Facts are the least controversial. Facts provide a safe beginning.
By their very nature, facts aren’t controversial. That’s why we call
them facts. For example, consider the statement: “Yesterday you
arrived at work twenty minutes late.” No dispute there.
Conclusions, on the other hand, are highly controversial. For
example: “You can’t be trusted.” That’s hardly a fact. Actually, it’s
more like an insult, and it can certainly be disputed. Eventually we
may want to share our conclusions, but we certainly don’t want to
open up with a controversy.
Facts are the most persuasive. In addition to being less contro
versial, facts are also more persuasive than subjective conclusions.
Facts form the foundation of belief. So if you want to persuade
others, don’t start with your stories. Start with your observations.
For example, which of the following do you fmd more persuasive?
“I want you to stop sexually harassing me! ”
“When you talk to me, your eyes move up and down rather
than look at my face. And sometimes you put your hand on
While we’re speaking here about being persuasive, let’s add
that our goal is not to persuade others that we are right. We
aren’t trying to “win” the dialogue. We just want our meaning to
get a fair hearing. We’re trying to help others sec how a rca SOIl-
STATE MY PATH 1 27
able, rational, and decent person could end up with the story
we’re carrying. That’s all.
When we start with shocking or offensive conclusions (“Quit
groping me with your eyes ! ” or “I think we should declare bank
ruptcy”), we actually encourage others to tell Villain Stories
about us. Since we’ve given them no facts to support our con
clusion, they make up reasons we’re saying these things. They’re
likely to believe we’re either stupid or evil.
So if your goal is to help others see how a reasonable, ration
al, and decent person could think what you’re thinking, start
with your facts.
And if you aren’t sure what your facts are (your story is
absolutely filling your brain), take the time to think them
through before you enter the crucial conversation. Take the time
to sort out facts from conclusions. Gathering the facts is the
homework required for crucial conversations.
Facts are the least insulting. If you do want to share your
story, don’t start with it. Your story (particularly if it has led to a
rather ugly conclusion) could easily surprise and insult others. It
could kill safety in one rash, ill-conceived sentence.
BRIAN: I’d like to talk to you about your leadership style.
You micromanage me, and it’s starting to drive me nuts.
FERNANDO: What? I ask you if you’re going to be done on
time and you lay into me with . . .
If you start with your story (and in so doing, kill safety) , you
may never actually get to the facts.
Begin your path with facts. In order to talk about your stories,
you need to lead the others involved down your Path to Action.
Let them experience your path from the beginning to the end,
and not from the end to-well, to wherever it takes you. Let oth
ers see your experience from your point of view-starting with
1 28 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
your facts. This way, when you do talk about what you’re start
ing to conclude, they’ll understand why. First the facts, then the
story-and then make sure that as you explain your story, you
tell it as a possible story, not as concrete fact.
BRIAN: Since I started work here, you’ve asked to meet with
me twice a day. That’s more than with anyone else. You
have also asked me to pass all of my ideas by you before I
include them in a project. [The facts]
FERNANDO: What’s your point?
BRIAN: I’m not sure that you’re intending to send this mes
sage, but I’m beginning to wonder if you don’t trust me.
Maybe you think I’m not up to the job or that I’ll get
you into trouble. Is that what’s going on? [The possible
FERNANDO: Really, I was merely trying to give you a chance
to get my input before you got too far down the path on a
project. The last guy I worked with was constantly taking
his project to near completion only to learn that he’d left
out a key element. I’m trying to avoid surprises.
Earn the right to share your story by starting with your facts.
Facts lay the groundwork for all delicate conversations.
leI! You r Story
Sharing your story can be tricky. Even if you’ve started with your
facts, the other person can still become defensive when you
move from facts to stories. After all, you’re sharing potentially
unflattering conclusions and judgments.
Why share your story in the first place? Because the facts
alone are rarely worth mentioning. It’s the facts plus the conclu
sion that call for a face-to-face discussion. In addition, if you
STATE MY PATH 1 29
simply mention the facts, the other person may not understand
the severity of the implications. For example:
“I noticed that you had company software in your brief
“Yep, that’s the beauty of software. It’s portable.”
“That particular software is proprietary.”
“It ought to be! Our future depends on it.”
“My understanding is that it’s not supposed to go home.”
“Of course not. That’s how people steal it.”
(Sounds like it’s time for a conclusion.) “I was wondering what
the software is doing in your briefcase. It looks like you’re tak
ing it home. Is that what’s going on here?”
It takes confidence. To be honest, it can be difficult to share
negative conclusions and unattractive judgments (e.g., “I’m
wondering if you’re a thief”) . It takes confidence to share such a
potentially inflammatory story. However, if you’ve done your
homework by thinking through the facts behind your story you’ll
realize that you are drawing a reasonable, rational, and decent
conclusion. One that deserves hearing. And by starting with the
facts, you’ve laid the groundwork. By thinking through the facts
and then leading with them, you’re much more likely to have the
confidence you need to add controversial and vitally important
meaning to the shared pool.
Don ‘t pile it on. Sometimes we lack the confidence to speak
up, so we let problems simmer for a long time. Given the
chance, we generate a whole arsenal of unflattering conclu
sions. For example, you’re about to hold a crucial conversation
with your child’s second-grade teacher. The teacher wants to
hold your daughter back a year. You want your daughter to
advance right along with her age group. This is what’s going on
in your head:
1 30 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
“I can’t believe this ! This teacher is straight out of college,
and she wants to hold Debbie back. To be perfectly frank,
I don’t think she gives much weight to the stigma of being
held back. Worse still, she’s quoting the recommendation of
the school psychologist. The guy’s a real idiot. I’ve met him,
and I wouldn’t trust him with a common cold. I’m not
going to let these two morons push me around.”