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.


Crucial Conversations – Chapter 7 section 1 (part 12 of 18)

Outspoken by whom? – Dorothy Parker, when told that she was very outspoken.


Chapter 7 – STATE My Path – How to Speak Persuasively, Not Abrasively

So far we’ve gone to great pains to prepare ourselves to step up to and master crucial conversations. Here’s what we’ve learned. Our hearts need to be in the right place. We need to pay close attention to crucial conversations – particularly when people start feeling unsafe – and restore safety when necessary. And heaven forbid that we should tell ourselves clever and unhelpful stories.

So let’s say that we are well prepared. We’re ready to open our mouths and start sharing our point of view. That’s right, we’re actually going to express our opinion. Now what?

To help us improve our advocacy skills, we’ll examine two challenging situations. First, we’ll look at five skills for talking when what we have to say could easily make others defensive. Second, we’ll explore how these same skills help us state our opinions when we believe so strongly in something that we risk shutting others down rather than opening them up to our ideas.



Adding information to the pool of meaning can be quite difficult when the ideas we’re about to pour into the collective consciousness contain delicate, unattractive, or controversial opinions. … It’s one thing to argue that your company needs to shift from green to red packaging; it’s quite another to tell a person that he or she is offensive or unlikable. When the topic turns from things to people, it’s always more difficult, and to nobody’s surprise, some people are better at it than others.

When it comes to sharing touchy information, the worstalternate between dumping their ideas into the pool of meaning and saying nothing at all. … Fearful they could easily destroy a healthy relationship, those who are good at dialogue say some of what’s on their minds, but they understate their views out of fear of hurting others. They talk all right, but they sugarcoat their message.

The bestat dialogue speak their minds completely and do it in a way that makes it safe for others to hear what they have to say and respond to it as well. They are both totally frank and completely respectful.



 In order to speak honestly when honesty could easily offend others, we have to find a way to maintain safety. That’s a bit like telling someone to smash another person in the nose, but, you know, don’t hurt him. How can we speak the unspeakable and still maintain respect? Actually, it can be done if you know how to carefully blend three ingredients – confidence, humility, and skill.

Confidence. Most people simply won’t hold delicate conversations – well, at least not with the right person. … People who are skilled at dialogue have the confidence to say what needs to be said to the person who needs to hear it. They are confident that their opinions deserve to be placed in the pool of meaning. They are also confident that they can speak openly without brutalizing others or causing undue offense.

Humility. Confidence does not equate to arrogance or pigheadedness. Skilled people are confident that they have something to say, but also realize that others have valuable input. They are humble enough to realize that they don’t have a monopoly on the truth nor do they always have to win their way. Their opinions provide a starting point but not the final word. They may currently believe something but realize that with new information they may change their minds. The means they’re willing to both express their opinions and encourage others to do the same.

Skill. Finally, people who willingly share delicate information are good at doing it. That’s why they’re confident in the first place. They don’t make a Fool’s Choice, because they’ve found a path that allows for both candor and safety. They speak the unspeakable, and people are grateful for their honesty.



Start with Heart. Think about what you reallywant and how dialogue can help you get it. And master your story – realize that you may be jumping into a hasty Victim, Villain, or Helpless Story. The best way to find out the true story is not to act outthe worst story you can generate. That will lead to self-destructive silence and violence games. Think about other possible explanations long enough to temper your emotions so you can get to dialogue. Besides, if it turns out you’re right about your initial impression, there will be plenty of time for confrontations later.

Once you’ve worked on yourself to create the right conditions for dialogue, you can then draw upon five distinct skills that can help you talk about even the most sensitive topics. These five tools can be easily remembered with the acronym STATE. It stands for:

  • Share your facts
  • Tell your story
  • Ask for others’ paths
  • Talk tentatively
  • Encourage testing

The first three skills describe whatto do. The last two tell howto do it.



Crucial Conversations – Chapter 6 section 3 (part 11 of 18)

Watch for Three “Clever” Stories.

