The Great Game of Business – Chapter 3 (part 5 of 17)

Chapter 3 – The Feeling of a Winner 

How do you start the Great Game of Business? By creating a series of small wins – by showing people how it feels to be a winner. Believe me, that’s one of the rarest feelings in business today.

You can’t just walk into any company or any factory and start teaching people how to read financial statements. … there are at least two conditions that haveto exist before people are ready to learn about business – about making money and generating cash, about using numbers to follow the action and keep score:

  1. Management has to have credibility
  2. Employees have to have some fire in their eyes

Pride Before Ownership. For people to feel like winners, they must have pride in themselves and what they do. There is no winning without pride, just as there is no ownership without pride. Pride is all about caring. It is the sense of pleasure or satisfaction you take in what you do, or what you have. If you don’t care, you’re not going to do what is necessary to be a winner or an owner. So pride has to come first.

Creating a Team. Winning is not just a matter of pride, of course. It is also a habit. Unfortunately, losing can get to be a habit as well. When people are in the habit of losing, you won’t see fire in their eyes, only sand. If you want to light the fire, you have to begin by creating wins and celebrating wins – by making a big deal out of the little victories and then building on the little victories to achieve bigger victories. It’s a way of putting fun in the workplace – literally. We throw parties and hold celebrations at the drop of a hat. What we’re really doing is creating a team.

That is, of course, one of the major purposes behind the Great Game of Business. In the early days, however, we couldn’t set up games around the financial statements, because people didn’t understand them and would have been intimidated by them. So we came up with other games, simple games, games we knew people could win. That way, we could begin to create the habit of winning. Every win would give us something to celebrate and allow us to start fires. Along the way, we learned some lessons about the kind of games and goals that worked best:

  1. Business is a team sport – choose games that build a team. You can set up all kinds of games in a company. Avoid the ones that are divisive. The best games are those that promote teamwork and togetherness, that create a spirit of cooperation.

At the same time as you’re fostering team spirit, you can also be using the games to build credibility. One of the first issues I went after, for example, was safety. … Safety is basic. It’s the first thing that can turn people against you. It can undermine everything else you try to do. … So I took on each issue, and I made it very personal. … That really got through to people.

We organized a safety committee and set a goal of 100,000 hours without an accident. We put up four-foot-high scorekeeping thermometers all over the place, and we filled them in every two thousand hours we advanced closer to the goal. As the weeks went by, the drama began to build. On the afternoon when we hit the goal, we closed the plant down for a beer bust. We played the theme song from Rockyover the public address system while members of the safety committee marched around, handing out fire extinguishers. There was a parade of forklift trucks decorated in crepe paper. People stood around and cheered.

  1. Be positive, build confidence. Manager have a bad habit of focusing on the negative. I’ve seen statistics showing how managers tend to react quickly to anything that goes wrong and overlook everything that goes right. … This is a serious weakness. One of a manager’s main responsibilities is to build confidence in an organization. To do that, you have to accentuate the positive. If you accentuate the negative, it eats away at the organization. It becomes a demotivator, and management is all about getting people motivated. A manager who doesn’t motivate isn’t doing his or her job. You can’t motivate if you’re continually focusing on the negative.
  2. Celebrate every win. Records are important, no matter how insignificant they may seem, because you can celebrate whenever you break one. Every record represents an opportunity for management to compliment people, to make them feel good, and to build confidence and self-esteem. People may be feeling depressed, bored or whatever. If you don’t celebrate, you’ve missed the chance to cheer them up. … You can also use records to change the mind-set of an organization, to get people to take responsibility for themselves.

Once the games get going, people stop pushing their problems up to management. If you’re caught up in a game, there’s no time to push problems up. You want to go out and solve the problems by yourself. Otherwise, you’ll get behind, and you won’t win. So the game get people to focus on solving the present problems, which leaves the mangers free to think about the future problems – and that’s how a manager stays in control. If you focus on future problems, you eliminate surprises. You deliver consistency. You have a very happy work environment.

