REMEMBER YOUR ABCs
Let’s say you did your level best to make it safe for the other per
son to talk. After asking, mirroring, paraphrasing, and eventually
priming, the other person opened up and shared his or her path.
It’s now your turn to talk. But what if you disagree? Some of the
other person’s facts are wrong, and his or her stories are com
pletely fouled up. Well, at least they’re a lot different from the
story you’ve been telling. Now what?
As you watch families and work groups take part in heated
debates, it’s common to notice a rather intriguing phenomenon.
Although the various parties you’re observing are violently argu
ing, in truth, they’re in violent agreement. They actually agree on
every important point, but they’re still fighting. They’ve found a
way to turn subtle differences into a raging debate.
For example, last night your teenage son broke his curfew
again. You and your spouse have spent the morning arguing
about the infraction. Last time James came in late, you agreed to
ground him, but today you’re upset because it seems like your
spouse is backpedaling by suggesting that James still be able to
attend a football camp this week. Turns out it was just a misun
derstanding. You and your spouse agree to the grounding-the
central issue. You thought your spouse was reneging on the agree
ment when, in truth, you just hadn’t actually resolved the date the
grounding would start. You had to step back and listen to what
EXPLORE OTHERS’ PATHS 1 57
you were both saying to realize that you weren’t really disagree
ing, but violently agreeing.
Most arguments consist of battles over the 5 to 1 0 percent of
the facts and stories that people disagree over. And while it’s true
that people eventually need to work through differences, you
shouldn’t start there. Start with an area of agreement.
So here’s the take-away. If you completely agree with the
other person’s path, say so and move on. Agree when you agree.
Don’t turn an agreement into an argument.
Of course, the reason most of us turn agreements into debates is
because we disagree with a certain portion of what the other per
son has said. Never mind that it’s a minor portion. If it’s a point
of disagreement, we’ll jump all over it like a fleeing criminal.
Actually, we’re trained to look for minor errors from an early
age. For instance, we learn in kindergarten that if you have the
right answer, you’re the teacher’s pet. Being right is good. Of
course, if others have the right answer they get to be the pet. So
being right first is even better. You learn to look for even the tini
est of errors in others’ facts, thinking, or logic. Then you point
out the errors. Being right at the expense of others is best.
By the time you finish your education, you have a virtual
Ph.D. in catching trivial differences and turning them into a
major deal. So when another person offers up a suggestion
(based on facts and stories), you’re looking to disagree. And
when you do find a minor difference, you turn this snack into a
meal . Instead of remaining in healthy dialogue, you end up in
On the other hand, when you watch people who are skilled in
dialogue, it becomes clear that they’re not playing this everyday
1 58 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
game of Trivial Pursuit-looking for trivial differences and then
proclaiming them aloud. In fact, they’re looking for points of
agreement. As a result, they’ll often start with the words “I
agree.” Then they talk about the part they agree with. At least,
that’s where they start.
Now when the other person has merely left out an element of
the argument, skilled people will agree and then build. Rather
than saying: “Wrong. You forgot to mention . . . ,” they say:
“Absolutely. In addition, I noticed that . . . ”
If you agree with what has been said but the information is
incomplete, build. Point out areas of agreement and then add
elements that were left out of the discussion .
Finally, if you do disagree, compare your path with the other
person’s . That is, rather than suggesting that he or she is
wrong, suggest that you differ. He or she may, in fact, be
wrong, but you don’t know for sure until you hear both sides
of the story. For now, you just know that the two of you differ.
So instead of pronouncing “Wrong!” start with a tentative but
candid opening such as “I think I see things differently. Let me
Then share your path using the STATE skills from Chapter 7 . That is, begin by sharing your observations. Share them tenta
tively, and invite others to test your ideas. After you’ve shared
your path, invite the other person to help you compare it with
his or her experience. Work together to explore and explain the
In summary, to help remember these skills, think of your
ABCs. Agree when you agree. Build when others leave out key
pieces. Compare when you differ. Don’t tum differences into
debates that lead to unhealthy relationships and bad results .