Si lence and Violence
As people begin to feel unsafe, they start down one of two unhealthy paths. They move either to silence (withholding mean ing from the pool) or to violence (trying to force meaning in the pool). That part we know. But let’s add a little more detail. Just as a little knowledge of what to look for can tum blurry water into a brown trout, knowing a few of the common forms of silence and violence helps you see safety problems when they fi rst start to happen. That way you can step out, restore safety, and return to dialogue-before the damage is too great.
Si lence consists of any act to purposefully withhold information
from the pool of meaning. It’s almost always done as a means of avoiding potential problems, and it always restricts the flow of
meaning. Methods range from playing verbal games to avoiding u person entirely. The three most common forms of silence are
masking. avoiding, and withdrawing.
52 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
• Masking consists of understating or selectively showing our true opinions. Sarcasm, sugarcoating, and couching are some of the more popular forms.
“J think your idea is, uh, brilliant. Yeah, that’s it. J just worry
that others won’t catch the subtle nuances. Some ideas come
before their time, so expect some, uh, minor resistance. ”
Meaning: Your idea is insane, and people will fight it with their last breath.
“Oh yeah, that’ll work like a charm. Offer people a discount,
and they’ll drive all the way across town just to save six cents
on a box of soap. Where do you come up with this stuff?”
Meaning: What a dumb idea.
• Avoiding involves steering completely away from senSItIve subjects. We talk, but without addressing the real issues.
“How does your new suit look? Well, you know that blue’s my
favorite color. ”
Meaning: What happened? Did you buy your clothes at the circus?
“Speaking of ideas for cost cutting-did you see Friends last
night? Joey inherited a bunch of money and was buying stu
pid stuff. It was a hoot. ”
Meaning: Let’s not talk about how to cut costs. It always leads to a fight.
• Withdrawing means pulling out of a conversation altogether. We either exit the conversation or exit the room.
“Excuse me. I’ve got to take this call. ”
Meaning: I’d rather gnaw off my own arm than spend one more minute in this useless meeting.
LEARN TO LOOK 53
“Sorry, I’m not going to talk about how to split up the phone
bill again. I’m not sure our friendship can stand another bat
tle. ” (Exits.)
Meaning: We can’t talk about even the simplest of topics with out arguing.
Violence consists of any verbal strategy that attempts to convince, control, or compel others to your point of view. It violates safety
by trying to force meaning into the pool. Methods range from name-calling and monologuing to making threats. The three most common forms are controlling, labeling, and attacking.
• Controlling consists of coercing others to your way of thinking. It’s done through either forcing your views on others or domi
nating the conversation. Methods include cutting others off, overstating your facts, speaking in absolutes, changing sub jects, or using directive questions to control the conversation.
‘There’s not a person in the world who hasn ‘t bought one of
these things. They’re the perfect gift. ”
Meaning: I can’t justify spending our hard-earned savings on
this expensive toy, but I really want it.
“We tried their product, but it was an absolute disaster. Every
one knows that they can ‘t deliver on time and that they offer the
worst customer service on the planet. ”
Meaning: I’m not certain of the real facts so I’ll use hyperbole to get your attention.
• Labeling is putting a label on people or ideas so we can dis
miss them under a general stereotype or category .
.. Your ideas are practically Neanderthal. Any thinking person
would follow my plan. ”
54 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
Meaning: I can’t argue my case on its merits.
“You’re not going to listen to them are you? For crying out loud!
First, they’re from headquarters. Second, they’re engineers. Need
I say more?”
Meaning: If I pretend that all people from headquarters and all engineers are somehow bad and wrong, I won’t have to explairl anything .
• Attacking speaks for itself. You’ve moved from winning the
argument to making the person suffer. Tactics include belittling and threatening.
“Try that stupid little stunt and see what happens. ”
Meaning: I will get my way on this even if I have to bad-mouth you and threaten some vague punishment.