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MY SPOUSE IS THE person you talked about earlier. You

know, I try to hold a meaningful discussion, I try to lIYEAH, BUT. ..

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work through an important problem, and he or she

simply withdraws. What can I do?”

The Danger Point

It’s common to blame others for not wanting to stay in dia­

logue as if it were some kind of genetic disorder. That’s not the

problem. If others don’t want to talk about tough issues, it’s

because they believe that it won’t do any good. Either they

aren’t good at dialogue, or you aren’t, or you both aren’t-or

so they think.

The Solution

Work on me first. Your spouse may have an aversion to all cru­

cial conversations, even when talking to a skilled person.

Nevertheless, you’re still the only person you can work on. Start

with simple challenges. Don’t go for the really tough issues. Do

your best to Make It Safe. Constantly watch to see when your

spouse starts to become uncomfortable. Use tentative language.

Separate intent from outcome. “” m pretty sure you’re not intend-




ing to . . . ” If your spouse consistently seems unwilling to talk

about his or her personal issues, learn how to Explore Others’

Paths. Practice these skills every chance you get. In short, start

simply and then bring all your dialogue tools into play.

Now, having said all of this, exercise patience. Don’t nag.

Don’t lose hope and then go to violence. Every time you become

aggressive or insulting, you give your spouse additional evidence

that crucial conversations do nothing but cause harm.

If you’re constantly on your best dialogue behavior, you’ll

build more safety in the relationship and your spouse will be

more likely to begin picking up on the cues and start coming


When you see signs of improvement, you can accelerate the

growth by inviting your spouse to talk with you about how you

talk. Your challenge here is to build safety by establishing a

compelling Mutual Purpose. You need to help your partner see a

reason for having this conversation-a reason that is so com­

pelling that he or she will be willing to take part.

Share what you think the consequences of having or not hav­

ing this conversation could be (both positive and negative) .

Explain what i t means to both you and the relationship. Then

invite your spouse to help identify the topics you have a hard

time discussing. Take turns describing how you both tend to

approach these topics. Then discuss the possible benefits of help­

ing each other make improvements.

Sometimes if you can’t talk about the tough topics, you can

more easily talk about how you talk-or don’t talk-about them.

That helps get things started.


“YEAH, BUT. . .

THE PERSON I’M THINKING OF doesn’t do blatantly

unacceptable things-nothing to write home about­

just subtle stuff that’s starting to drive me crazy. ”



The Danger Point

If people simply bother you at some abstract level, maybe what

they’re doing isn’t worthy of a conversation. Perhaps the prob­

lem is not their behavior but your tolerance. For example, an

executive laments, “My employees really disappoint me. Just

look at the length of their hair.” It turns out that the employees

in question have no contact with anyone besides one another.

Their hair length has nothing to do with job performance. The

boss really has no reason to say anything.

However, when actions are both subtle and unacceptable,

then you have to retrace your Path to Action and put your finger

on exactly what others are doing or you have nothing to discuss.

Abstract descriptions peppered with your vague conclusions or

stories have no place in crucial conversations. For example,

whenever your family gets together, your brother constantly

takes potshots at everyone else using sarcastic humor. The indi­

vidual comments aren’t directly insulting enough to discuss.

What you want to talk about is the fact that these constant com­

ments make every get-together feel negative. Remember, clarify­

ing the facts is the homework required for crucial conversations.

The Solution

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