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More than any time in history mankind faces a

crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter

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hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us

pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly.

-WOODY ALLEN

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,

 

 

28 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS

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

 

 

30 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS

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

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