In addition, when we use tentative language, not only does it
accurately portray our uncertain view, but it also helps reduce
defensiveness and makes it safe for others to offer differing opin
ions. One of the ironies of dialogue is that when we’re sharing
controversial ideas with potentially resistant people, the more
forceful we are, the less persuasive we are. In short, talking ten
tatively can actually increase our influence.
Tentative, not wimpy. Some people are so worried about
being too forceful or pushy that they err in the other direction.
They wimp out by making still another Sucker’s Choice. They
figure that the only safe way to share touchy data is to act as if
it’s not important.
“I know this is probably not true . . . ” or “Call me crazy
but . . . ”
When you begin with a complete disclaimer and do it in a tone
that suggests you’re consumed with doubt, you do the message a
disservice. It’s one thing to be humble and open. It ‘s quite another
STATE MY PATH 1 33
to be clinically uncertain. Use language that says you’re sharing an
opinion, not language that says you’re a nervous wreck.
A “Good” Story-The Gold i locks Test
To get a feel for how to best share your story, making sure that
you’re neither too hard nor too soft, consider the following
Too soft: “This is probably stupid, but . . . ”
Too hard: “How come you ripped us off?”
lust right: “It’s starting to look like you’re taking this home for
your own use. Is that right?”
Too soft: “I’m ashamed to even mention this, but . . . ”
Too hard: “Just when did you start using hard drugs?”
Just right : “It’s leading me to conclude that you’re starting to use
drugs. Do you have another explanation that I’m missing
Too soft : “It’s probably my fault, but . . . ”
Too hard: “You wouldn’t trust your own mother to make a one
Just right: “I’m starting to feel like you don’t trust me. Is that
what’s going on here? If so, I’d like to know what I did to
lose your trust.”
Too soft : “Maybe I’m just oversexed or something, but . . . ”
Too hard: “If you don’t find a way to pick up the frequency, I’m
lust right : “I don’t think you’re intending this, but I’m beginning
to feci rejected.”
1 34 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
fncou rage Testing
When you ask others to share their paths, how you phrase your
invitation makes a big difference. Not only should you invite
others to talk, but you have to do so in a way that makes it clear
that no matter how controversial their ideas are, you want to
hear them. Others need to feel safe sharing their observations
and stories-even if they differ. Otherwise, they don’t speak up
and you can’t test the accuracy and relevance of your views.
This becomes particularly important when you’re having a
crucial conversation with people who might move to silence.
Some people make Sucker’s Choices in these circumstances.
They worry that if they share their true opinions, others will clam
up. So they choose between speaking their minds and hearing
others out. But the best at dialogue don’t choose. They do both.
They understand that the only limit to how strongly you can
express your opinion is your willingness to be equally vigorous
in encouraging others to challenge it.
Invite opposing views. So if you think others may be hesitant,
make it clear that you want to hear their views-no matter their
opinion. If they disagree, so much the better. If what they have
to say is controversial or even touchy, respect them for finding
the courage to express what they’re thinking. If they have differ
ent facts or stories, you need to hear them to help complete the
picture. Make sure they have the opportunity to share by active
ly inviting them to do so: “Does anyone see it differently?”
“What am I missing here?” “I’d really like to hear the other side
of this story.”
Mean it. Sometimes people offer an invitation that sounds
more like a threat than a legitimate call for opinions. “Well,
that’s how I see it. Nobody disagrees, do they?” Invite people
with both words and tone that say “I really want to hear from
you.” For instance: “I know people have been reluctant to speak
up about this, but I would really love to hear from everyone.”
STATE MY PATH 1 35
Or: “I know there are at least two sides to this story. Could we
hear differing views now? What problems could this decision
Play devil’s advocate. Occasionally you can tell that others are
not buying into your facts or story, but they’re not speaking up
either. You’ve sincerely invited them, even encouraged differing
views, but nobody says anything. To help grease the skids, play
devil’s advocate. Model disagreeing by disagreeing with your
own view. “Maybe I’m wrong here. What if the opposite is true?
What if the reason sales have dropped is because . . . ”
BACK TO THE MOTEL
To see how all of the STATE skills fit together in a touchy con
versation, let’s return to the motel bill. Only this time, Carole
does a far better job of bringing up a delicate issue.
BOB: Hi honey, how was your day?
CAROLE: Not so good.
BOB: Why’s that?
CAROLE: I was checking our credit card bill, and I noticed a
charge of forty-eight dollars for the Good Night Motel
down the street. [Shares facts]
BOB: Boy, that sounds wrong.
CAROLE: It sure does.
BOB: Well, don’t worry. I’ll check into it one day when I’m
CAROLE: I’d feel better if we checked right now.
BOB: Really? It’s less than fifty bucks. It can wait.
CAROLE: It ‘s not the money that has me worried.
BOB: You’re worried ?
1 36 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
CAROLE: It’s a motel down the street. You know that’s how
my sister found out that Phil was having an affair. She
found a suspicious hotel bill. [Shares story-tentatively] I
don’t have anything to worry about do I? What do you
think is going on with this bill? [Asks for other’s path]
BOB: I don’t know, but you certainly don’t have to worry
CAROLE: I know that you’ve given me no reason to question
your fidelity. I don’t really believe that you’re having an
affair. [Contrasting] It’s just that it might help put my
mind to rest if we were to check on this right now. Would
that bother you? [Encourages testing]
BOB: Not at all. Let’s give them a call and find out what’s
When this conversation actually did take place, it sounded
exactly like the one portrayed above. The suspicious spouse
avoided nasty accusations and ugly stories, shared facts, and
then tentatively shared a possible conclusion. As it turns out,
the couple had gone out to a Chinese restaurant earlier that
month. The owner of the restaurant also owned the motel and
used the same credit card imprinting machine at both estab
By tentatively sharing a story rather than attacking, name
calling, and threatening, the worried spouse averted a huge bat
tle, and the couple’s relationship was strengthene