As we begin to piece together why people are doing what they’re doing (or equally important, why we’re doing what we’re doing), with time and experience we become quite good at coming up with explanations that serve us well. Either our stories are completely accurate and propel us in healthy directions, or they’re quite inaccurate but justify our current behavior – making us feel good about ourselves and call for no need to change. … it’s the second kind of story that routinely gets us into trouble.

When we feel a need to justify our ineffective behavior or disconnect ourselves from our bad results, we tend to tell our stories in three very predictable ways. Learn what the three are and how to counteract them, and you can take control of your emotional life. Fail to do so and you’ll be a victim to the emotions you’re predisposed to have wash over you at crucial times.


Victim Stories – “It’s Not My Fault”

The first of the clever stories is the Victim Story. Victim Stories, as you might imagine, make us out to be innocent sufferers. The theme is always the same. The other person is bad, wrong, or dumb, and we are good, right, or brilliant. Other people do bad or stupid things, and we suffer as a result.

Within most crucial conversations, when you tell a Victim Story, you intentionally ignore the role you have played in the problem. You tell your story in a way that judiciously avoids whatever youhave done (or neglected to do) that might have contributed to the problem.


Villain Stories – “It’s All Your Fault”

We create these nasty little tales by turning normal, decent human beings into villains. We impute bad motive, and then we tell everyone about the evils of the other party as if somehow we’re doing the world a huge favor.

In Victim Stories we exaggerate our own innocence. In Villain Stories we overemphasize the other person’s guilt or stupidity. … Labeling is a common device in Villain stories. For example, “I can’t believe that boneheadgave me bad materials again.” By employing the handy label, we are now dealing not with a complex human being, but with a bonehead.

Watch for the double standard. When you pay attention to Victim and Villain Stories and catch them for what are – unfair caricatures – you begin to see the terrible double standard we use when our emotions are out of control. When wemake mistakes, we tell a Victim Story by claiming our intentions were innocent and pure. … On the other hand, when othersdo things that hurt or inconvenience us, we tell Villain Stories in which we inventterrible motives or exaggerate flaws for others based on how their actions affected us.


Helpless Stories – “There’s Nothing Else I Can Do”

Finally come Helpless Stories. In these fabrications we make ourselves out to be powerless to do anything healthy or helpful. We convince ourselves that there are no healthy alternatives for dealing with our predicament, which justifies the action we’re about to take. … Helpless Stories often stem from Villain Stories and typically offer us nothing more than Fool’s Choices – we can either be honest and ruin the relationship or stay silent and suffer.


Why We Tell Clever Stories

Of course, there’s a story behind our stories. They don’t just randomly roll out of our mouths. They serve four important masters.

Clever stories match reality.Sometimes the stories we tell are accurate. The other person is trying to cause us harm, we are innocent victims, or maybe we really can’t do much about the problem. It can happen. It’s not common, but it can happen.

Clever stories get us off the hook. More often than not, our conclusions transform from reasonable explanations to clever stories when they conveniently excuse us from any responsibility – when, in reality, we have been partially responsible.

Clever stories keep us from acknowledging our own sellouts.By now it should be clear that clever stories cause us problems. A reasonable question at this point is, “If they’re so terribly hurtful, why do we evertell clever stories?”

Our need to tell clever stories often starts with our own sellouts. Like it or not, we usually don’t begin telling stories that justify our actions until we have done something that we feel a need to justify. … We sell out when we consciously act against our own sense of what’s right. And after we’ve sold out, we have only two choices: own up to our sellout, or try to justify it. And if we don’t admit to our errors, we inevitably look for ways to justify them. That’s when we begin to tell clever stories. … Sellouts are often not big events. In fact, they can be so small that they’re easy for us to overlook when we’re crafting our clever stories.

When we don’t admit to our own mistakes, we obsess about others’ faults. Our innocence, and our powerlessness to do anything other than what we’re already doing. We tell a clever story when we want self-justification more than results. Of course, self-justification is not what we reallywant, but we certainly act as if it is. … With that in mind, let’s focus on what we really want. Let’s look at the Master My Stories skill.


Tell the Rest of the Story 

Once we’ve learning to recognize the clever stories we tell ourselves, we can move to the final Master My Stories skill. The dialogue-smart recognize that they’re telling clever stories, stop, and then do what it takes to tell a usefulstory. A useful story, by definition, creates emotions that lead to healthy action – such as dialogue.

