Master the Skil ls
There’s a story going around the self-help talk circuit about a
Vietnam War prisoner who played golf in his head in order to
help maintain his sanity. He’d mentally step up to each hole at
his favorite golf course and “play” an entire round. After being
released, he eventually found his way to the course, where he
promptly shot his best score ever, one under par. When his
friends acted astonished at his new-found talent, he explained,
222 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
“Why shouldn’t I have shot under par? I never once shot over
par while I was in prison.”
This tale is routinely used to teach the power of mental prepa
ration. Gurus can’t say enough about the power of the mental
game. While we agree that thinking is an essential part of the
process, we’d like to emphasize the greater importance of doing.
Evidence suggests that mental preparation can make some dif
ference in execution, but thinking isn’t enough. If you really want
to improve your ability, practice. Step up to problems and give
the material a try.
Rehearse with a friend. Start by rehearsing with a friend. Ask
a colleague or coworker to partner with you. Explain that you’d
like to practice the skills you’re learning. Briefly discuss the skill
you’ll be attempting. Provide the details of a real problem you’re
facing. (Don’t include names or otherwise violate privacy
issues.) Next, ask your friend to play the role of the other person
and practice the crucial conversation.
Ask your partner to give you honest feedback. Otherwise you
could be practicing the wrong delivery. Remember, practice
doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect. Insist that
your practice partner hold you to a high standard. Make sure
you’re constantly improving.
Practice on the fly. You’re going to be holding crucial conver
sations at home and at work, or you wouldn’t have bought this
book in the first place . So practice the skills you’ve been read
ing, teaching, and rehearsing. If you have children, hardly a day
will pass that you won’t have a chance to practice.
Start immediately. If you wait until you’re perfect before you
give something a try, you could be waiting a long time. To make
it safe, pick a conversation of only medium risk. Trying out
something new is hard enough without applying it to a monu
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