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To see how all of the STATE skills fit together in a touchy con­

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BACK TO THE MOTEL To see how all of the STATE skills fit together in a touchy con­ versation, let’s return to the motel bill
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versation, let’s return to the motel bill. Only this time, Carole

does a far better job of bringing up a delicate issue.

BOB: Hi honey, how was your day?

CAROLE: Not so good.

BOB: Why’s that?

CAROLE: I was checking our credit card bill, and I noticed a

charge of forty-eight dollars for the Good Night Motel

down the street. [Shares facts]

BOB: Boy, that sounds wrong.

CAROLE: It sure does.

BOB: Well, don’t worry. I’ll check into it one day when I’m

going by.

CAROLE: I’d feel better if we checked right now.

BOB: Really? It’s less than fifty bucks. It can wait.

CAROLE: It ‘s not the money that has me worried.

BOB: You’re worried ?




CAROLE: It’s a motel down the street. You know that’s how

my sister found out that Phil was having an affair. She

found a suspicious hotel bill. [Shares story-tentatively] I

don’t have anything to worry about do I? What do you

think is going on with this bill? [Asks for other’s path]

BOB: I don’t know, but you certainly don’t have to worry

about me.

CAROLE: I know that you’ve given me no reason to question

your fidelity. I don’t really believe that you’re having an

affair. [Contrasting] It’s just that it might help put my

mind to rest if we were to check on this right now. Would

that bother you? [Encourages testing]

BOB: Not at all. Let’s give them a call and find out what’s

going on.

When this conversation actually did take place, it sounded

exactly like the one portrayed above. The suspicious spouse

avoided nasty accusations and ugly stories, shared facts, and

then tentatively shared a possible conclusion. As it turns out,

the couple had gone out to a Chinese restaurant earlier that

month. The owner of the restaurant also owned the motel and

used the same credit card imprinting machine at both estab­

lishments. Oops.

By tentatively sharing a story rather than attacking, name­

calling, and threatening, the worried spouse averted a huge bat­

tle, and the couple’s relationship was strengthened at a time

when it could easily have been damaged.


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 at the DMV.

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 opinions on others. Quite

naturally, others resist. You in turn push even harder.

As consultants, we (the authors) watch this kind of thing hap­

pen all the time. For instance, seated around the table is a group

of leaders who are starting to debate an important topic. First,

someone hints that she’s the only one with any real insight. Then

someone else starts tossing out facts like so many poisonous

darts. Another-it just so happens someone with critical infor­

mation-retreats into silence. As emotions rise, words that were

once carefully chosen and tentatively delivered are now spouted

with an absolute certainty that is typically reserved for claims

that are nailed to church doors or carved on stone tablets.

In the end, nobody is listening, everyone is committed to

silence or violence, and the Pool of Shared Meaning is dry.

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 every­

one else is wrong. There’s no need to expand the pool of mean­

ing. because we own the pool. We also firmly believe it’s our duty

to fight for the truth that we’re holding. It’s the honorable thing

tu do. I t ‘s what people of l:haral:ter do.




Of course, others aren’t exactly villains in this story. They sim­

ply 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 through­

out the years. Chief among them is the ability to “stack the

deck.” We cite information that supports our ideas while hiding

or discrediting anything that doesn’t. Then we spice things up

with exaggeration: “Everyone knows that this is the only way to

go.” When this doesn’t work, we lace our language with inflam­

matory terms: “All right-thinking people would agree with me.”

From there we employ any number of dirty tricks. We appeal

to authority: “Well, that’s what the boss thinks.” We attack the

person: “You’re not so naive as to actually believe that?” We

draw hasty generalizations: “If it happened in our overseas oper­

ation, it’ll happen here for sure.”

And again, the harder we try and the more forceful our tac­

tics, the greater the resistance we create, the worse the results,

and the more battered our relationships.

How Do We Change?

The solution to 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 cur­

rent 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 .

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