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In addition, when we use tentative language, not only does it

accurately portray our uncertain view, but it also helps reduce

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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




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

minute egg!”

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.”




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.”




Or: “I know there are at least two sides to this story. Could we

hear differing views now? What problems could this decision

cause us?”

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 . . . ”


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

going by.

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 ?




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

about me.

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

going on.

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

lishments. Oops.

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

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