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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

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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




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:




“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.”

Which of these insulting conclusions or judgments should you

share? Certainly not the entire menagerie of unflattering tales. In

fact, you’re going to need to work on this Villain Story before

you have any hope of healthy dialogue. As you do, your story

begins to sound more like this (note the careful choice of

terms-after all, it is your story, not the facts) :

“When I first heard your recommendation, my initial reac­

tion was to oppose your decision. But after thinking about

it, I’ve realized I could be wrong. I realized I don’t really

have any experience about what’s best for Debbie in this

situation-only fears about the stigma of being held back.

I know it’s a complex issue. I’d like to talk about how both

of us can more objectively weigh this decision.”

Look for safety problems. As you share your story, watch for

signs that safety is deteriorating. If people start becoming defen­

sive or appear to be insulted, step out of the conversation and

rebuild safety by Contrasting.

Use Contrasting. Here’s how it works:

“I know you care a great deal about my daughter, and I’m

confident you’re well-trained. That’s not my concern at all.

I know you want to do what’s best for Debbie, and I do too.

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