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Unfortunately (and here’s where the problem becomes self­ defeating) , the more you snip and snap, the less your loved one

wants to be around you. So your significant other spends even less time with you, you become even more upset, and the spi­

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ral continues. Your behavior is now actually creating the very thing you didn’t want in the first place. You’re caught in an unhealthy, self-defeating loop.

Or consider what’s happening with your roommate Terry­ who wears your and your other two roommates’ clothes (without

asking)-and he’s proud of it. In fact, one day while walking out the door, he glibly announced that he was wearing something

from each of your closets. You could see Taylor’s pants, Scott’s

shirt, and, yes, even Chris’s new matching shoes-and-socks ensemble. What of yours could he possibly be wearing? Eww!

Your response, quite naturally, has been to bad-mouth Terry behind his back. That is until one day when he overheard you




belittling him to a friend, and you’re now so embarrassed that you

avoid being around him. Now when you’re out of the apartment, he wears your clothes, eats your food, and uses your computer out of spite.

Let’s try another example. You share a cubicle with a four-star

slob and you’re a bit of a neat freak. In Odd Couple parlance,

you’re Felix and he’s Oscar. Your coworker has left you notes written in grease pencil on your file cabinet, in catsup on the back

of a french-fry bag, and in permanent marker on your desk blot­

ter. You, in contrast, leave him typed Post-it notes. Typed. At first you sort of tolerated each other. Then you began to get

on each other’s nerves. You started nagging him about cleaning

up. He started nagging you about your nagging. Now you’re

beginning to react to each other. Every time you nag, he becomes

upset, and, well, let’s say that he doesn’t exactly clean up. Every time he calls you an “anal-retentive nanny,” you vow not to give

in to his vile and filthy ways. What has come from all this bickering? Now you’re neater

than ever, and your cubicle partner’s half of the work area is

about to be condemned by the health department. You’re caught

in a self-defeating loop. The more the two of you push each

other, the more you create the very behaviors you both despise.

Some Common Crucial Conversations

In each of these examples of unhealthy self-perpetuation, the

stakes were moderate to high, opinions varied, and emotions ran strong. Actually, to be honest, in a couple of the examples the stakes were fairly low at first, but with time and growing emo­ tions, the relationship eventually turned sour and quality of life suffered-making the risks high.

These examples, of course, are merely the tip of an enormous

and ugly iceberg of problems stemming from crucial conversations




that either have been avoided or have gone wrong. Other topics that could easily lead to disaster include

• Ending a relationship

• Talking to a coworker who behaves offensively or makes sugges­ tive comments

• Asking a friend to repay a loan

• Giving the boss feedback about her behavior

• Approaching a boss who is breaking his own safety or quality


• Critiquing a colleague’s work

• Asking a roommate to move out

• Resolving custody or visitation issues with an ex-spouse

• Dealing with a rebellious teen

• Talking to a team member who isn’t keeping commitments

• Discussing problems with sexual intimacy

• Confronting a loved one about a substance abuse problem

• Talking to a colleague who is hoarding infonnation or resources

• Giving an unfavorable performance review

• Asking in-laws to quit interfering

• Talking to a coworker about a personal hygiene problem

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