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. 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
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 ?
1 36 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
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
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
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
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
STATE MY PATH 1 37
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.
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.
1 38 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
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 .