And what transforms a clever story into a useful one? The rest of the story. That’s because clever stories have one characteristic in common: They’re incomplete. Clever stories omit crucial information about us, about others, and about our options. Only by including all of these essential details can clever stories be transformed into useful ones.

What’s the best way to fill in the missing details? Quite simply, it’s done by turning victims into actors, villains into humans, and the helpless into the able. Here’s how.

Turn victims into actors. If you notice that you’re talking about yourself as an innocent victim (and you weren’t held up at gunpoint), ask:

  • Am I pretending not to notice my role in the problem?

Turn villains into humans. When you find yourself labeling or otherwise vilifying others, stop and ask:

  • Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do what this person is doing?

Turn the helpless into the able.Finally, when you catch yourself bemoaning your own helplessness, you can tell the complete story by returning to your original motive. To do so, stop and ask:

  • What do I really want? For me? For others? For the relationship?

Then kill the Fool’s Choice that’s made you feel helpless to choose anything other than silence or violence. Do this by asking:

  • What would I do right now if I really wanted these results?



If strong emotions are keeping you stuck in silence or violence, try this.


Retrace Your Path

Notice your behavior. If you find yourself moving away from dialogue, ask yourself what you’re really doing.

  • Am I in some form of silence or violence?

Get in touch with your feelings. Learn to accurately identify the emotions behind your story.

  • What emotions are encouraging me to act this way?

Analyze your stories. Question your conclusions and look for other possible explanations behind your story.

  • What story is creating these emotions?

Get back to the facts. Abandon your absolute certainty by distinguishing between hard facts and your invented story.

  • What evidence do I have to support this story?

Watch for clever stories. Victim, Villain, and Helpless Stories sit at the top of that list.


Tell the Rest of the Story


  • Am I pretending not to notice my role in the problem?
  • Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do this?
  • What do I really want?
  • What would I do right now if I really wanted these results?

Crucial Conversations – Chapter 6 section 2 (part 10 of 18)


What’s the most effective way to come up with different stories? The bestat dialogue find a way to first slow down and then take charge of their Path to Action. Here’s how.


Retrace Your Path

 To slow down the lightning-quick storytelling process and the subsequent flow of adrenaline, retrace your Path to Action – one element at a time. This calls for a bit of mental gymnastics. First you have to stop what you’re currently doing. Then you have to get in touch with why you’re doing it. Here’s how to retrace your path:

  • [Act] Notice your behavior. Ask: “Am I in some form of silence or violence?”
  • [Feel] Get in touch with your feelings. “What emotions are encouraging me to act this way?”
  • [Tell Story] Analyze your stories. “What story is creating these emotions?”
  • [See/Hear] Get back to the facts. “What evidence do I have to support this story?”

By retracing your path one element at a time, you put yourself in a position to think about, question, and change any one or more of the elements.

Notice your behavior. Why would you stop and retrace your Path to Action in the first place? Certainly if you’re constantly stopping what you’re doing and looking for your underlying motive and thoughts, you won’t even be able to put on your shows without thinking about it for who knows how long. You’ll die of analysis paralysis.

Actually, you shouldn’t constantly stop and question your actions. If you Learn to Look (as we suggested in Chapter 4) and note that you yourself are slipping into silence or violence, you have good reason to stop and take stock.

But looking isn’t enough. You must take an honestlook at what you’re doing. If you tell yourself a story that your violent behavior is a “necessary tactic,” you won’t see the need to reconsider your actions. If you immediately jump in with “they started it,” or otherwise find yourself rationalizing your behavior, you also won’t feel compelled to change. Rather than stop and review what you’re doing, you’ll devote your time to justifying your actions to yourself and others.

When an unhelpful story is driving you to silence or violence, stop and consider how others would see your actions. For example, if the 60 Minutescamera crew replayed this scene on national television, how would you look? What would theytell you about your behavior?

Not only do those who are best at crucial conversations notice when they’re slipping into silence or violence, but they’re also able to admit it. They don’t wallow in self-doubt, of course, but they do recognize the problem and begin to take corrective action. The moment they realize that they’re killing dialogue, they review their own Path to Action.

