It’s late December, and although I really love this season, it does add a lot to everyone’s plate. We’ve all got the shorter days, the holiday hubbub, and the onset of truly cold weather to deal with.

It’s a high risk season for interpersonal relations, as everyone strives for togetherness while simultaneously dealing with a variety of seasonal stressors. This can impact any group or gathering, from the workplace to the family dinner table, and issues that have been stewing on the back burner are likely to boil over.Argue

That’s why it’s a good time for me to tell you about the best tool I’ve ever come across for approaching difficult conversations.

For years, people told me to work on the way I approached difficult subjects, especially at work:

“It’s not that what you’re saying is wrong,”, they’d say, “it’s the way you’re saying it that puts people off.”

The problem was that I wasn’t being heard, but I didn’t know what to do about it. I tried being milder, I tried biting my tongue, but my underlying frustration would inevitably bubble up and erupt; reinforcing my image as an angry troublemaker, and hamstringing my efforts at positive change. Being told to do better did me no good because I had no idea how to go about it. It was like being told to bake a cake without a recipe, if you’ve never baked a day in your life.

Then one day, a coworker recommended Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When The Stakes Are High, and it was like a lightbulb went on.

The book offers a step by step method for communicating almost anything with almost anyone. It takes the guesswork out of bringing up difficult subjects and guides the reader from broaching the subject all the way to making a decision about what to do. It’s simple, straightforward, respectful, and productive. It applies to almost any conversational situation; from a parent fighting with a child; to coworkers clashing; to friends disagreeing.

I’ve often said that if I could only master and perfect the Crucial Conversations method, I’d rule the world. Too bad knowing the method doesn’t always lead to applying it when I should! Even so, I’ve found it helpful in a multitude of situations over the years.

Next month, I’ll share a taste of one of my favourite concepts from the book: using safety and purpose to set the stage for a successful conversation. It’s juicy stuff.

In the meantime, light some candles, embrace the long nights with warmth and coziness, and if you happen to be in a bookstore, take a look at Crucial Conversations. It’s a real gem.