SHARING RISKY MEANING
Adding information to the pool of meaning can be quite difficult
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.
STATE MY PATH 1 2 1
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
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
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.