  1. It’s got to be a game. You can go too far in trying to light the fire in people’s eyes. If you do, you’ll find that people stop having fun and start getting scared. Then you have to pull back fast. … The mistake I’d made was to think people would look at these accountabilities as guidelines, as opportunities to help the company and help themselves at the same time. That was naïve. In fact, individual evaluations inspire fear in a lot of people.

The point is that it’s got to be a game. I hadn’t realized the fear I was building into the system. When you think about it, the fear came out of being alone. Security comes from being with other people. There’s a lot to be said for knowing that everybody’s in the same boat with you, that you aren’t on an island, that you don’t have to do it all on your own.

  1. Give everyone the same set of goals. Don’t send people mixed messages. Let them all have the same objectives, and make sure they have to work together to achieve them. Turn success into a group effort. That way, they can win together.
  2. Don’t use goals to tell people everything you want them to do. Too many goals are useless. You should only have two, or at most, three goals over the course of the year. What’s important is to make sure each goal encompasses five or six things. In other words, choose a goal that people can only meet if they do five or six things right. It goes back to the lesson I learned at Melrose Park when we had the deadline on the Russian tractors: you don’t have to tell people to get the parts in on time if you get them to concentrate on getting the tractors out.

Feeding the Desire to Play the Game and Win. Much of what we did back in the early years we still do today. We haven’t had an open house in a while, but we have picnics all the time. We also set aside special days when people bring their kids into the factory. We do it for the same reason we had an open house back then: to build pride and self-esteem. We have more games going outside the company than ever. There are the bass fishing tournaments, the Corporate Cup relays, the golf league, the softball team, the bowling competitions. It amazes me to see all the events our people participate in under the SRC banner.

We definitely encourage the managers to take part in these competitions. It’s another way of knocking down walls. No matter how hard you try to be open, people are intimidated by the title, the door, the desk – all the symbols of power. Those are barriers you have to break down, and these outside competitions offer a way to do it.

The Great Game of Business – Chapter 2 section 2 (part 4 of 17)

Chapter 2 (cont’d)

Myth #5: Don’t Worry About the Big Issues – Just Do Your Job. Like most American companies, International Harvester operated on the principle that everybody should focus on doing the specific job he or she was assigned. The corollary was that you should only give people the information required to do their specific jobs; everything else should be treated as some kind of corporate secret. Somehow it had become common wisdom that this was a good way to run a business – in fact, the only right way to run a business. That is the biggest myth of all.

If you want to make things happen, you have to get people toraise their sights, not lower them. The broader the picture you give people, the fewer obstacles they see in their path. People need big goals. If they have big goals, they blow right by the little obstacles.

I learned that all in one of my first management experiences. I’d been put in charge of getting parts into the factory, and I began going to weekly management meetings, where I started hearing some of the company’s secrets. At the time, we had a big contract to make tractors for the Russians. The secret was that we were in trouble on it. The Russians had negotiated a penalty clause whereby they could harge us for every day we went beyond the deadline of October 31. By October 1, we were still 800 tractors short of the goal, and nobody knew where we could get the parts needed to fill the order in time. The other managers said, “Keep it to yourself. This is real serious. Heads are going to roll. You just focus on getting us the parts. We’ll take care of the tractors.”

None of this made sense to me. For one thing, I didn’t understand why we should focus on getting parts in the door when the real goal was to get tractors outthe door. And I certainly couldn’t see the point of keeping it all a secret. So I put up a big sign outside my office saying, OUR GOAL: 800 TRACTORS, and I told people the whole story. Everybody thought I was crazy. We were shipping 5 or 6 tractors a day, and there were only twenty working days until the deadline. At that rate, we were going to be short by about 700 tractors. To reach the goal, we had to average 40 tractors a day. We got out 7 tractors on the first day, 3 on the second, and people shook their heads. But when we looked closer at the problem, we began to see ways to improve the daily score. We discovered, for example, that some of the parts weren’t making it to assembly – they came in and sat on the dock. The showed us it wasn’t enough to get parts to the factory. We had to push them through the door and out onto the shop floor. We also figured out that a lot of tractors were just missing a few key parts. If we targeted those parts, we could dramatically increase shipments.

