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EXPLORE OTHERS’ PATHS

In Chapter 5 we recommended that whenever you notice safety

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EXPLORE OTHERS’ PATHS In Chapter 5 we recommended that whenever you notice safety is at risk, you should step out of the conversation and restore it .
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is at risk, you should step out of the conversation and restore it .

When you have offended others through a thoughtless act, apol­

ogize. Or if someone has misunderstood your intent, use

Contrasting. Explain what you do and don’t intend. Finally, if

you’re simply at odds, find a Mutual Purpose.

Now we add one more skill: Explore Others’ Paths. Since

we’ve added a model of what’s going on inside another person’s

head (the Path to Action) , we now have a whole new tool for

helping others feel safe. If we can find a way to let others know

that it’s okay to share their Path to Action-their facts, and yes,

EXPLORE OTHERS’ PATHS 1 43

even their nasty stories and ugly feelings-then they’ll be more

likely to open up.

But what does it take?

Start with Heart-Get Ready to listen

Be sincere. To get at others’ facts and stories, we have to invite

them to share what’s on their minds. We’ll look at how to do this

in a minute. For now, let’s highlight the point that when you do

invite people to share their views, you must mean it. For exam­

ple, consider the following incident. A patient is exiting a health­

care facility. The desk attendant can tell that she is a bit uneasy,

maybe even dissatisfied.

“Did everything go all right with the procedure?” the clerk asks.

“Mostly,” the patient replies. (If ever there was a hint that

something was wrong, the term “mostly” has to be it. )

“Good,” the clerk abruptly responds and then fol lows with a

resounding, “Next!”

This i s a classic case of pretending to be interested. I t falls under

the “How are you today?” category of inquiries. Meaning: “Please

don’t say anything of substance. I’m really just making small talk.”

When you ask people to open up, be prepared to listen.

Be curious. When you do want to hear from others (and you

should because it adds to the pool of meaning), the best way to get

at the truth is by making it safe for them to express the stories that

are moving them to either silence or violence. This means that at

the very moment when most people become furious, we need to

become curious. Rather than respond in kind, we need to wonder

what’s behind the ruckus.

But how? How can we possibly act curious when others are

either attacking us or heading for cover? People who routinely

seek to find out why others are feeling unsafe have learned that

gett ing at the SOUl-ce or fear and discomfort is the best way to

1 44 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS

return to dialogue. Either they’ve seen others do it, or they’ve

stumbled on the formula themselves. In either case, they realize

that the cure to silence or violence isn’t to respond in kind, but

to get at the source. This calls for genuine curiosity-at a time

when you’re likely to be feeling frustrated or angry.

To help turn your visceral tendency to respond in kind into

genuine curiosity, look for opportunities to be curious. Start with

a situation where you observe someone becoming emotional and

you’re still under control-such as a meeting (when you’re not

personally under attack and are less likely to get hooked) . Do

your best to get at the person’s source of fear or anger. Look for

chances to tum on your curiosity rather than kick-start your

adrenaline.

To illustrate what can happen as we exercise our curiosity, let’s

return to our nervous patient.

CLERK: Did everything go all right with the procedure?

PATIENT: Mostly.

CLERK: It sounds like you had a problem of some kind. Is

that right?

PATIENT: I’ll say. It hurt quite a bit. And besides, isn’t the

doctor, like, uh, way too old?

In this case, the patient is reluctant to speak up. Perhaps if

she shares her honest opinion, she will insult the doctor, or

maybe the loyal staff members will become offended. To deal

with the problem, the desk attendant lets the patient know

that it’s safe to talk (as much with his tone as with his words) ,

and she opens up.

Stay curious. When people begin to share their volatile stories

and feelings, we now face the risk of pulling out our own Victim,

Villain, and Helpless Stories to help us explain why they’re say-

EXPLORE OTHERS’ PATHS 1 45

ing what they’re saying. Unfortunately, since it’s rarely fun to

hear other people’s unflattering stories, we begin to assign nega­

tive motives to them for telling the stories. For example:

CLERK: Well aren’t you the ungrateful one! The kind doctor

devotes his whole life to helping people and now that he’s

a little gray around the edges, you want to send him out

to pasture!

To avoid overreacting to others’ stories, stay curious. Give

your brain a problem to stay focused on. Ask: “Why would a rea­

sonable, rational, and decent person say this?” This question

keeps you retracing the other person’s Path to Action until you

see how it all fits together. And in most cases, you end up seeing

that under the circumstances, the individual in question drew a

fairly reasonable conclusion.

Be patient. When others are acting out their feelings and

opinions through silence or violence, it’s a good bet they’re

starting to feel the effects of adrenaline. Even if we do our best

to safely and effectively respond to the other person’s possible

onslaught, we still have to face up to the fact that it’s going to

take a little while for him or her to settle down. Say, for exam­

ple, that a friend dumps out an ugly story and you treat it with

respect and continue on with the conversation. Even if the two

of you now share a similar view, it may seem like your friend is

still pushing too hard. While it’s natural to move quickly from

one thought to the next, strong emotions take a while to sub­

side. Once the chemicals that fuel emotions are released, they

hang around in the bloodstream for a time-in some cases, long

after thoughts have changed.

So be patient when exploring how others think and feel.

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