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MY CHILDREN are constantly playing word games. If I

try to tell them that they shouldn’t have done some­

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thing, they say I never told them exactly that. They’re

starting to get on my nerves. ”

The Danger Point

Sometimes parents (and leaders) are tricked into accepting poor

performance by silver-tongued individuals who are infinitely

creative in coming up with new ways to explain why they didn’t

know any better. Not only do these inventive people have the

ability to conjure up creative excuses, but they also have the

energy and will to do so incessantly. Eventually they wear you

down. As a result, they get away with doing less or doing it




poorly, while hard-working, energetic family members (or employ­

ees) end up carrying an unfair share of the load.

The Solution

This is another case of pattern over instance. Tentatively STATE

the pattern of splitting hairs and playing word games. Let them

know they aren’t fooling anyone. In this case, don’t focus exclu­

sively on actions, because creative people can always find new

inappropriate actions. “You didn’t say I couldn’t call her ‘stu­

pid.”’ Talk about both behaviors and outcomes. “You’re hurting

your sister’s feelings when you call her stupid. Please don’t do

that, or anything else that might hurt her feelings.”

Use previous behavior as an example, and then hold them

accountable to results. Don’t get pulled into discussing any one

instance. Stick with the pattern.



I’VE GOT A LOT OF GOOD people working for me, but

they’re too full of surprises. When they run into prob­

lems, I only find out after it’s too late. They always

have a good excuse, so what should I do?”

The Danger Point

Leaders who are constantly being surprised allow it to happen.

The first time an employee says, “Sorry, but I ran into a prob­

lem,” the leaders miss the point. They listen to the problem,

work on it, and then move on to a new topic. In so doing, they

are saying: “It’s okay to surprise me. If you have a legitimate

excuse, stop what you’re doing, tum your efforts to something

else, and then wait until I show up to spring the news.”



YEAH. BUT 2 1 3

The Solution

Make it perfectly clear that once you’ve given an assignment,

there are only two acceptable paths. Employees need to complete

the assignment as planned, or if they run into a problem, they

need to immediately inform you. No surprises. Similarly, if they

decide that another job needs to be done instead, they call you.

No surprises.

Clarify the “no surprises” rule. The first time someone comes

back with a legitimate excuse-but he or she didn’t tell you

when the problem first came up-deal with this as the new prob­

lem. “We agreed that you’d let me know immediately. I didn’t get

a call. What happened?”


“YEAH/ BUT. ..

WHAT IF THE PERSON you’re dealing with violates all of

the dialogue principles most of the time-especially

during crucial conversations. ”

The Danger Point

When you look at a continuum of dialogue skills, most of us (by

definition) fall in the middle. Sometimes we’re on and some­

times we’re off. Some of us are good at avoiding Sucker’s

Choices; others are good at making it safe. Of course, you have

the extremes as well. You have people who are veritable conver­

sational geniuses. And now you’re saying that you work with

(maybe live with) someone who is the complete opposite. He or

she rarely uses any skills. What’s a person to do?

The danger, of course, is that the other person isn’t as bad as

you think-you bring out the worst in him or her-or that he or

she really is that bad . and you try to address all the problems at


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