And guess what? As you robotically state your order, one
word spilling out after another, you forget to ask for extra
ketchup. What do you expect from a person who’s devoting no
real brain time to the interaction? In fact, your spouse’s request
never even makes it onto your radar screen-which is currently
filled with images of Jell-O-like, ribless creatures mooing and
slithering across a backdrop painted by Salvador Dali.
Scripts place us on a smooth and familiar track. They take us
across known territory and at a comfortable pace-freeing our
brains for more novel work. But then again, when we’re on rails,
we travel along the prescribed route with such finesse and ease
that it’s almost impossible to make an unscheduled turn.
CHANGE YOUR LIFE 2 1 9
WHAT ARE OUR CHANCES?
So let’s see what we’re facing when we try to change our Style
Under Stress. Tough conversations come at us out of nowhere,
fill us with adrenaline, and evoke comfortable (but not neces
sarily good) routines. They are spontaneous, emotional, and
backed by years of practice.
Consequently, when you examine people working through
crucial conversations, they look a lot more like racehorses charg
ing out of the gate than human beings making choices . Conver
sationalists are shocked into motion by surprise, whipped up to
speed by high stakes and strong emotions, and propelled along a
completely predictable course by scripts that offer few if any
Given the challenges of altering routine scripts, can people
actually change? Early in our research, we (the authors) once
examined forty-eight front-line supervisors who were learning
how to hold crucial conversations. As we watched the trainees
back at work, it became clear to us that only a few of them
transferred what they had learned in the classroom back to
their work site. The bad news is that most of them didn’t
change an iota. The good news is that some of them did. In
fact, they used the new skills precisely as instructed.
The supervisors who found a way to apply the new skills
taught us the following four principles for turning ideas into
• First, master the content. That means not only do you have
to be able to recognize what works and why, but you have to
generate new scripts of your own.
220 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
• Second, master the skills. You must be able to enact these new
scripts in a way that is consistent with the supporting princi
ples . As it turns out, simply understanding a concept isn’t
enough. While it’s helpful, even necessary to talk the talk, you
have to be able to walk the talk. You have to be able to say the
right words with the right tone and nonverbal actions. When
it comes to social skills, knowing and doing are two different
• Third, enhance your motive. You must want to change. This
means that you have to care enough about improving your
crucial conversation skills to actually do something. You have
to move from a passive sense that it would be a good idea to
change, to an active desire to seek opportunities . Ability with
out motive lies dormant and untapped.
• Fourth, watch for cues. To overcome surprise, emotion, and
scripts, you must recognize the call to action. This is usually
people’s biggest obstacle to change. Old stimuli generate old
responses. If a problem doesn’t cue your new skills, you’ll return
to your old habits without even realizing you missed a chance to