More than any time in history mankind faces a
crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter
hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us
pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly.
Start with Heart How to Stay Focused
on What You Really Want
It’s time to tum to the how of dialogue. How do you encourage
the flow of meaning in the face of differing opinions and strong emotions? Given the average person’s track record, it can’t be all that easy. In fact, given most people’s long-standing habit of cost ly behaviors, it’ll probably require a lot of effort. The truth is,
people can change. In fact, thousands of people we (the authors) have worked with over the past decades have made lasting
improvements. But it requires work. You can’t simply drink a magic potion and walk away renewed. Instead, you’ll need to
take a long hard look at yourself. I n fact, this is the first principle of dialogue-Start with
l leart. That is, your own heart. If you can’t get yourself right,
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you’ll have a hard time getting dialogue right. When conversa tions become crucial you’ll resort to the forms of communication that you’ve grown up with-debate, silent treatment, manipula tion, and so on.
WHEN WE DON’T WORK ON ME FIRST
Let’s start with a true story. Two young sisters and their father scur
ry into their hotel room after spending a hot afternoon at Disney land. Given the repressive heat, the girls have consumed enough soda pop to fill a small barrel. As the two bursting kids enter their room, they have but one thought-to head for the head.
Since the bathroom is a one-holer, it isn’t long until a fight breaks out. Both of the desperate children start arguing, pushing,
and name-calling as they dance around the tiny bathroom. Event ually one calls out to her father for help.
“Dad, 1 got here first ! ” ” I know, but 1 need to go worse! ” “How do you know? You’re not in my body. 1 didn’t even go
before we left this morning!” “You’re so selfish.”
Dad proposes a plan. “Girls, I’m not going to solve this for you. You can stay in the bathroom and figure out who goes first
and who goes second. There’s only one rule. No hitting.” As the two antsy kids begin their crucial conversation, Dad
checks his watch. He wonders how long it’ll take. As the minutes slowly tick away, he hears nothing more than an occasional out burst of sarcasm. Finally after twenty-five long minutes, the toi let flushes. One girl comes out. A minute later, another flush and out walks her sister. With both girls in the room, Dad asks, “Do you know how many times both of you could have gone to the
bathroom in the time it took you to work that out?” The idea had not occurred to the little scamps, but the instant
it does, it’s obvious what both immediately conclude.
START WITH HEART 29
“Lots of times, if she hadn’t been such a jerk.”
“Listen to her. She’s calling me names when she could have just waited. She always has to have her way!”
DON’T LOOK AT ME!
Laugh as we may at this story, these two kids behave no differ ently from the rest of us. When faced with a failed conversation, most of us are quick to blame others. If others would only
change, then we’d all live happily ever after. If others weren’t so screwed up, we wouldn’t have to resort to silly games in the first
place. They started it. It’s their fault, not ours. And so on. Although it’s true that there are times when we are merely
bystanders in life’s never-ending stream of head-on collisions,
rarely are we completely innocent. More often than not, we do something to contribute to the problems we’re experiencing.
People who are best at dialogue understand this simple fact and
tum it into the principle “Work on me first.” They realize that not only are they likely to benefit by improving their own approach, but also that they’re the only person they can work on anyway. As much as others may need to change, or we may want them to change, the only person we can continually inspire, prod, and shape-with any degree of success-is the person in the mirror.
There’s a certain irony embedded in this fact. People who
believe they need to start with themselves do just that. As they work on themselves, they also become the most skilled at dia logue. So here’s the irony. It’s the most talented, not the least tal ented, who are continually trying to improve their dialogue skills. As is often the case, the rich get richer.
START WITH HEART
Okay, let’s assume we need to work on our own personal dia lugue ski l ls . Instead of buying this book and then handing it to a
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loved one or coworker and saying: “You’ll love this, especially
the parts that I’ve underlined for you,” we’ll try to figure out how we ourselves can benefit. But how? Where do we start? How can
we stay clear of unhealthy games? Although it’s difficult to describe the specific order of events
in an interaction as fluid as a crucial conversation, we do know one thing for certain: Skilled people Start with Heart. That is, they begin high-risk discussions with the right motives, and they stay focused no matter what happens.
They maintain this focus in two ways. First, they’re steely-eyed smart when it comes to knowing what they want. Despite con stant invitations to slip away from their goals, they stick with them. Second, skilled people don’t make Sucker’s Choices
(either/or choices) . Unlike others who justify their unhealthy behavior by explaining that they had no choice but to fight or take flight, the dialogue-smart believe that dialogue, no matter
the circumstances, is always an option. Let’s look at each of these important heart-based assumptions