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Discussions are also less predictable. Nobody sends you an

invitation stating: “Would you please engage me in a crucial con­

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versation next week after the team meeting where you’re going

to make a policy that will miff me?” High-risk discussions don’t

come with notices and reminders. More often than not, they

come as unwelcome surprises.





Emotions don’t help much either. And, of course, crucial con­

versations are defined by their emotional characteristics . Your

ability to pull yourself out of the content of a discussion and to

focus on the process is inversely proportional to your level of

emotion. The more you care about what’s happening, the less

likely you are to think about how you’re conducting yourself.

It’s almost unfair. The bigger the deal, the less likely you are

to bring your newly acquired skill-set into the conversation. Like

it or not, if your adrenaline is flowing, you’re almost guaranteed

to jump to your Style Under Stress.

Between surprise and emotion, it’s hard to know which is the

bigger enemy of change. Both make it hard to remember to act

in new ways.


Now let’s look at still another enemy of change-scripts . Scripts

are pre bundled phrases we use in common conversations; they

form the very foundation of social habits and often make change

almost impossible. Consider the following.

When we learn to speak, first come words, then phrases, and

then scripts. The larger the bundles of words we carry around, the

less we have to worry about combining them into sensible expres­

sions. Also the less we have to fret over syntax or grammar-that

work has already been done for us.

Unfortunately, predetermined expressions also put us into a

sort of mental autopilot. Consider what happens when you walk

into a fast-food restaurant. Do you think about the words you’ll

choose? Probably not. That’s because when you enter familiar

circumstances, you’re carrying not only words and phrases, but

an ent i re script in your head.




With a script, you know both sides of the conversation. You

know that the person at the counter is going to ask for your

order. You’re certain that the perky young woman with the paper

hat is going to ask you if you want fries. Even if you include fries

in your original request, she’s still going to ask, “Do you want

fries with that?” And if you say yes, you can bet the farm that

she’s going to ask, “Do you want to super-size that?”

The good news about packing around scripts is that you don’t

have to give conversation much thought. The bad news is that

the more scripted an interaction, the more difficult it is to pull

yourself out of the routine and try something new. For example,

as you walk up to a fast-food counter, your spouse reminds you

to ask for extra ketchup.

You step up to the counter and say: “I’ll have two house spe­

cials, three kiddy delights . . . ” and then you slip into autopilot.

The words that pour out of your mouth have no relation to your

thoughts. Your brain is somewhere else entirely. You’re musing

over a menu that sports a sandwich made out of “ribs” that have

no bones. “What poor animal has boneless ribs?” you’re think­

ing to yourself.

And guess what? As you robotically state your order, one

word spilling out after another, you forget to ask for extra

ketchup. What do you expect from a person who’s devoting no

real brain time to the interaction? In fact, your spouse’s request

never even makes it onto your radar screen-which is currently

filled with images of Jell-O-like, ribless creatures mooing and

slithering across a backdrop painted by Salvador Dali.

Scripts place us on a smooth and familiar track. They take us

across known territory and at a comfortable pace-freeing our

brains for more novel work. But then again, when we’re on rails,

we travel along the prescribed route with such finesse and ease

that it’s almost impossible to make an unscheduled turn.

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