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.


Crucial Conversations – Chapter 5 section 3 (part 8 of 18)

Create a Mutual Purpose 

Let’s add one more skill. Sometimes we find ourselves in the middle of a debate because we clearly have different purposes. There is no misunderstanding here. Contrasting won’t do the trick. We need something sturdier for this job.

Commit to Seek Mutual Purpose. As is true with most dialogue skills, if you want to get back to dialogue, you have to Start with Heart. In this case, you have to agree to agree. To be successful, we have to stop using silence or violence to compel others to our view. We must even surrender false dialogue, where we pretend to have Mutual Purpose (calmly arguing our side until the other person gives in). We Start with Heart by committing to stay in the conversation until we invent a solution that serves a purpose we both share.

This can be tough. To stop arguing, we have to suspend our belief that our choice is the absolute best and only one, and that we’ll never be happy until we get exactly what we currently want. We have to open our mind to the fact that maybe, just maybe, there is a third choice out there – one that suits everyone.

We also have to be willing to verbalize this commitment even when your partner seems committed to winning. We act on faith that our partner is stuck in silence or violence because he or she feels unsafe. We assume that if we build more safety – by demonstrating our commitment to finding a Mutual Purpose – the other person will feel more confident that dialogue could be a productive avenue.

So next time you find yourself stuck in the battle of wills, try this amazingly powerful but simple skill. Step out of the content of the struggle and make it safe. Simply say, “It seems like we’re both trying to force our view on each other. I commit to stay in this discussion until we have a solution that satisfies both of us.” Then watch whether safety takes a turn for the better.

Recognize the Purpose Behind the Strategy. Wanting to come up with a shared goal is a wonderful first step, but desire alone is not enough. After we’ve experienced a change of heart, we need to change our strategy as well. Here’s the problem we have to fix: When we find ourselves at an impasse, it’s because we’re asking for one thing and the other person is asking for something else. We think we’ll never find a way out because we equate what we’re asking for with what we actually want. In truth, what we’re asking for is the strategywe’re suggesting to get what we want. We confuse our purpose with strategies. That’s the problem.

For example, I come home from work and say that I want to go to a movie. You say that you want to stay home and relax. And so we debate: movie, TV, movie, read, etc. We figure we’ll never be able to resolve our differences because going out and staying home are incompatible.

In such circumstances, we can break eth eimpasse by asking others, “Why do you want that?” In this case,

“Why do you want to stay home?”

“Because I’m tired of running around and dealing with the hassle of the city.”

“So you want peace and quiet?”

“Mostly. And why do you want to go to a movie?”

“So I can spend some time with you away from the kids.”

Before you can agree on a Mutual Purpose, you must first know what people’s real purposes are. Step out of the content of the conversation – which is generally focused on strategies – and explore the purposes behind them.

When you do separate strategies from purpose, new options become possible. By releasing your grip on your strategy and focusing on your real purpose, you’re now open to the idea that you might actually find alternatives that can serve both of your interests.

“You want peace and quiet, and I want time with you away from the kids. So if we can come up with something that is quiet and away, we’ll both be happy. Is that right?”

“Absolutely. What if we were to take a drive up the canyon and … “

Invent a Mutual Purpose. Sometimes when you recognize the purposes behind another person’s strategies, you discover that you actually have compatible goals. From there you simply come up with common strategies. But you’re not always so lucky. For example, you find out that your genuine wants and goals cannot be served except at the expense of the other person’s. In this case you cannot discovera Mutual Purpose. That means you’ll have to actively inventone.

To invent a Mutual Purpose, move to more encompassing goals. Find an objective that is more meaningful or more rewarding than the ones that divide the various sides. For instance, you and your spouse may not agree on whether or not you should take the promotion, but you can agree that the needs of your relationship and the children come before career aspirations. By focusing on higher and longer-term goals, you often find ways to transcend short-term compromises, build Mutual Purpose, and return to dialogue.

Brainstorm New Strategies. Once you’ve built safety by finding a shared purpose, you should now have enough safety to return to the content of the conversation. It’s time to step back into the dialogue and brainstorm strategies that meet everyone’s needs. If you’ve committed to finding something everyone can support and surfaced what you really want, you’ll no longer be spending your energy on unproductive conflict. Instead, you’ll be actively coming up with options that can serve everyone.

Suspend judgement and think outside the box for new alternatives. Can you find a way to work in a job that is local and still meets your career goals? Is thisjob with thiscompany the only thing that will make you happy? Is a move really necessary in this new job? Is there another community that could offer your family the same benefits? If you’re not willing to give creativity a try, it’ll be impossible for you to jointly come up with a mutually acceptable option. If you are, the sky’s the limit.


Create a Mutual Purpose  

In summary, when you sense that you and others are working at cross-purposes, here’s what you can do. First, step out of the content of the conflict. Stop focusing on who thinks what. Then create a Mutual Purpose.

