Crucial Conversations – Chapter 7 section 2 (part 13 of 18)


Share Your Facts

In the last chapter we suggested that if you retrace your Path to Action to the source, you eventually arrive at the facts.

Facts are the least controversial. Facts provide a safe beginning. By their very nature, facts aren’t controversial. That’s why we call them facts. For example, consider the statement: “Yesterday you arrived at work twenty minutes late.” No dispute there. Conclusions, on the other hand, are highly controversial. For example: “You can’t be trusted.” That’s hardly a fact. Actually, it’s more like an insult, and it can certainly be disputed. Eventually we may want to share our conclusions, but we certainly don’t want to open up with a controversy.

Facts are the most persuasive. In addition to being less controversial, facts are also more persuasive than subjective conclusions. Facts form the foundation of belief.

While we’re speaking about being persuasive, let’s add that our goal is not to persuade others that we are right. We aren’t trying to “win” the dialogue. We just want our meaning to be added to the pool to get a fair hearing. We’re trying to help others see how a reasonable, rational, and decent person could end up with the story we’re carrying. That’s all.

And if you aren’t sure what your facts are (your story is absolutely filling your brain), take the time to think them through beforeyou enter the crucial conversation. Take the time to sort out facts from conclusions. Gathering the facts is the homework required for crucial conversations.

Facts are the least insulting. If you do want to share your story, don’t start with it. Your story (particularly if it has led to a rather ugly conclusion) could easily surprise and insult others. It could kill safety in one rash, ill-conceived sentence. … If you start with your story (and in so doing, kill safety), you may never actually get to the facts.

Begin your path with facts. In order to talk about your stories, you need to lead the others involved down your Path to Action. Let them experience your path from the beginning to the end, and not from the end to – well, wherever it takes you. … Earn the right to share your story by starting with your facts. Facts lay groundwork for all delicate conversations.


Tell Your Story

Sharing your story can be tricky. Even if you’ve started with your facts, the other person can still become defensive when you move from facts to stories. After all, you’re sharing potentially unflattering conclusions and judgements.

Why share your story in the first place? Because the facts alone are rarely worth mentioning. It’s the facts plus the conclusion that call for a face-to-face discussion. In addition, if you simply mention the facts, the other person may not understand the severity of the implications.

It takes confidence. To be honest, it can be difficult to share negative conclusions and unattractive judgments. … It takes confidence to share such a potentially inflammatory story. However, if you you’ve done your homework by thinking through the facts behind your story, you’ll realize that you aredrawing a reasonable, rational, and decent conclusion. One that deserves hearing.

Don’t pile it on. Sometimes we lack the confidence to speak up, so we let problems simmer for a long time. Given the chance, we generate a whole arsenal of unflattering conclusions.

Look for safety problems. As you share your story, watch for signs that safety is deteriorating. If people start becoming defensive or appear to be insulted, step out of the conversation and rebuild safety by contrasting.

Use Contrasting. Be careful not to apologize for your views. Remember, the goal of Contrasting is not to water down your message, but to be sure that people don’t hear more than you intend. Be confident enough to share what you really want to express.


Ask for Others’ Paths 

We mentioned that the key to sharing sensitive ideas is a blend of confidence and humility. We express our confidence by sharing our facts and stories clearly. We demonstrate our humility by then asking others to share their views – and meaning it.

So once you’ve shared your point of view – facts and stories alike – invite others to do the same. If your goal is to keep expanding the pool of meaning rather than to be right, to make the best decision rather than to get your way, then you’ll willingly listen to other views. By being open to learn we are demonstrating humility at its best.

To find out others’ views on the matter, encourage them to express their facts, stories, and feelings. Then carefully listen to what they have to say. Equally important, be willing to abandon or reshape your story as more information pours into the Pool of Shared Meaning



Talk Tentatively

If you look back at the vignettes we’ve shared so far, you’ll note that we were careful to describe both facts and stories in a tentative, or nondogmatic, way. For example, “I was wondering why …”

Talking tentatively simply means that we tell our story as a story rather than disguising it as a hard fact. “Perhaps you were unaware …” suggests that you’re not absolutely certain. “In my opinion …” says that you’re sharing your opinion and no more.