Get in touch with your feelings. As skilled individuals begin to retrace their own Path to Action, they immediately move from examining their own unhealthy behavior to exploring their feelings or emotions. At first glance this task sounds easy. “I’m angry!” you think to yourself. What could be easier?

Actually, identifying your emotions is more difficult than you might imagine. In fact, many people are emotionally illiterate. When asked to describe how they’re feeling, you use words such as “bad” or “angry” or “frightened” – which would be okay if these were accurate descriptors, but often they’re not. Individuals say they’re angry when, in fact, they’re feeling a mix of embarrassment and surprise. Or they suggest they’re unhappy when they’re feeling violated. Perhaps they suggest they’re upset when they’re really feeling humiliated and cheated.

It’s important to get in touch with your feelings, and to do so, you may want to expand your emotional vocabulary.

Analyze your stories.Question your feelings and stories. Once you’ve identified what you’re feeling, you have to stop and ask, given the circumstances, is it the rightfeeling? Meaning, of course, are you telling the right story? After all, feelings come from stories, and stories are our own invention.

The first step to regaining emotional control is to challenge the illusion that what you’re feeling is the only rightemotion under the circumstances. This may be the hardest step, but it’s also the most important one. By questioning our feelings, we open ourselves up to question our stories.

Don’t confuse stories with facts. Sometimes you fail to question your stories because you see them as immutable facts. When you generate stories in the blink of an eye, you can get so caught up in the moment that you begin to believe your stories are facts. They feellike facts. You confuse subjective conclusions with steel-hard data points.

Get back to the facts.Separate fact from story by focusing on behavior. To separate fact from story, get back to the genuine source of your feelings. Test your ideas against a simple criterion: Can you seeor hearthis thing you’re calling a fact? Was it an actual behavior?

For example, it is the fact that Louis “gave 95 percent of the presentation and answered all but one question.” This is specific, objective, and verifiable. Any two people watching the meeting would make the same observation. However, the statement “He doesn’t trust me” is a conclusion. It explains what you think, not what the other person did. Conclusions are subjective.

Spot the story by watching for “hot” words. Here’s another tip. To avoid confusing story with fact, watch for “hot” terms. For example, when assessing the facts, you might say, “She scowled at me” or “He made a sarcastic comment.” Words such as “scowl” and “sarcastic” are hot terms. They express judgements and attributions that, in turn, create strong emotions. They are story, not fact.



Crucial Conversations – Chapter 6 section 1 (part 9 of 18)

It’s not how you play the game, it’s how the game plays you.


Chapter 6 – Master My Stories. How to Stay in Dialogue When You’re Angry, Scared, or Hurt

This chapter explores how to gain control of crucial conversations by learning how to take charge of your emotions. By learning to exert influence over your own feelings, you’ll place yourself in a far better position to use all the tools we’ve explored thus far.

No matter who is doing the button pushing, some people tend to react more explosively than others – and to the same stimulus, no less. Why is that? For instance, what enables some people to listen to withering feedback without flinching, whereas others pitch a fit when you tell them they’ve got a smear of salsa on their chin? Why is it that sometimes you yourself can take verbal blow to the gut without batting an eye, but other times you go ballistic if someone so much as looks at you sideways?



To answer these questions, we’ll start with two rather bold (and sometimes unpopular) claims. Then, having tipped our hand, we’ll explain the logic behind each claim.

Claim One. Emotions don’t settle upon you like a fog. They are not foisted upon you by others. No matter how comfortable it might make you feel saying it – others don’t make you mad. You make you mad. You make you scared, annoyed, or insulted. You can only you create your emotions.

Claim Two. Once you’ve created your upset emotions, you have only two options: You can act on them or be acted on by them. That is, when it comes to strong emotions, you either find a way to  master them or fall hostage to them.


What’s Making Maria Mad?

Here’s the problem. Maria is treating her emotions as if they are the only valid response. Since, in her mind, they are both justified and accurate, she makes no effort to change or even question them. Besides, in her view, Louis caused them. Ultimately, her actions (saying nothing and taking cheap shots) are being driven by these very emotions. Since she’s not acting on her emotions, her emotions are acting on her – controlling her behavior and fueling her deteriorating relationship with Louis. The worst at dialogue fall hostage to their emotions, and they don’t even know it.