  • Commit to Seek Mutual Purpose. Make a unilateral public commitment to stay in the conversation until you come up with something that serves everyone.
  • Recognize the purpose behind the strategy. Ask people why they want what they’re pushing for. Separate what they’re demanding from the purpose it serves.
  • Invent a Mutual Purpose. If after clarifying everyone’s purposes you are still at odds, see if you can invent a higher or longer-term purpose that is more motivating than the ones that keep you in conflict.
  • Brainstorm new strategies. With a clear Mutual Purpose, you can join forces in searching for a solution that serves everyone.



Step Out

When others move to silence or violence, step out of the conversation and Make It Safe. When safety is restored, go back to the issue at hand and continue the dialogue.

Decide Which Condition of Safety Is at Risk

  • Mutual Purpose. Do others believe you care about their goals in this conversation? Do they trust your motives?
  • Mutual Respect. Do others believe you respect them?

Apologize When Appropriate

  • When you’ve clearly violated respect, apologize.

Contrast to Fix Misunderstanding

  • When others misunderstand either your purpose or your intent, use Contrasting. Start with what you don’t intend or mean. Then explain what you do intend or mean.

Create Mutual Purpose

  • When you are at cross-purposes, use four skills to get back to Mutual Purpose:
  • Commit to seek Mutual Purpose
  • Recognize the purpose behind the strategy
  • Invent a Mutual Purpose
  • Brainstorm new strategies

Crucial Conversations – Chapter 5 section 2 (part 7 of 18)


When you see that either Mutual Respect or Purpose is at risk, we’ve suggested that you shouldn’t ignore it. We’ve also argued that you should be able to find a way to both find Mutual Purpose and enjoy Mutual Respect – even with people who are enormously different.

But how? What are you supposed to actually do? We’ve shared a few modest ideas (mostly things to avoid), so let’s get into three hard-hitting skills that the best at dialogue use:

  • Apologize
  • Contrast
  • Create a Mutual Purpose


Apologize When Appropriate 

When you’ve made a mistake that has hurt others, start with an apology. An apology is a statement that sincerely expresses your sorrow for your role in causing – or at least not preventing – pain or difficulty to others.

Now, an apology isn’t really an apology unless you experience a change in heart. To offer a sincere apology, your motives have to change.

Next, watch to see if this sincere show of respect has helped restore safety. If it has, you can now explain the details of what happened. If it hasn’t, you’ll need to use on of the more advanced skills that follow in the next few pages. In any case, first make it safe; then return to the issue.


Contrast to Fix Misunderstanding

Sometimes others feel disrespected during crucial conversations even though you haven’t done anything disrespectful. Sure, there are times when respect gets violated because you behave in clearly hurtful ways. But just as often, the insult is entirely unintended.

The same can happen with Mutual Purpose. You can start by innocently sharing your views, but the other people believe your intention is to harm them or coerce them into accepting your opinion. Clearly an apology is not appropriate in these circumstances. It would be disingenuous to admit you were wrong when you weren’t. How, then, can you rebuild Mutual Purpose or Mutual Respect in order to make it safe to get back to dialogue?

When others misinterpret either your purpose or your intent, step out of the argument and rebuild safety by using a skill called Contrasting. Contrasting is a don’t/do statement that:

  • Addresses others’ concerns that you don’t respect them or that you have a malicious purpose (the don’tpart).
  • Confirms your respect or clarifies your real purpose (the do part)

Of the two parts of Contrasting, the don’tis the more important because it deals with the misunderstanding that has put safety at risk. … So you address the misunderstanding by explaining what you don’t intend. Once you’ve done this, and safety returns to the conversation, then you can explain what you do intend. Safety first.

Contrasting is not apologizing. It’s important to understand that Contrasting is notapologizing. It is not a way of taking back something we’ve said that hurt others’ feelings. Rather, it is a ay of ensuring that what we said didn’t hurt more than it should have.

Contrasting provides context and proportion. When you’re in the middle of a touchy conversation, sometimes others experience your words as bigger or worse than you intend. For example, you talk with your assistant about his lack of punctuality. When you share your concern, he appears crushed.

At this point, you could be tempted to water down your content – “You know it’s really not that big a deal.” Don’t give into the temptation. Don’t take back what you’ve said. Instead, put your remarks in context. For instance, at this point your assistant may believe you are completely dissatisfied with his performance. He believes that your view of the issue at hand represents the totality of your respect for him. If this belief is incorrect, use Contrasting to clarify what you don’t and do believe. Start with what you don’t believe.

“Let me put this in perspective. I don’t want you to think I’m not satisfied with the quality of your work. I want us to continue working together. I really do think you’re doing a good job. This punctuality issue is important to me, and I’d just like you to work on that. If you will be more attentive to that, there are no other issues.”

Use Contrasting for prevention or first aid. Contrasting can be useful both as prevention and as first aid for safety problems. So far our examples have helped us apply first aid to a wounded conversation. Someone has taken something wrong, and we’ve intervened to clarify our true purpose or meaning.

When we’re aware that something we’re about to drop into the pool of meaning could create a splash of defensiveness, we use Contrasting to bolster safety – before we see others going to either silence or violence.

