The Danger Point
Someone is making comments or gestures that you find offen
sive. The person does it seldom enough and he or she’s subtle
enough that you’re not sure if HR or your boss can even help.
What can you do?
In these situations it’s easy to think that the offender has all
the power. It seems as if the rules of polite society make it so that
others can behave inappropriately and you end up looking like
you’re overreacting if you bring it up.
Generally speaking, a vast majority of these problems go away
if they’re privately, respectfully, and firmly discussed. Your
biggest challenge will be the respect part. If you put up with this
behavior for too long, you’ll be inclined to tell a more and more
potent Villain Story about the offender. This will jack up your
YEAH, BUT 1 95
emotions to the point that you’ll go in with guns blazing-even
if only through your body language.
Tell the rest of the story. If you’ve tolerated the behavior for a long
time before holding the conversation, own up to it. This may help
you treat the individual like a reasonable, rational, and decent
person-even if some of his or her behavior doesn’t fit this
When you feel a measure of respect for the other person,
you’re ready to begin. After establishing a Mutual Purpose for
the exchange, STATE your path. For example:
”I’d like to talk about something that’s getting in the way of
my working with you. It’s a tough issue to bring up, but I
think it’ll help us be better teammates if I do. Is that okay?”
[Establish Mutual Purpose]
“When I walk into your office, sometimes your eyes
move up and down my body. And when I sit next to you at
a computer, sometimes you put your arm around the back
of my chair. I don’t know that you’re aware you’re doing
these things, so I thought I’d bring them up because they
send a message that makes me uncomfortable. How do you
see it?” [STATE My Path]
If you can be respectful and private but firm in this conversa
tion, most problem behavior will stop. And remember, if the
behavior is over the line, you shouldn’t hesitate to contact HR to
ensure your rights and dignity are protected.
“YEAH, BUT . . .
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN your spouse is too sensitive? You
try to give him or her some constructive feedback, but he
or she ((‘(Je/<, “(J \ Irorrgly that you end up going to silence.”
1 96 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
The Danger Point
Often couples come to an unspoken agreement during the first
year or so of their marriage that affects how they communicate
for the rest of their marriage. Say one person is touchy and
can’t take feedback, or the other doesn’t give it very well. In
any case, they in effect agree to say nothing to each other. They
live in silence. Problems have to be huge before they’re dis
This is generally a problem of not knowing how to STATE
your path. When something bothers you, catch it early.
Contrasting can also help. “I’m not trying to blow this out of
proportion. I just want to deal with it before it gets out of
hand.” Describe the specific behaviors you’ve observed.
“When Jimmy leaves his room a mess, you use sarcasm to get
his attention. You call him a ‘pig’ and then laugh as if you
didn’t mean it.” Tentatively explain the consequences . “I don’t
think it’s having the effect you want. He doesn’t pick up on the
hint, and I’m afraid that he’s starting to resent you” (Your
story) . Encourage testing: “Do you see it differently?”
Finally, Learn to Look for signs that safety is at risk, and Make
It Safe. When you STATE things well and others become defen
sive, refuse to conclude that the issue is impossible to discuss.
Think harder about your approach. Step out of the content, do
what it takes to make sure your partner feels safe, and then try
again to candidly STATE your view.