She was wrong about always sticking with a discussion, no mat
ter your emotional state. It’s perfectly okay to suggest that you
need some time alone and that you’d like to pick up the discus
sion later on-say, tomorrow. Then, after you’ve dissipated the
adrenaline and have had time to think about the issues, hold the
conversation. Coming to mutual agreement to take a time-out is
not the same thing as going to silence. In fact, it’s a very healthy
example of dialogue.
As a sidenote on this topic, it’s not such a good idea to tell oth
ers that they need to calm down or that they need to take some
time out. They may need the time, but it’s hard to suggest it with
out coming off as patronizing. “Take ten minutes, calm down,
and then get back to me.” With others, get back to the source of
their anger. Retrace their Path to Action.
“YEAH, BUT .. .
MY TEENAGE SON is a master of excuses. I talk to him
about a problem, and he’s always got a new reason
why it’s not his fault. ”
The Danger Point
It’s easy to be lulled into a series of never-ending excuses-par
ticularly if the other person doesn’t want to do what you’ve
asked and learns that as long as he or she can give you a plausi
ble reason, all bets are off.
“I go to work before my son leaves for school, and he’s con
stantly late. First he told me that he was late because his
alarm broke. The next day the old car we bought him had
a problem-or so he says. Then his friend forgot to pick
him up. Then he had a hl!ad cold and couldn’t hear his new
a I” 1’1ll . Thl!11 . . . ”
208 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
With “imaginative” people, take a preemptive strike against all new
excuses. Gain a commitment to solve the overall problem, not sim
ply the stated cause. For instance, the first time the person is late,
seek a commitment to fix the alarm-and anything else that might
stand in the way. Repairing the alarm only deals with one potential
cause. Ask the person to deal with the problem-being late.
“So you think that if you get a new alarm, you’ll be able to
make it to school on time? That’s fine with me. Do what
ever it takes to get there on time. Can I count on you being
there tomorrow at eight o’clock sharp?”
Then remember, as the excuses accumulate, don’t talk about the
most recent excuse; talk about the pattern.
INSUBORDINATION (OR OVER-THE-LINE DlSRESPEcn
IIYEAH, BUT …
WHAT IF THE PEOPLE you talk to not only are angry. but
also become insubordinate? How do you handle that?”
The Danger Point
When you’re discussing a tough issue with employees (or even
your kids) , there’s always the chance they’ll step over the line.
They’ll move from a friendly dispute to a heated discussion and
then into the nasty territory of being insubordinate or acting dis
The trouble is, insubordination is so rare that it takes most
leaders by surprise. So they buy time to figure out what to do.
And in so doing, they let the person get away with something
that was way out of line. Worse still, their perceived indifference
makes them an accomplice to all future abuses. Parents, on the
YEAH, BUT 209
other hand, caught by surprise, tend to respond in kind, becom
ing angry and insulting.
Show zero tolerance for insubordination. Speak up immediately,
but respectfully. Change topics from the issue at hand to how the
person is currently acting. Catch the escalating disrespect before
it turns into abuse and insubordination. Let the person know
that his or her passion for the issue at hand is leading down a
dangerous trail. “I’d like to step away from this scheduling issue
for a moment-then we’ll come right back to it. The way you’re
leaning in toward me and raising your voice seems disrespectful.
I want to help address your concerns, but I’m going to have a
tough time doing so if this continues.”
If you can’t catch it early, discuss the insubordination