Today, we’re going to look at how to solve each problem.

Decide How to Decide

As a developer, I use a programming language called Ember. It's a fantastic example of how people decided how decisions will be made. See, Ember is an open-source project that many individuals and teams use. As you can imagine, if, one day, someone decides to change how Ember works, it would affect me and countless others.

To make a change in Ember, you have to open an RFC, which stands for Request for Comments. An RFC allows everyone to share their thoughts and work towards a consensus. The RFC corresponds to the first two steps of a crucial conversation: Listen and Speak. Ultimately, the people who decide if your RFC makes it into Ember are the Ember core teams.

Notice that dialogue and decision making are separate processes. The people who need to be involved in a dialogue don’t have to be the same people who make decisions. In the case of Ember, you are leveraging the core teams’ expertise to delegate the responsibility of making the right decision. This RFC process has allowed Ember to adopt rapid changes in programming over the last 8 years, without breaking many people’s code and upsetting them.

Decision making is simple when the line of authority is clear, but how do you decide on making decisions when it isn’t? In this case, you can rely on one of three options: a consult, vote by majority, or consensus. The number of people involved—and accordingly, time—increases with each option.

Recall that I had four months to help the club get new members. To expedite decisions while getting everyone's buy-in, the club officers consulted me on things that they didn’t know well (e.g. how to use social media) and I asked them for consensus on things that they knew well (e.g. how to re-engage their members and organize an open house to bring in new ones).

Act on Your Decisions

Now that you have decided how to make decisions, it’s time to act on them and get results. To avoid common traps, consider these four elements:

  • Who?
  • Does what?
  • By when?
  • How will you follow up?

By answering these questions, you can eliminate confusion and practice accountability. When your decisions result in actions, you will likely want to engage in future conversations because what you said and did mattered. I’ve been in weekly meetings that lasted 2, 3 hours with decisions that went nowhere. I began to hate these meetings and participate less, which made the meetings worse. Talk about a vicious cycle.

If you want to see positive examples of acting on decisions, I encourage you to join our next officers meeting. In the meeting, people discuss what the club does over the next 6 weeks. Again, this corresponds to Listen and Speak, the first two steps of a crucial conversation.

The club officers then decide if the ideas will be turned into actions, and they assign particular people and deadline to each idea. After the meeting, the officers record the decisions, announce them to the club, and follow up with the people in charge. This is actually simple to do! I believe making good decisions and following through are why our club has achieved success in recent years.


To summarize this series of talks, a crucial conversation is a talk between two or more people where (1) stakes are high, (2) opinions differ, and (3) emotions run strong. It’s an easy recipe for conflicts, but it’s also a skill that we can practice and master over time.

It takes three steps to make a crucial conversation: Listen, Speak, and Decide. We looked at a few examples of deciding how to decide and acting on our decision to see a positive result. The club that I coached did end up with 20 members. Some would say it was a miracle, but now you that dialogue and decision were key.

I encourage you to take what you learned today and start applying it to your life tomorrow.

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