It was a case of taking a big problem and dividing it into a series of little problems, which is the best way to solve any problem. But at the same time we kept the Big Picture in front of everyone’s eyes. And it worked.

Suddenly, our daily total jumped to 55 tractors, and people got turned on. They were amazing. This was a factory where you never went outside your department, where you needed a pass to go to someone else’s area, but we had guys doing scheduling, production control, assembly, testing, shipping, the whole nine yards. They’d come into the factory after hours and crawl over the tractors, figuring out exactly what parts were needed and how many tractors were short those particular parts. Then we’d go out on the shop floor and talk to the supervisors and the hourly people. We’d get them to schedule their time as efficiently as possible and made sure we covered them.

The numbers kept going up. When we hit 300 tractors, everybody took notice. We put up bar charts – showing exactly what parts we needed, where they were coming from, and how that was going to affect shipments. People could see the whole picture. They could see all the different pieces and how – if this fell in and that fell in – we just might pull it off. They began to believe, and let me tell you, there’s nothing like it when people believe, when they think they really can do something everyone said was impossible. Individualism goes out the window. The team takes over. Nobody lets anybody down.

By the last week in October the pressure was intense. The executives would come down and watch what we were doing. With five days left, I put up a sign saying we’d shipped 662 tractors, and the place went wild. Would we make it? Would we just miss? By this point, everybody was involved. Assembly was going crazy. People couldn’t wait to get the latest score. We worked right up to the deadline of October 31. On Halloween , the last sign went up outside my office window: 808 TRACTORS SHIPPED.

What a celebration we had! We put balloons all around the sign. We had a party. There were pizzas all around. Nobody could believe that we’d beaten the Russians out of their penalty clause. It was great, just great.

That experience taught me a big lesson. I saw these guys get hungry. I saw them push and accomplish things they never thought were possible. I saw satisfaction on a daily basis. I mean, they didn’t know they were working! I thought, My God, if I can get people pumped up, want to come to work every day, what an edge that is! That’s what nobody else is doing. Suppose I could run the right numbers, so that a guy wakes up in the morning and says, “Man, I feel terrible, but I really want to go in there and see what happened.” That’s the whole secret to increasing productivity.

And I learned something else as well. The experience absolutely convinced me that secrecy is baloney. I decided that, from then on, I was going to give my people everything I got. Eventually that grew into the whole idea of teaching people how to make money.

The Fifth Higher Law Is:You Gotta Wanna

When you think about it, all these myths have one thing in common, what you might call the Big Lie. That is the notion that you can manage effectively by forcing people to do things they really don’t want to do.

It is just not true. People only get beyond work when their motivation is coming from inside. That higher law – you gotta wanna – says it all. If people don’t want to do something, its’ not going to get done. Whatever goal you’re talking about – owning your own company, being the best, building 800 tractors in a month. If you don’t want it inside of you, it ain’t gonna happen.

Management is all about instilling that desire to win. It’s about instilling self-esteem and pride, that special glow you get when you know you’re a winner. Nobody has to tell you. You just feel it. You know it.

The Great Game of Business – Chapter 2 section 1 (part 3 of 17)

Chapter 2 – Myths of Management

You may wonder if it’s possible to play the Great Game of Business anywhere – in a division of a giant conglomerate, say, or in a factory with a dominant union, or in a company that doesn’t share equity with employees or have an intelligent bonus system. In fact, the Game started in a place exactly like that, in a very small department at the huge International Harvester plant in Melrose Park, Illinois. It was there that I learned most of what I know about managing and everything I’ve tried to forget about leadership. … The practice of management, I discovered, is filled with myths that are guaranteed to screw up any factory or company as badly as Melrose Park was in those days.

Myth #1: Don’t Tell People the Truth – They’ll Screw You. Being honest with people was unheard of at Melrose Park and at most other companies in the 1970s. The whole mentality was, Cover your ass. … We established credibility, and you only build credibility by telling the truth. You simply can’t operate unless people believe you and believe one another. That taught me an important lesson: lying and dishonesty are bad business.

