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My only issue is that this is an ambiguous decision with

huge implications for the rest of her life.”

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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

Shared Meaning.

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

examples:

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

here?”

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