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Adding information to the pool of meaning can be quite difficult

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when the ideas we’re about to dump into the collective conscious­

ness contain delicate, unattractive, or controversial opinions.

“I’m sorry, Marta, but people simply don’t like working with

you. You’ve been asked to leave the special-projects team.”

It’s one thing to argue that your company needs to shift from

green to red packaging; it’s quite another to tell a person that he

or she is offensive or unlikable or has a controlling leadership

style. When the topic turns from things to people, it’s always

more difficult, and to nobody’s surprise, some people are better

at it than others.

When it comes to sharing touchy information, the worst alter­

nate between bluntly dumping their ideas into the pool and say­

ing nothing at all. Either they start with: “You’re not going to like

this, but, hey, somebody has to be honest . . . ” (a classic Sucker’s

Choice), or they simply stay mum.




Fearful they could easily destroy a healthy relationship, those

who are good at dialogue say some of what’s on their minds but

understate their views out of fear of hurting others. They talk,

but they sugarcoat their message.

The best at dialogue speak their minds completely and do it in

a way that makes it safe for others to hear what they have to say

and respond to it as well. They are both totally frank and com­

pletely respectful.


In order to speak honestly when honesty could easily offend oth­

ers, we have to find a way to maintain safety. That’s a bit like

telling someone to smash another person in the nose, but, you

know, don’t hurt him. How can we speak the unspeakable and still

maintain respect? Actually, it can be done if you know how to

carefully blend three ingredients-confidence, humility, and skill.

Confidence. Most people simply won’t hold delicate conversa­

tions-well, at least not with the right person. For instance, your

colleague Brian goes home at night and tells his wife that his boss,

Fernando, is micromanaging him to within an inch of his life. He

says the same thing over lunch when talking with his pals. Every­

one knows what Brian thinks about Fernando-except, of course,


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




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.

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