Myth #2: Nice Guys Finish Last. When you flaunt what you’ve got, when you intimidate, when you treat people badly, you lose power.

The Third Higher Law Is:What Goes Around Comes Around

Whenever I see someone take advantage of other people, whenever I see a boss acting like an S.O.B., I know his days are numbered.

Myth #3: A Manager’s Job Is to Come Up with Answers. It’s very common for managers, especially new managers, to think they’re supposed to have solutions for any problems that arise on their watch. That kind of thinking can get you into deep trouble. For one thing, it sets you up to fail because no one has all the answers. For another, it undermines your credibility because everyone knowsthat on one has all the answers. It also isolates you from people. … At the same time, they’re failing managers, because they aren’t doing what every good manager has to do: build confidence in other people.

You all learn faster when you teach each other. … Aside from sharing problems, they taught me about the importance of managing with the downside in mind, of having contingencies and trap doors. Because failure is part of the process. You can’t succeed if you don’t fail sometimes. But if you’re not prepared for failure, it’s going to take you by surprise and knock you for a loop. … The secret is to make contingency planning a habit of mind. It was a habit I developed as I moved up the ladder and found the problems kept getting harder. I would teach people everything I knew, and it wouldn’t be enough, so together we’d have to come up with one more trick.

That was critical because the people in the factory were depending on us. When you have the responsibility to take care of other people, you do whatever it takes to get the job done.

The Fourth Higher Law Is: You Do What You Gotta Do

You drop everything else. You stay night and day on that one thing. You figure out how to motivate, push, sneak, threaten, do whatever is necessary because people’s livlihoods are at stake. Take the hill. You gotta take the hill. … You do that, not by coming up with the answers yourself, but by generating a level of creativity that allows the answers to come out.

Myth #4: It’s a Big Mistake to Promote People Too Quickly. The common wisdom is that people should prove themselves before they get promoted. I always promoted people as fast as I could. … Tunnel vision is a big problem in business. When people spend all their time in one function, they see every issue from a single perspective. … that makes it harder to accomplish anything. I got around this obstacle by getting my people jobs in other departments. In effect, I instituted a program of cross-training for the people I worked with. … As a result, my department could function better. We had our own support system consisting of erstwhile colleagues who understood our point of view and could give us help when we needed it.


The Great Game of Business – Chapter 1 (part 2 of 17)

Chapter 1 – Why We Teach People How To Make Money

It’s amazing what you can come up with when you have no money, zero outside resources, and 119 people all depending on youfor their jobs, their homes, even their prospects of dinner for the foreseeable future.

That’s pretty much the situation my twelve fellow managers and I faced in February 1983, our first month in business as an independent company. We were supervisors and managers at a little factory in Springfield, Missouri, that up until then had been owned by International Harvester. At the time, Harvester was in big trouble, sinking faster than the Titanic, cutting loose operations like ours in a desperate attempt to stay afloat. When the company offered to sell us the factory, we jumped at the chance to save our jobs. It was like jumping into a leaky life raft in the middle of a hurricane. Our new company was loaded down with so much debt that the smallest wave could capsize us.

We were scared. We couldn’t rely on traditional ways of managing because they wouldn’t produce the kind of results we needed in time to save us. So we grabbed for something new, based on what we thought of as the higher laws of business.

The First Higher Law Is: You Get What You Give.

The Second Higher Law Is:It’s Easy to Stop One Guy, But It’s Pretty Hard to Stop 100

I don’t know where I learned these laws. You don’t hear about them in school. You pick them up on the street. But I know they are real laws of business, and they are the reason why we survived and have been successful ever since. It was out of these laws that we created the Great Game of Business. These two higher laws sum up our success; they emphasize how thoroughly dependent we are on one another – and how strong we are because of it.

I am often asked to say exactly what the Great Game of Business is. I have to admit I find this hard to do. It is not a system. It is not a methodology. It is not a philosophy, or an attitude, or a set of techniques. It is all those things and more. It is a whole different way of running a company and of thinking about how a company should be run. What lies at the heart of the Game is a very simple proposition:

The best, most efficient, most profitable way to operate a business is to give everybody in the company a voice in saying how the company is run anda stake in the financial outcome, good or bad.

