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Mter watching dozens of couples, the two scholars predicted

relationship outcomes and tracked their research subjects’ rela­

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tionships for the next ten years. Sure enough, they had predicted

nearly 90 percent of the divorces that occurred.2 Over time, cou­ ples who found a way to state their opinions about high-stakes,

controversial, and emotional issues honestly and respectfully

remained together. Those who didn’t, split up. Now, what about you? Think of your own important relation­

ships. Are there a few crucial conversations that you’re current­

ly avoiding or handling poorly? Do you walk away from some

issues only to come charging back into others? Do you hold in

ugly opinions only to have them tumble out as sarcastic remarks

or cheap shots? How about your significant other or family

members? Are they constantly toggling from seething silence to subtle but costly attacks? When it matters the most (after all,

these are your cherished loved ones), are you on your worst

behavior? If so, you definitely have something to gain by learn­

ing more about how to handle crucial conversations.

Revitalize Your Community

Next, let’s look at our neighborhoods and communities. If the fate

of an organization is largely determined by how pivotal conver­ sations are habitually handled, why should the communities that

surround them be any different? The truth is, they aren’t. The difference between the best communities and the good or

the worst is not the number of problems they have. All commu­

nities face problems. Once again, the difference lies in how they deal with problems. In the best communities, key individuals




and groups find a way to engage in healthy dialogue. They talk through important issues. In contrast, communities that fail to improve play costly games. During community meetings peo­ ple insult one another, become indignant, and act as if indi­

viduals with differing views are sick or deranged. Battles

ensue. In addition to how people behave in public forums, private

behavior affects community health as well. Take, for example,

the problem of crime. You might be shocked to discover a rather tragic statistic. Not everyone in prison is a career criminal who

was born into a horrible family, then shaped by abuse and neg­ lect into a seething sociopath. In fact, over half of the people

who are convicted of violent crimes are first-time offenders who

commit crimes against friends or loved ones.3

How could this be? Violence is often preceded by prolonged periods of silence. Most inmates once held a job, paid their

bills, and remembered their friends’ birthdays. Then one day, after allowing unresolved problems to build up and then boil over, they attacked a friend, loved one, or neighbor. That’s right, convicted first-time offenders are often not career crimi­

nals . They’re our frustrated neighbors. Since they don’t know what to say or how to say it, they opt for force. In this case, the inability to work through tough issues devastates individuals, ruins families, and poisons communities.

What about where you live? What crucial issues does your community face? Are there conversations that people are not holding or not holding well that keep you from progress? Is crime skyrocketing? Do your community meetings look more like the Jerry Springer show than an energetic forum for

healthy communication? If so, both you and the community have a lot to gain by focusing on how you handle high-stakes discussions.

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