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
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
“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