Guided by this proposition, we turn business into a game that everybody in the company can play. … As a result, hourly workers who had been with the Springfield Remanufacturing Corp. (SRC) from the beginning had holdings in the Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) worth as much as $35,000 per person. That was almost the price of a home in Springfield in 1991.


The Basic Rules of the Game 

People who run companies know that there are really only two critical factors in business. One is to make money and the other is to generate cash. As long as you do those two things, your company is going to be okay, even if you make mistakes along the way, as you inevitably will.

The only way to be secure is to make money and generate cash. Everything else is a means to that end.

Those simple rules apply to every business. And yet, at most companies, people are never told that the survival of the company depends on doing those two things. People are told what told in in an eight-hour workday, but no one ever shows them how they fit into the bigger picture. … Most important, no one tells people how to make money and generate cash. Nine times out of ten, employees don’t even know the difference between the two.


The Basic Tools of the Game

When people come to work at SRC, we tell them that 70 percent of the job is disassembly or whatever, and 30 percent of the job is learning. What they learn is how to make money, how to make a profit. We offer them sessions with the accounting staff, tutoring with supervisors and foremen, instructional sheets, and so on. We teach them about after-tax profits, retained earnings, equity, cash flow, everything. … Then we provide a lot of reinforcement. Once a week, for example, supervisors hold meetings throughout the company to go over the updated financial statements.


Why We Play the Game

 Reason #1 for Playing the Game: We Want to Live Up to Our End of the Employment Bargain. Everything we do is based on a common understanding that job security is paramount – that we are creating a place for people to work not just this year or five years from now, but of the next fifty years and beyond. We owe it to one another to keep the company alive.

Reason #2 for Playing the Game: We Want to Do Away with Jobs. How often have you heard this: “All we ask you is to do the job, nothing more.” Well, I don’t want people just to do a job. I want them to have a purpose in what the hell they’re doing. I want them to be going somewhere. I want them to be excited about getting up in the morning, to look forward to what they’re going to do that day.

Reason #3 for Playing the Game: We Want to Ged Rid of the Employee Mentality.The big payoff to us for playing the Game is that we become a more educated, more flexible organization. We can respond instantaneously to changes in the market. We can turn on a dime for a customer if we have to. We can respond to a problem in the length of time it takes to place a phone call. … We can do all that because we have a company filled with people who not only areowners, but who also thinkand actlike owners, not employees. That’s an important distinction. … Ownership is not a set of legal rights. It’s a state of mind. You can’t give people that state of mind in one fell swoop. You can only nurture it through a process of education.

Reason #4 for Playing the Game: We Want to Create and Distribute Wealth. What’s really going on is that companies are getting rid of people and replacing them with machines. … What machines can’t do is figure out how to make money. Only people can do that. If you have people who know how to make money, you’ll win every time. … But to get people to that point, you have to educate them. You have to teach them why it’s important to make money and generate cash, and then you have to figure out a way to keep them focused on doing those two simple things.

Crucial Conversations – Chapter 11 (part 18 of 18)

I can win an argument on any topic, against any opponent. People know this, and steer clear of me at parties. Often, as a sign of their great respect, they don’t even invite me. – Dave Barry


Chapter 11 – Putting It All Together – Tools for Preparing and Learning


Learn to Look. The first lever for positive change is Learn to Look. That is, people who improve their dialogue skills continually ask themselves whether they’re in or out of dialogue. This alone makes a huge difference. Even people who can’t remember or never learned the skills of STATE or AMPP, etc., are able to benefit from this material by simply asking if they’re falling into silence or violence. They may not know exactly how to fix the specific problem they’re facing, but they do know that if they’re not in dialogue, it can’t be good. And then they try something to get back to dialogue. As it turns out, trying something is better than doing nothing.

So remember to ask the following important question: “Are we playing games or are we in dialogue?” It’s a wonderful start.

Make It Safe. The second lever is Make It Safe. We’ve suggested that dialogue consists of the free flow of meaning and that the number one flow stopper is a lack of safety. When you notice that you and others have moved away from dialogue, do something to make it safer. Anything.

