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Before a crucial conversation begins, think about which skills will

help you most. Remember, when it comes to these high-stakes

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conversations, a little progress can produce a lot of benefit.

Finally, as is the case with most complicated problems, don’t

aim for perfection. Aim for progress. Learn to slow the process

down when your adrenaline gets pumping. Carry a few of the

questions we’re suggesting with you as you go. Pick the ones that

you think are most relevant to the topic at hand. And watch

yourself get better a little at a time.


Step Out

When others move to silence or violence, step out of the con­

versation 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.

CRIB to Get to 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.

• B.rainstorm new strategies.



It’s not how you play the game,

it’s how the game plays you.

Master My Stories How to Stay in Dialogue When You’re Angr}’t Scared, or Hurt

At this point you may be saying to yourself, “How am I supposed

to remember to do all this stuff-especially when my emotions

are raging like hot magma?”

This chapter explores how to gain control of crucial conver­

sations 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.


How many times have you heard someone say: “He made me

mad ! “,? How many times have you said it? For instance, you’re




sitting quietly at home watching TV and your mother-in-law (who

lives with you) walks in. She glances around and then starts pick­

ing up the mess you made a few minutes earlier when you

whipped up a batch of nachos. This ticks you off. She’s always

smugly skulking around the house, thinking you’re a slob.

A few minutes later when your spouse asks you why you’re so

upset, you explain, “It’s your mom again. I was lying here enjoy­

ing myself when she gave me that look, and it really got me

going. To be honest, I wish she would quit doing that. It’s my

only day off, I’m relaxing quietly, and then she walks in and

pushes my buttons.”

“Does she push your buttons?” your spouse asks. “Or do


That’s an interesting question.

One thing’s for certain. 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 flin­

ching, 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 your­

self can take a verbal blow to the gut without batting an eye, but

other times you go ballistic if someone so much as looks at you



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 and only you create your emotions.




Claim Two. Once you’ve created your 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.

Here’s how this all unfolds.


Consider Maria, a copywriter who is currently hostage to some

pretty strong emotions. She and her colleague Louis just

reviewed the latest draft of a proposal with their boss. During

the meeting, they were supposed to be jointly presenting their

latest ideas. But when Maria paused to take a breath, Louis took

over the presentation, making almost all the points they had

come up with together. When the boss turned to Maria for input,

there was nothing left for her to say.

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