Before a crucial conversation begins, think about which skills will
help you most. Remember, when it comes to these high-stakes
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.
SUMMARY-MAKE IT SAFE
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?
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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
• .commit to seek Mutual Purpose.
• Recognize the purpose behind the strategy.
• Invent a Mutual Purpose.
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.
HE MADE ME MAD !
How many times have you heard someone say: “He made me
mad ! “,? How many times have you said it? For instance, you’re
94 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
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
EMOTIONS DON’T JUST HAPPEN
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.
MASTER MY STORIES 9 5
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.