These too levers form the basis for recognizing, building, and maintaining dialogue. When the concept of dialogue is introduced, these are the ideas most people can readily take in and apply to crucial conversations. Now let’s move on to a discussion of the rest of the principles we’ve covered.



Here’s one last tool to help you turn these ideas into action. It’s a powerful way of coaching yourself – or another person – through a crucial conversation. It can literally help you identify the precise place you are getting stuck and the specific skill that can help you get unstuck. [Table on Page 214]



Let’s end where we started. We begin this book by suggesting we got dragged somewhat unwillingly into the topic of communication. What we were most interested in was notwriting a book on communication. Rather, we wanted to identify crucial moments– moments when people’s actions disproportionately affect their organizations, their relationships, and their lives. Our research led us time and again to focus on moments when people need to step up emotionally and politically risky conversations. That’s why we came to call these moments crucial conversations. The current quality of your leadership and your life is fundamentally a function of how you are presently handling these moments.

Our sole motivation in writing this book has been to help you profoundly improve the results you care about most. And your dearest hope as we conclude it is that you will do so. Take action. Identify a crucial conversation you could improve now. Use the tools in this last chapter to identify the principle or skill that will help you approach it in a more effective way than you ever have. Then give it a try.

One thing our research shows clearly is that you need not be perfect to make progress. We promise you that if you persist and work at these ideas, you will see dramatic improvement in your relationships and results. These moments are truly crucial, and a little bit of change can lead to an enormous amount of progress.

Crucial Conversations – Chapter 9 (part 17 of 18)

To do nothing is in every man’s power – Samual Johnson


Chapter 9 – Move to Action – How to Turn Crucial Conversations into Action and Results 

Up until this point we’ve suggested that getting more meaning into the pool helps with dialogue. It’s the one thingthat helps people make savvy decisions that, in turn, lead to smart, unified, and committed actions. … It’s time we add two final skills. Having more in the pool, even jointly owning it, doesn’t guarantee that we all agree on what we’re going to do with the meaning. For example, when teams or families meet and generate a host of ideas, they often fail to convert the ideas into action for two reasons:

  • They have unclear expectations about how decisions will be made.
  • They do a poor job of acting on the decisions they do make.

This can be dangerous. In fact, when people move from adding meaning to the pool to moving to action, it’s a prime time for new challenges to arise. … Let’s take a look at what it takes to solve each of these problems. First, making decisions.



The two riskiest times in crucial conversations tend to be at the beginning and at the end. The beginning is risky because you have to find a way to create safety or else things go awry. The end is dicey because if you aren’t careful about how you clarify the conclusion and decisions flowing from your Pool of Shared Meaning, you can run into violated expectations later on. This can happen in two ways.

How are decisions going to be made?First, people may not understand how decisions are going to be made.

Are we ever going to decide?The second problem with decision making occurs when no decision gets made. Either ideas slip away and dissipate, or people can’t figure out what to do with them.



Both of these problems are solved if, before making a decision, the people involved decide how to decide. … Make it clear how decisions will be made – who will be involved and why.

When the line of authority is clear. When you’re in a position of authority, you decide which method of decision making you’ll use. … Deciding what decisions to turn over and when to do it is part of their stewardship.

When the line of authority isn’t clear. When there is no clear line of authority, deciding how to decide can be quite difficult. … Use your best dialogue skills to get meaning into the pool. Jointly decide how to decide.


The Four Methods of Decision Making

There are four common ways of making decisions: command, consult, vote, and consensus. These four options represent increasing degrees of involvement. Increased involvement, of course, brings the benefit of increased commitment along with the curse of decreased decision-making efficiency.

Command. Let’s start with decisions that are made with no involvement whatsoever. This happens in one of two ways. Either outside forces place demands on us (demands that leave us no wiggle room), or we turn decisions over to others and then follow their lead.

Consult. Consulting is as process whereby decision makers invite others to influence them before they make their choice. … They gather ideas, evaluate options, make a choice, and then inform the broader population.

