My only issue is that this is an ambiguous decision with
huge implications for the rest of her life.”
STATE MY PATH 1 3 1
Be careful not to apologize for your views. Remember, the
goal of Contrasting is not to water down your message, but to be
sure that people don’t hear more than you intend. Be confident
enough to share what you really want to express.
Ask for Others’ Paths
We mentioned that the key to sharing sensitive ideas is a blend
of confidence and humility. We express our confidence by shar
ing our facts and stories clearly. We demonstrate our humility by
then asking others to share their views.
So once you’ve shared your point of view-facts and stories
alike-invite others to do the same. If your goal is to learn rather
than to be right, to make the best decision rather than to get your
way, then you’ll be willing to hear other views. By being open to
learning we are demonstrating humility at its best.
For example, ask yourself: “What does the schoolteacher
think?” “Is your boss really intending to micromanage you?” “Is
your spouse really having an affair?”
To find out others’ views on the matter, encourage them to
express their facts, stories, and feelings. Then carefully listen to
what they have to say. Equally important, be willing to abandon
or reshape your story as more information pours into the Pool of
The “How” Skills
Ia l k Tentatively
If you look back at the vignettes we’ve shared so far, you’ll note
that we were careful to describe both facts and stories in a ten
tative way. For example, “I was wondering why . . . ”
Talking tentatively simply means that we tell our story as a
story rather than disguising it as a fact. “Perhaps you were
1 32 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
unaware . . . ” suggests that you’re not absolutely certain. “In my
opinion . . . ” says you’re sharing an opinion and no more.
When sharing a story, strike a blend between confidence and
humility. Share in a way that expresses appropriate confidence in
your conclusions while demonstrating that, if appropriate, you
want your conclusions challenged. To do so, change “The fact is”
to “In my opinion.” Swap “Everyone knows that” for “I’ve talked
to three of our suppliers who think that.” Soften “It’s clear to
me” to “I’m beginning to wonder if.”
Why soften the message? Because we’re trying to add mean
ing to the pool, not force it down other people’s throats. If we’re
too forceful, the information won’t make it into the pool.
Besides, with both facts and stories, we’re not absolutely certain
they’re true. Our observations could be faulty. Our stories
well, they’re only educated guesses.
In addition, when we use tentative language, not only does it
accurately portray our uncertain view, but it also helps reduce
defensiveness and makes it safe for others to offer differing opin
ions. One of the ironies of dialogue is that when we’re sharing
controversial ideas with potentially resistant people, the more
forceful we are, the less persuasive we are. In short, talking ten
tatively can actually increase our influence.
Tentative, not wimpy. Some people are so worried about
being too forceful or pushy that they err in the other direction.
They wimp out by making still another Sucker’s Choice. They
figure that the only safe way to share touchy data is to act as if
it’s not important.
“I know this is probably not true . . . ” or “Call me crazy
but . . . ”
When you begin with a complete disclaimer and do it in a tone
that suggests you’re consumed with doubt, you do the message a
disservice. It’s one thing to be humble and open. It ‘s quite another
STATE MY PATH 1 33
to be clinically uncertain. Use language that says you’re sharing an
opinion, not language that says you’re a nervous wreck.
A “Good” Story-The Gold i locks Test
To get a feel for how to best share your story, making sure that
you’re neither too hard nor too soft, consider the following
Too soft: “This is probably stupid, but . . . ”
Too hard: “How come you ripped us off?”
lust right: “It’s starting to look like you’re taking this home for
your own use. Is that right?”
Too soft: “I’m ashamed to even mention this, but . . . ”
Too hard: “Just when did you start using hard drugs?”
Just right : “It’s leading me to conclude that you’re starting to use
drugs. Do you have another explanation that I’m missing