The goodat dialogue realize that if they don’t control their emotions, matters will get worse. So they try something else. They fake it. They choke down reactions and then do their best to get back to dialogue. A least, they give it a shot.

Unfortunately, once these emotionally choked folks hit a rough spot in a crucial conversation, their suppressed emotions come out of hiding. They show up as tightened jaws or sarcastic comments. Dialogue takes a hit. Or maybe their paralyzing fear causes them to avoid saying what they really think. Meaning is kept of out of the pool because it’s cut off at the source. In any case, their emotions sneak out of the cubbyhole they’ve been crammed into a find a way to creep into the conversation. It’s never pretty, and it always kills dialogue.

The bestat dialogue do something completely different. They aren’t held hostage by their emotions, nor do they try to hide or suppress them. Instead, they act on their emotions. That is, when they have strong feelings, they influence (and often change) their emotions by thinking them out. As a result, they choose their emotions, and by so doing, make it possible to choose behaviors that create better results.

This, of course, is easier said than done. It’s not easy to Rethink yourself from an emotional and dangerous state into one that puts you back in control. But it can be done. It should be done.

To help rethink or gain control of our emotions, let’s see where our feelings come from in the first place. Let’s look at a model that helps us first examine and then gain control of your own emotions.


Stories Create Feelings

As it turns out, there isan intermediate step between what others do and how we feel. There’s always an intermediate step because actions themselves can’t and don’t cause emotional reactions. That’s why, when faced with the exact same circumstances, ten people may have ten different emotional responses.

What is this intermediate step? Just afterwe observe what others do and just beforewe feel some emotion about it, we tell ourselves a story. We add meaning to the action we observed. We make a guess at the motive driving the behavior. Why were they doing that? We also add judgment – is that good or bad? And then, based on these thoughts or stories, our body responds with an emotion.

We observe, we tell a story, and then we feel. Although this addition complicates the model a bit, it also gives us hope. Since we and only weare telling the story, we can take back control of our own emotions by telling a different story. We now have a point of leverage or control. If we can find a way to control the stories we tell, by rethinking or retelling them, we can master our emotions and, therefore, master our crucial conversations.



Nothing in this world is good or bad, but thinking makes it so – William Shakespeare

Stories provide our rationale for what’s going on. They’re our interpretations of the facts. They help explain what we see and hear. They’re theories we use to explain why, how, and what. … Of course we come up with our own meaning or stories, it isn’t long until our body responds with strong feelings or emotions – after all, our emotions are directly linked to our judgements of right/wrong, good/bad, kind/selfish, fair/unfair, etc.

Even if you don’t realize it, you are telling yourself stories. When we teach people that it’s our stories that drive our emotions and not other people’s actions, someone inevitably raises a hand and says, “Wait a minute! I didn’t notice myself telling a story. When that guy laughed at me during my presentation, I just feltangry. The feeling came first; the thoughts came second.”

Storytelling typically happens blindingly fast. When we believe we’re at risk, we tell ourselves a story so quickly that we don’t even know we’re doing it. If you don’t believe this is true, ask yourself whether you alwaysbecome angry when someone laughs at you. If sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t, then your response isn’thard-wired. That means something goes on between others laughing and you feeling. In truth, you tell a story. You may not remember it, but you tell a story.

Any set of facts can be used to tell an infinite number of stories. Stories are just that, stories. These explanations could be told in any of thousands of different ways.

If we take control of our stories, they won’t control us. People who excel at dialogue are able to influence their emotions during crucial conversations. They recognize that while it’s true that at first we are in control of the stories we tell – after all, we do make them up of our own accord – once they’re told, the stories control us. They first control how we feel and then how we act. And as a result, they control the results we get from our crucial conversations.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can tell different stories and break the loop. In fact, untilwe tell different stories, we cannot break the loop. … If you want improved results from your crucial conversations, change the stories you tell yourself – even while you’re in the middle of the fray.