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• Break free of these Sucker’s Choices by searching for the and.

• Clarify what you don’t want, add it to what you do want, and ask your brain to start searching for healthy options to

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bring you to dialogue.




I have known a thousand scampsi but I never met one who considered himself so.

Self-knowledge isn’t 50 common. -OUiDA

learn to look How to Notice When Safety

Is at Risk

Let’s start this chapter by visiting a crucial conversation. You’ve just ended a heated debate with a group of people you supervise. What started out as a harmless discussion about your new shift rotations ended up as a nasty argument. Mter an hour of carping

and complaining, you finally went to your separate comers. You’re now walking down the hall wondering what happened.

In a matter of minutes an innocent discussion had transformed into a crucial conversation, and then into a failed conversation­ and you can’t recall why. You do remember a tense moment when you started pushing your point of view a bit too hard (okay, maybe way too hard) and eight people stared at you as if

you had just bitten the head off a chicken. But then the meeting ended .




What you don’t realize is that two of your friends are walking down the hallway in the opposite direction conducting a play-by­ play of the meeting. They do know what took place.

“It happened again. The boss started pushing so hard for per­ sonal agenda items that we all began to act defensively. Did you notice how at one point all of our jaws dropped simultaneously? Of course, I was just as bad as the boss. I spoke in absolutes, only pointed out facts that supported my view, and then ended with a list of outlandish claims. I got hooked like a marlin.”

Later that day as you talk to your friends about the meeting, they let you in on what happened. You were there, but somehow you missed what actually happened.

“That’s because you were so caught up in the content of the conversation,” your buddy explains. “You cared so deeply about the shift rotation that you were blind to the conditions. You know-how people were feeling and acting, what tone they were taking, stuff like that.”

“You saw all that while still carrying on a heated conversa­ tion?” you ask.

“Yeah,” your coworker explains, “I always dual-process. That is, when things start turning ugly, I watch the content of the con­ versation along with what people are doing. I look for and exam­ ine both what and why. If you can see why people are becoming upset or holding back their views or even going silent, you can do something to get back on track.”

“You look at the ‘conditions,’ and then you know what to do to get back on track?”

“Sometimes,” your friend answers. “But you’ve got to learn exactly what to look for.”

“It’s a form of social first aid. By watching for the moment a con­ versation starts turning unhealthy, you can respond quickly. The sooner you catch a problem, the sooner you’ll be able to work your way back to healthy dialogue, and the less severe the damage.”




You can’t believe how obvious this advice is-and yet you’ve

never thought of such a thing. Weirder still, your friend has. In fact, he has a whole vocabulary for what’s going on during a cru­ cial conversation. It’s as if you’ve been speaking another language.


In truth, most of us do have trouble dual-processing (watching for content and conditions)-especially when it comes to a cru­ cial conversation. When both stakes and emotions are high, we get so caught up in what we’re saying that it can be nearly impos­

sible to pull ourselves out of the argument in order to see what’s

happening to ourselves and to others. Even when we are startled by what’s going on, enough so that we think: “Yipes ! This has turned ugly. Now what?” we may not know what to look for in

order to turn things around. We may not see enough of what’s happening.

How could that be? How could we be smack-dab in the mid­

dle of a heated debate and not really see what’s going on? A metaphor might help. It’s akin to going fly fishing for the first

time with an experienced angler. Your buddy keeps telling you to cast your fly six feet upstream from that brown trout “just out there.” Only you can’t see a brown trout “just out there.” He can. That’s because he knows what to look for. You think you do. You

think you need to look for a brown trout. In reality, you need to look for a brown trout that’s under water while the sun is reflect­ ing in your eyes . You have to look for elements other than the thing that your dad has stuffed and mounted over the fireplace. I t takes both knowledge and practice to know what to look for

and then actually see it. So what do you look for when caught in the middle of a cru­

cia l conversation? What do you need to see in order to catch problems before they become too severe? Actually, it helps to watch fot’ three d ifferent cond i t ions : the moment a conversation




turns crucial, signs that people don’t feel safe (silence or vio­

lence), and your own Style Under Stress. Let’s consider each of these conversation killers in turn.

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