When sharing a story, strike a blend between confidence and humility. Share in a way that expresses appropriate confidence in your conclusions while demonstrating that, if called for, you want your conclusions challenged. To do so, change “The fact is” to “In my opinion.” Swap “Everyone knows that” for “I’ve talked to three of our suppliers who think that.” Soften “It’s clear to me” to “I’m beginning to wonder if.”

Why soften the message? Because we’re trying to add meaning to the pool, not force it down other people’s throats. If we’re too forceful, the information won’t make it into the pool. One of the ironies of dialogue is that, when talking with those holding opposing opinions, the more convinced and forceful you act, the more resistant others become. Speaking in absolute and overstated terms does not increase your influence, it decreases it. The converse is also true – the more tentatively you speak, the more open people become to your opinions.

Now, this raises an interesting question. Individuals have asked us if being tentative is akin to being manipulative. You’re “pretending” to be uncertain about your opinion in order to help others consider it less defensively.

Our answer to this is an unequivocal no. If you are faking tentativeness, you are not in dialogue. The reason we should speak tentatively is because we, indeed, are not certain that our opinions represent absolute truth or our understanding of the facts is complete and perfect. You should never pretend to be less confident than you are. But likewise, you should not pretend to be more confident than your limited capacity allows. Our observations could be faulty. Our stories – well, they’re only educated guesses.

Tentative, not wimpy. Some people are so worried about being too forceful or pushy that they err in the other direction. They wimp out by making still another Fool’s Choice. They figure that the only safe way to share touchy data is to act as if it’s not important.

When you begin with a complete disclaimer and do it in a tone that suggests you’re consumed with doubt, you do the message a disservice. It’s one thing to be humble and open. It’s quite another to be clinically uncertain. Use language that says you’re sharing an opinion, not language that says you’re a nervous wreck.


Encourage Testing

When you ask others to share their paths, how you phrase your invitation makes a big difference. Not only should you invite others to talk, but you have to do so in a way that makes it clear that no matter how controversial their ideas might be, you want to hear them. Others need to feel safe sharing their observations and stories – particularly if they differ from yours. Otherwise, they don’t speak up and you can’t test the accuracy and relevance of your views.

Safety becomes particularly important when you’re having a crucial conversation with people who might move to silence. Some people make Fool’s Choices in these circumstances. They worry that if they share their true opinions, others will clam up. So they choose between speaking their minds and hearing others out. But the bestat dialogue don’t choose. They do both. They understand that the only limit to how strongly you can express your opinion is your willingness to be equally vigorous in encouraging others to challenge it.

Invite opposing views. So if you think others may be hesitant, make it clear that you want to hear their views – no matter how different. If others disagree, so much the better. If what they have to say is controversial or even touchy, respect them for finding the courage to express what they’re thinking. If they have different facts or stories, you need to hear them to help complete the picture. Make sure they have the opportunity to share by actively inviting them to do so: “Does anyone see it differently?” “What am I missing here?” “I’d really like to hear the other side of this story.”

Mean it. Sometimes people offer an invitation that sounds more like a threat than a legitimate call for opinions. “Well, that’s how I see it. Nobody disagrees, do they?” Don’t turn an invitation into a veiled threat.

Play devil’s advocate. Occasionally you can tell that others are not buying into your facts or story, but they’re not speaking up either. You’ve sincerely invited them, even encouraged differing views, but nobody says anything. To help grease the skids, play devil’s advocate. Model disagreeing by disagreeing with your own view. “Maybe I’m wrong here. What if the opposite is true? What if the reason sales have dropped is because …”

Do it until your motive becomes obvious. At times – particularly if you are in a position of authority – even being appropriately tentative doesn’t prevent others from suspecting you want them to simply agree with you or that you’re inviting them into a beating. This is particularly true when former bosses or authority figures have gently invited them to speak and then punished them for doing so.

This is where the skill of encouraging testingcomes into play. You can argue as vigorously as you want for your point of view, provided you are even more vigorous at encouraging – even pleading with – others to disprove it. The real test of whether your motive is to win a debate or engage in real dialogue is the degree to which you encourage testing.