Vote. Voting is best suited to situations where efficiency is the highest value – and you’re selecting from a number of good options. … When facing several decent options, voting is a great time saver but should never be used when team members don’t agree to support whatever decision is made. In these cases, consensus is required.

Consensus. This method can be both a great blessing and a frustrating curse. Consensus means you talk until everyone honestly agrees to one decision. This method can produce tremendous unity and high-quality decisions. If misapplied, it can also be a horrible waste of time. It should only be used with (1) high-stakes and complex issues or (2) issues where everyone absolutely must support the final choice.



Now that we know the four methods, let’s explore which method to use at which time – along with some hints about how to avoid common blunders.


Four Important Questions 

When choosing among the four methods of decision making, consider the following questions:

  1. Who cares?Determine who genuinely wants to be involved in the decision along with those who will be affected.
  2. Who knows?Identify who has the expertise you need to make the best decision.
  3. Who must agree?Think of those whose cooperation you might need in the form of authority or influence in any decisions you might make.
  4. How many people is it work involving?Your goal should be to involve the fewest number of people while still considering the quality of the decision along with the support that people will give it.



To avoid common traps, make sure you consider the following four elements:

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

Who?When it’s time to pass out assignments, remember, there is no “we.” “We,” when it comes to assignments, actually means, “no me.” It’s code. … Assign a name to every responsibility.

Does What? Be sure to spell out the exact deliverables you have in mind. The fuzzier the expectations, the higher the likelihood of disappointment.

By When?With vague or unspoken deadlines, other urgencies come up, and the assignment finds its way to the bottom of the pile, where it is soon forgotten.

How Will You Follow Up? Always agree on how often and by what method you’ll follow up on the assignment. It could be a simple e-mail confirming the completion of a project. It might be a full report in a team or family meeting. More often than not, it comes down to progress checks along the way.



Once again, a proverb comes to mind. “One dull pencil is worth six sharp minds.” Don’t leave your hard work to memory. If you’ve gone to the effort to complete a crucial conversation, don’t fritter away all the meaning you created by trusting your memories. Write down the details of conclusions, decisions, and assignments. Remember to record who does what by when. Revisit your notes at key times (usually the next meeting) and review assignments.



Turn your successful crucial conversations into great decisions and united action by avoiding the two traps of violated expectations and inaction.

Decide How to Decide

  • Command. Decisions are made without involving others.
  • Consult. Input is gathered from the group and then a subset decides.
  • Vote. An agreed-upon percentage swings the decision
  • Consensus. Everyone comes to an agreement and then supports the final decision.

Finish Clearly

Determine whodoeswhatby when. Make the deliverables crystal clear. Set a follow-uptime. Record the commitments and then follow up. Finally, hold people accountable to their promises.

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.

Crucial Conversations – Chapter 8 section 1 (part 15 of 18)

One of the best ways to persuade other is with your ears – by listening to them. – Dean Rusk.


Chapter 8 – Explore Others’ Paths. How to Listen When Others Blow Up or Clam Up

When others do damage to the pool of meaning by clamming up (refusing to speak their minds) or blowing up (communicating in a way that is abusive and insulting), is there something you can do to get them back into dialogue? … The answer is a resounding “It depends.” … You can’t take responsibility for someone else’s thoughts and feelings.

Then again, you’ll never work through your differences until all parties freely add to the pool of meaning. That requires the people who are blowing up or clamming up to participate as well. And while it’s true that you can’t force others to dialogue, you can take steps to make it safer for them to do so. After all, that’s why they’ve sought the security of silence or violence in the first place. They’re afraid that dialogue will make them vulnerable. Somehow they believe that if they engage in real conversation with you, bad things will happen to them. … Restoring safety is your greatest hop to get your relationship back on track.



In Chapter 5, we recommended that whenever you notice safety is at risk, you should step out of the conversation and restore it. When you have offended others through a thoughtless act, apologize. Or if someone has misunderstood your intent, use Contrasting. Explain what you do and don’t intend. Finally, if you’re simply at odds, find a Mutual Purpose.