“I don’t want you to think that I don’t appreciate the time you’ve taken to keep our checkbook balanced and up to date. I do appreciate it, and I know I certainly couldn’t have done nearly as well. I do, however, have some concerns with how we’re using the new electronic banking system.”

When people misunderstand and you start arguing over the misunderstanding, stop. Use Contrasting. Explain what you don’t mean until you’ve restored safety. Then return to the conversation. Safety first.


Crucial Conversations – Chapter 5 section 1 (part 6 of 18)

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in baskets of silver. – Proverbs 25:11


Chapter 5 – Make It Safe. How to Make It Safe to Talk About Almost Anything.

The last chapter contained a promise: If you spot safety risks as they happen, you can step out of the conversation, build safety, and then find a way to talk about just about anything. In this chapter, we’ll fulfill that promise by teaching what it takes to restore safety.



What do you do when you don’t feel like it’s safe to share what’s on your mind? … The key is to step out of the content of the conversation. Don’t stay stuck in what’s being said.

First things first – Start with Heart. The first question is: “What do I really want?” … If you really want to have a healthy conversation about a topic that will make or break your relationship, then for a moment or two you may have to set aside confronting the current issue.

In these circumstances, the worst at dialogue say whatever is on their minds – with no regard for how it will be received. … The good realize that safety is at risk, but they fix it in exactly the wrong way. They try to make the subject more palatable by sugarcoating their message. … They try to make things safer by watering down or dressing up their content. This strategy, of course, avoids the real problem, and it never gets fixed.

The bestdon’t play games. Period. They know that in order to solve their problem, they’ll need to talk about their problem – with no pretending, sugarcoating, or faking. So they do something completely different. They step out of the content of the conversation, make it safe, and then step back in. Once safety is restored, they can talk about nearly anything.



Mutual Purpose – the Entrance Condition

The first condition of safety is Mutual Purpose. Mutual Purpose means that others perceive that you’re working toward a common outcome in the conversation, that you care about their goals, interests, and values. And vice versa. You believe they care about yours. Consequently, Mutual Purpose is the entry condition of dialogue. Find a shared goal, and you have both a great reason and a healthy climate for talking.

Watch for signs that Mutual Purpose is at risk. How do we know when the safety problem we’re seeing is due to a lack of Mutual Purpose? It’s actually fairly easy to spot. Frist, when mutual purpose is at risk, we end up in debate. When others start forcing their opinions into the pool of meaning, it’s often because they figure that we’re trying to win and they need to do the same. Other signs that purpose is at risk include defensiveness, hidden agendas (the silence form of fouled-up purpose), accusations, and circling back to the same topic. Here are two crucial questions to help us determine when Mutual Purpose is at risk:

  • Do others believe I care about their goals in this conversation?
  • Do they trust my motives?

Remember the Mutualin Mutual Purpose. Just a word to the wise. Mutual Purpose in not a technique. To succeed in crucial conversations, we must really care about the interests of others – not just our own. The purpose has to be truly mutual. If our goal is to get out way or manipulate others, it will quickly become apparent, safety will be destroyed, and we’ll be back to our silence and violence in no time. Before you begin, examine your motives. Ask yourself to the Start with Heart questions:

  • What do I want for me?
  • What do I want for others?
  • What do I want for the relationship?


Mutual Respect – the Continuance Conditions

Will we be able to remain in dialogue? While it’s true that there’s no reason to enter a crucial conversation if you don’t have Mutual Purpose, it’s equally true that you can’t stay in the conversation if you don’t maintain Mutual Respect. Mutual Respect is the continuance condition of dialogue. As people perceive that others don’t respect them, the conversation immediately becomes unsafe and dialogue comes to a screeching halt.

Why? Because respect is like air. As long as it’s present, nobody thinks about it. But if you take it away, it’s allthat people can think about. The instant people perceive disrespect in a conversation, the interaction is no longer about the original purpose – it is now about definding dignity.

Telltale signs. To spot when respect is violated and safety takes a turn south, watch for signs that people are defending their dignity. Emotions are the key. When people feel disrespected, they become highly charged. Their emotions turn from fear to anger. Then they resort to pouting, name-calling, yelling, and making threats. Ask the following question to determine when Mutual Respect is at risk:

  • Do others believe I respect them?

Can you respect people you don’t respect? Some people fear they’ll never be able to maintain Mutual Purpose or Mutual Respect with certain individuals or in certain circumstances. How, they wonder, can they share the same purpose with people who come from completely different backgrounds or whose morals or values differ from theirs? What do you do, for example, if you’re upset because another person has let you down? And if this has repeatedly happened, how can you respect a person who is so poorly motivated and selfish?

However, we can stay in dialogue by finding a way to honor and regard another person’s basic humanity. In essence, feelings of disrespect often come when we dwell on how others are differentfrom ourselves. We can counteract these feelings by looking for ways we are similar. Without excusing others’ behavior, we try to sympathize, even empathize, with them.