Crucial Conversations – Chapter 8 section 2 (part 16 of 18)

Inquiry Skills

When?So far we’ve suggested that when other people appear to have a story to tell and facts to share, it’s our job to invite them to do so. Our cues are simple: Others are going to silence or violence. We can see that they’re feeling upset, fearful, or angry. We can see that if we don’t get at the sourceof their feelings, we’ll end up suffering the effectsof the feelings. These external reactions are our cues to do whatever it takes to help others retrace their Paths to Action.

How?We’ve also suggested that whatever we do to invite the other person to open up and share his or her path, or invitation must be sincere. As hard as it sounds, we must be genuine in the face of hostility, fear, or even abuse – which leads us to the next question.

What? What are we supposed to actually do? What does it take to get others to share their path – stories and facts alike? In a word, it requires listening. IN order for people to move form acting on their feelings to talking about their conclusions and observations, we must listen in a way that makes it safe for others to share their intimate thoughts. They must believe that when they share their thoughts, they won’t offend others or be punished for speaking frankly.


Ask, Mirror, Paraphrase, or Prime (AMPP)

To encourage others to share their paths we’ll use four power listening tools that can help make it safe for other people to speak frankly. We call the four skills power listening tools because they are best remembered with the acronym AMPP – Ask, Mirror, Paraphrase, and Prime. Luckily, the tools work for both silence and violence games.

Act to Get Things Rolling

The easiest and most straightforward way to encourage others to share their Path to Action is simply to invite them to express themselves.

Mirror to Confirm Feelings

If asking others to share their path doesn’t open things up, mirroring can help build more safety. In mirroring, we take the portion of the other person’s Path to Action we have access to and make it safe for him or her to discuss it. All we have so far are actions and some hints about the other person’s emotions, so we start there.

When we mirror, as the name suggests, we play the role of mirror by describing how they look or act. Although we may not understand the others’ stories or facts, we can see their actions and reflect them back.

Mirroring is most useful when another person’s tone of voice or gestures (hints about the emotions behind them) are inconsistent with his or her words. … We explain that while the person may be saying one thing, his or her tone of voice or body posture suggests something else. In doing so, by staying with the observed actions, we show both respect and concern for him or her.

When reflecting back your observations, take care to manage your tone of voice and delivery. It is not the fact that we are acknowledging others’ emotions that creates safety. We create safety when our tone of voice says we’re okay with them feeling the way they’re feeling.

Paraphrase to Acknowledge the Story

Asking and mirroring may help you get part of the other person’s story out into the open. When you get a clue about whythe person is feeling as he or she does, you can build additional safety by paraphrasing what you’ve heard. Be careful not to simply parrot back what was said. Instead, put the message in your own words – usually in an abbreviated form.

The key to paraphrasing, as with mirroring, is to remain calm and collected. Our goal is to make it safe, not to act horrified and suggest that the conversation is about to turn ugly. … Simply rephrase what the person has said, and do it in a way that suggest that it’s okay, you’re trying to understand, and it’s safe for him or her to talk candidly.

Don’t push too hard. Let’s see where we are. … To encourage the person to share, we’ve tried three listening tools. We’ve asked, mirrored, and paraphrased. The person is still upset, but isn’t explaining his or her stories or facts. … Now what? At this point, we may want to back off.

Prime When You’re Getting Nowhere

ON the other hand, there are times when you may conclude that others would like to open up, but still don’t feel safe. Or maybe they’re still in violence, haven’t come down from the adrenaline, and aren’t explaining why they’re angry. When this is the case, you might want to try priming. Prime when you believe that the other person still has something to share and might do so with a little more effort on your part.

When it comes to power listening, sometimes you have to offer your best guess at what the other person is thinking or feeling before you can expect him or her to do the same. You have to pour some meaning into the pool before the other person will respond in kind.

Now, this is not the kind of thing you would do unless nothing else has worked. You really want to hear from others, and you have a very strong idea of what they’re probably thinking. Priming is an act of good faith, taking risks, becoming vulnerable, and building safety in hopes that others will share their meaning.


But What If They’re Wrong? 

Sometimes it feels dangerous to sincerely explore the views of someone whose path is wildly different from your own. He or she could be completely wrong, and we’re acting calm and collected. This makes us nervous.

To keep ourselves from feeling nervous while exploring others’ paths – no matter how different or wrong they seem – remember we’re trying to understand their point of view, not necessarily agree with it or support it. Understanding doesn’t equate with agreement. Sensitivity does equate to acquiescence. By taking steps to understand another person’s Path to Action, we are promising that we’ll accept their point of view. There will be plenty of time later for us to share our path as well. For now, we’re merely trying to get at what others think in order to understand why they’re feeling the way they’re feeling and doing what they’re doing.



Let’s say you did you level best to make it safe for the other person to talk. After asking, mirroring, paraphrasing and eventually priming, the other person opened up and shared his or her path. It’s now your turn to talk. But what if you disagree? Some of the other person’s facts are wrong, and his or her stories are completely fouled up. Well, at least they’re a lot different from the story you’ve been telling. Now what?


As you watch families and work groups take part in heated debates, it’s common to notice a rather intriguing phenomenon. Although the various parties you’re observing are violently arguing, in truth, they’re in violent agreement. They actually agree on every important point, but they’re still fighting. They’ve found a way to turn subtle differences into a raging debate.

So here’s the take-away. If you completely agree with the other person’s path, say so and move on. Agree when you agree. Don’t turn an agreement into an argument.


Of course, the reason most of us turn agreements into debates is because we disagree with a certain portion of what the other person has said. Never mind that it’s a minorportion. If it’s a point of disagreement, we’ll jump all over it like a fleeing criminal.

Now when the other person has merely left out an elementof the argument, skilled people will agree and then build. Rather than saying: “Wrong. You forgot to mention …” they say: “Absolutely. In addition, I noticed that …”

If you agree with what has been said but the information is incomplete, build. Point out areas of agreement, and then add elements that were left out of the discussion.


Finally, if you do disagree, compare your path with the other person’s. That is, rather than suggest that heor sheis wrong, suggest that you differ. He or she may, in fact, be wrong, but you don’t know for sure until you hear both sides of the story. For now, you just know that the two of you differ. So instead of pronouncing “Wrong!” start with a tentative but candid opening, such as “I think I see things differently. Let me describe how.”

Then share your path using the STATE skills from Chapter 7. That is, begin by sharing your observations. Share them tentatively, and invite others to test your ideas. After you’ve shared your path, invite the other person to help you compare it with his or her experience. Work together to explore and explain the differences.

In summary, to help remember these skills, think of your ABCs. Agreewhen you agree. Buildwhen others leave out key pieces. Comparewhen you differ. Don’t turn differences into debates that lead to unhealthy relationships and bad results.



To encourage the free flow of meaning and help others leave silence or violence behind, explore their Paths to Action. Start with an attitude of curiosity and patience. This helps restore safety.

Then, use four powerful listening skills to retrace the other person’s Path to Action to its origins.

  • Ask. Start by simply expressing interest in the other person’s views.
  • Mirror. Increase safety by respectfully acknowledging the emotions people appear to be feeling.
  • Paraphrase. As others begin to share part of their story, restate what you’ve heard to show not just that you understand, but also that it’s safe for them to share what they’re thinking.
  • Prime. If others continue to hold back, prime. Take your best guess at what they might be thinking and feeling.

As you begin to share your views, remember:

  • Agree. Agree when you share views.
  • Build. If others leave something out, agree where you share views, then build.
  • Compare. When you differ significantly, don’t suggest others are wrong. Compare your two views.