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Encourage them to share their path and then wait for their emo­

t ions to catch up with the safety that you’ve created.

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Encourage Others to Retrace Their Path

Once you’ve decided to maintain a curious approach, it’s time to

help the other person retrace his or her Path to Action.

Unfortunately, most of us fail to do so. That’s because when oth­

ers start playing silence or violence games, we’re joining the con­

versation at the end of their Path to Action. They’ve seen and

heard things, told themselves a story or two, generated a feeling

(possibly a mix of fear and anger or disappointment) , and now

they’re starting to act out their story. That’s where we come in.

Now, even though we may be hearing their first words, we’re

coming in somewhere near the end of their path. On the Path to

Action model, we’re seeing the action at the end of the path-as

shown in Figure 8-1 . Every sentence has a history. To get a feel for how complicat­

ed and unnerving this process is, remember how you felt the last

time your favorite mystery show started late because a football

game ran long. As the game wraps up, the screen cross-fades

from a trio of announcers to a starlet standing over a murder vic­

tim. Along the bottom of the screen are the discomforting words,

“We now join this program already in progress.”

&eel TeU a Hear —too- Story –…,… Feel

Figure 8- 1 . The Path to Action




You shake the remote in exasperation. You’ve missed the

entire setup! For the rest of the program you end up guessing

about key facts. What happened before you joined in?

Crucial conversations can be equally mysterious and frustrat­

ing. When others are in either silence or violence, we’re actually

joining their Path to Action already in progress. Consequently,

we’ve already missed the foundation of the story and we’re con­

fused. If we’re not careful, we can become defensive. After all,

not only are we joining late, but we’re also joining at a time when

the other person is starting to act offensively.

Break the cycle. And then guess what happens? When we’re on

the receiving end of someone’s retributions, accusations, and cheap

shots, rarely do we think: “My, what an interesting story he or she

must have told. What do you suppose led to that?” Instead, we

match this unhealthy behavior. Our defense mechanisms kick in,

and we create our own hasty and ugly Path to Action.

People who know better cut this dangerous cycle by stepping

out of the interaction and making it safe for the other person to

talk about his or her Path to Action. They perform this feat by

encouraging him or her to move away from harsh feelings and

knee-jerk reactions and toward the root cause. In essence, they

retrace the other person’s Path to Action together. At their

encouragement, the other person moves from his or her emo­

tions, to what he or she concluded, to what he or she observed.

When we help others retrace their path to its origins, not only

do we help curb our reaction, but we also return to the place

where the feelings can be resolved-at the source, or the facts

and the story behind the emotion.


When? So far we’ve suggested that when other people appear to

have a story to tel l and facts to share, it’s our job to invite them




to do so. Our cues are simple: Others are going to silence or vio­

lence. We can see that they’re feeling upset, fearful, or angry. We

can see that if we don’t get at the source of their feelings, we’ll

end up suffering the effects of the feelings. These external reac­

tions are our cues to do whatever it takes to help others retrace

their Paths to Action.

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