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People who are skilled at dialogue have the confidence to say

what needs to be said to the person who needs to hear it. They

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are confident that their opinions deserve to be placed in the pool

of meaning. They are also confident that they can speak openly

without brutalizing others or causing undue offense.

Humility. Confidence does not equate to arrogance or pig­

headedness. Skilled people are confident that they have some­

t hing to say, but also realize that others have valuable input. They

a l’e humble enough to realize that they don’t have a monopoly on

 

 

1 22 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS

the truth. Their opinions provide a starting point but not the final

word. They may currently believe something but realize that with

new information they may change their minds. This means

they’re willing to both express their opinions and encourage oth­

ers to do the same

Skill. Finally, people who willingly share delicate information

are good at doing it. That’s why they’re confident in the first

place. They don’t make a Sucker’s Choice because they’ve found

a path that allows for both candor and safety. They speak the

unspeakable, and people are grateful for their honesty.

Good Night and Good-Bye!

To see how to discuss sensitive issues, let’s look at an enormously

difficult problem. Bob has just walked in the door, and his wife,

Carole, looks upset. He can tell from her swollen eyes that she’s

been crying. Only when he walks in the door, Carole doesn’t turn

to him for comfort. Instead, she looks at him with an expression

that says “How could you?” Bob doesn’t know it yet, but Carole

thinks he’s having an affair. He’s not.

How did Carole come to this dangerous and wrong con­

clusion? Earlier that day she had been going over the credit card

statement when she noticed a charge from the Good Night

Motel-a cheap place located not more than a mile from their

home. “Why would he stay in a motel so close to home?” she

wonders. “And why didn’t I know about it?” Then it hits her­

“That unfaithful jerk! ”

Now what’s the worst way Carole might handle this (one that

doesn’t involve packing up and moving back to Wisconsin)?

What’s the worst way of talking about the problem? Most peo­

ple agree that jumping in with an ugly accusation followed by a

threat is a good candidate for that distinction. It’s also what most

people do, and Carole is no exception.

 

 

STATE MY PATH 1 23

“I can’t believe you’re doing this to me,” she says in a painful

tone.

“Doing what?” Bob asks-not knowing what she’s talking

about but figuring that whatever it is, it can’t be good.

“You know what I’m talking about,” she says, continuing to

keep Bob on edge.

“Do 1 need to apologize for missing her birthday?” Bob won­

ders to himself. “No, it’s not even summer and her birthday is on

. . . well, it’s sweltering on her birthday.”

“I’m sorry, 1 don’t know what you’re talking about,” he

responds, taken aback.

“You’re having an affair, and 1 have proof right here! ” Carole

explains holding up a piece of crumpled paper.

“What’s on that paper that says I’m having an affair?” he asks,

completely befuddled because ( 1 ) he’s not having an affair and (2)

the paper contains not a single compromising photo.

“It’s a motel bill, you jerk. You take some woman to a motel,

and you put it on the credit card? ! 1 can’t believe you’re doing

this to me! ”

Now if Carole were certain that Bob was having an affair, per­

haps this kind of talk would be warranted. It may not be the best

way to work through the issue, but Bob would at least understand

why Carole made the accusations and hurled threats.

But, in truth, she only has a piece of paper with some num­

bers on it. This tangible piece of evidence has made

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