Now we add one more skill: Explore Others’ Paths. Since we’ve added a model of what’s going on inside another person’s head (the Path to Action), we now have a whole new tool for helping others feel safe. If we can find a way to let others know that it’s okay to share their Path to Action – their facts and, yes, even their nasty stories and ugly feelings – then they’ll be more likely to open up. … But what does it take?


Start with Heart – Get Ready to Listen

Be sincere. To get others’ facts and stories into the pool of meaning, we have to invite them to share what’s on their minds. … For now, let’s highlight the point that when you do invite people to share their views, you must mean it.

Be curious. When you do want to hear from others (and you should because it adds to the pool of meaning), the best way to get at the truth is by making it safe for them to express the stories that are moving them to either silence or violence. This means that at the very moment when most people become furious, we need to become curious. Rather than respond in kind, we need to wonder what’s behind the ruckus. … This calls for genuine curiosity – at a time when you’re likely to be feeling frustrated or angry. … Do your best to get at the person’s source of fear or anger. Look for chances to turn on your curiosity rather than kick-start your adrenaline.

Stay curious. When people begin to share their volatile stories and feelings, we now face the risk of pulling out our own Victim, Villain, and Helpless Stories to help us explain why they’re saying what they’re saying. Unfortunately, since it’s rarely fun to hear other people’s unflattering stories, we begin to assign negative motives to them for telling the stories. … To avoid overreacting to others’ stories, stay curious. Give your brain a problem to stay focused on. Ask: “Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person say this?” This question keeps you retracing the other person’s Path to Action until you see how it all fits together. And in most cases, you end up seeing that under the circumstances, the individual in question drew a fairly reasonable conclusion.

Be patient. When others are acting out their feelings and opinions through silence or violence, it’s a good bet they’re starting to feel the effects of adrenaline. Even if we do our best to safely and effectively respond to the other person’s verbal attack, we still have to face up to the fact that it’s going to take a little while for him or her to settle down. … So be patient when exploring how others think and feel. Encourage them to share their path and then wait for their emotions to catch up with the safety that you’ve created.


Encourage Others to Retrace Their Path

Once you’ve decided to maintain a curious approach, it’s time to help the other person retrace his or her Path to Action. Unfortunately, most of us fail to do so. That’s because when others start playing silence or violence games, we’re joining the conversation at the endof their Path to Action. They’ve seen and heard things, told themselves a story or two, generated a feeling (probably a mix of fear and anger or disappointement), and now they’re starting to act out their story. That’s where we come in. Now, even though we may be hearing their first words, we’re coming in somewhere near the end of their path.

Every sentence has a history. To get a feel for how complicated and unnerving this process is, remember how you felt the last time your favorite mystery show started late because a football game ran long. As the game wraps up, the screen cross-fades from a trio of announcers to a starlet standing over a murder victim. Along the bottom of the screen are the discomforting words, “We now join this program already in progress.”

Crucial conversations can be similarly mysterious and frustrating. When others are in either silence or violence, we’re actually joining their Path to Action already in progress. Consequently, we’ve already missed the foundation of the story and we’re confused. If we’re not careful, we can become defensive. After all, not only are we joining late, but we’re also joining at a time when the other person is starting to act offensively.

Break the cycle. And then guess what happens? When we’re on the receiving end of someone’s retributions, accusations, and cheap shots, rarely do we think: “My, what an interesting story he or she must have told. What do you suppose led to that?” Instead, we match this unhealthy behavior. Our genetically shaped, eons-old defense mechanisms kick in, and we create our own hasty and ugly Path to Action.

People who know better cut this dangerous cycle by stepping out of the interaction and making it safe for the other person to talk about his or her Path to Action. They perform this feat by encouraging him or her to move away from harsh feelings and knee-jerk reactions and toward the root cause. In essence, they retrace the other person’s Path to Action together. At their encouragement, the other person moves from his or her emotions, to what he or she concluded, to what he or she observed.

When we help others retrace their path to its origins, not only do we help curb our reactions, but we also return to the place where the feelings can be resolved – at the source, that is, the facts and the story behind the emotion.



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.

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.