Crucial Conversations – Chapter 7 section 3 (part 14 of 18)


Now let’s turn our attention to another communication challenge. This time you’re not offering delicate feedback or iffy stories; you’re merely going to step into an argument and advocate your point of view. It’s the kind of thing you do all the time. You do it at home, you do it at work, and yes, you’ve even been known to fire off an opinion or two while standing in line for a voting booth.

Unfortunately, as stakes rise and others argue differing views – and you just know in your heart of hearts that you’re right and they’re wrong– you start pushing too hard. You simply have to win. There’s too much at risk and only you have the right ideas. Left to their own devices, others will mess things up. So when you care a great deal and are sure of your views, you don’t merely speak – you try to force your opinion into the pool of meaning. You know, drown people in the truth. Quite naturally, others resist. You in turn push even harder.

In the end, nobody is listening, everyone is committed to silence or violence, and the Pool of Shared Meaning remains parched and tainted. Nobody wins.


How Did We Get Like This? 

It starts with a story. When we feel the need to push our ideas on others, it’s generally because we believe we’re right and everyone else is wrong. There’s no need to expand the pool of meaning, because we ownthe pool. … Of course, others aren’t exactly villains in this story. They simply don’t know any better. We, on the other hand, are modern-day heroes crusading against naivete and tunnel vision.

We feel justified in using dirty tricks. Once we’re convinced that it’s our duty to fight for the truth, we start pulling out the big guns. We use debating tricks that we’ve picked up throughout the years. … and again, the harder we try and the more forceful and nasty our tactics, the greater the resistance we create, the worse the results, and the more battered our relationships.


How Do We Change?

The solution to employing excessive advocacy is actually rather simple – if you can just bring yourself to do it. When you find yourself just dying to convince others that your way is best, back off your current attack and think about what you really want for yourself, others, and the relationship. Then ask yourself, “How would I behave if these were the results I really wanted?” When your adrenaline level gets below the 0.05 legal limit, you’ll be able to use your STATE skills.

First, Learn to Look. Watch for the moment when people start to resist you – perhaps they begin to raise their volume and/or overstate the facts behind their views in reaction to your tactics – or perhaps they retreat into silence. Turn your attention away from the topic (no matter how important) and onto yourself. … Remember: The more you care about an issue, the less likely you are to be on your best behavior.

Second, tone down your approach. Open yourself up to the belief that others might have something to say, and better still, they might even hold a piece of the puzzle – and then ask them for their views. … Of course, this isn’t easy. … In fact, it can feel disingenuous to be tentative when your own strong belief is being brought into question. … Let’s face it. When it comes to our strongest views, passion can be your enemy.

Catch yourself. So what’s a person to do? Catch yourself before you launch into a monologue. Realize that if you’re starting to feel indignant or if you can’t figure out why others don’t buy in- after all, it’s so obvious to you – recognize that you’re starting to enter dangerous territory. … back off your harsh and conclusive language. But don’t’ back off your belief. Hold to your belief; merely soften your approach.



When you have a tough message to share, or when you are so convinced of your own rightness that you may push too hard, remember to STATE your path:

  • Share your facts. Start with the least controversial, most persuasive elements from your Path to Action.
  • Tell your story. Explain what you’re beginning to conclude.
  • Ask for others’ paths. Encourage others to share both their facts and their stories.
  • Talk tentatively. State your story as a story – don’t disguise it as a fact.
  • Encourage testing. Make it safe for others to express differing or even opposing views.