Which of these insulting conclusions or judgments should you
share? Certainly not the entire menagerie of unflattering tales. In
fact, you’re going to need to work on this Villain Story before
you have any hope of healthy dialogue. As you do, your story
begins to sound more like this (note the careful choice of
terms-after all, it is your story, not the facts) :
“When I first heard your recommendation, my initial reac
tion was to oppose your decision. But after thinking about
it, I’ve realized I could be wrong. I realized I don’t really
have any experience about what’s best for Debbie in this
situation-only fears about the stigma of being held back.
I know it’s a complex issue. I’d like to talk about how both
of us can more objectively weigh this decision.”
Look for safety problems. As you share your story, watch for
signs that safety is deteriorating. If people start becoming defen
sive or appear to be insulted, step out of the conversation and
rebuild safety by Contrasting.
Use Contrasting. Here’s how it works:
“I know you care a great deal about my daughter, and I’m
confident you’re well-trained. That’s not my concern at all.
I know you want to do what’s best for Debbie, and I do too.
My only issue is that this is an ambiguous decision with
huge implications for the rest of her life.”
STATE MY PATH 1 3 1
Be careful not to apologize for your views. Remember, the
goal of Contrasting is not to water down your message, but to be
sure that people don’t hear more than you intend. Be confident
enough to share what you really want to express.
Ask for Others’ Paths
We mentioned that the key to sharing sensitive ideas is a blend
of confidence and humility. We express our confidence by shar
ing our facts and stories clearly. We demonstrate our humility by
then asking others to share their views.
So once you’ve shared your point of view-facts and stories
alike-invite others to do the same. If your goal is to learn rather
than to be right, to make the best decision rather than to get your
way, then you’ll be willing to hear other views. By being open to
learning we are demonstrating humility at its best.
For example, ask yourself: “What does the schoolteacher
think?” “Is your boss really intending to micromanage you?” “Is
your spouse really having an affair?”
To find out others’ views on the matter, encourage them to
express their facts, stories, and feelings. Then carefully listen to
what they have to say. Equally important, be willing to abandon
or reshape your story as more information pours into the Pool of
The “How” Skills
Ia l k Tentatively
If you look back at the vignettes we’ve shared so far, you’ll note
that we were careful to describe both facts and stories in a ten
tative way. For example, “I was wondering why . . . ”
Talking tentatively simply means that we tell our story as a
story rather than disguising it as a fact. “Perhaps you were
1 32 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
unaware . . . ” suggests that you’re not absolutely certain. “In my
opinion . . . ” says you’re sharing an opinion and no more.
When sharing a story, strike a blend between confidence and
humility. Share in a way that expresses appropriate confidence in
your conclusions while demonstrating that, if appropriate, you
want your conclusions challenged. To do so, change “The fact is”
to “In my opinion.” Swap “Everyone knows that” for “I’ve talked
to three of our suppliers who think that.” Soften “It’s clear to
me” to “I’m beginning to wonder if.”
Why soften the message? Because we’re trying to add mean
ing to the pool, not force it down other people’s throats. If we’re
too forceful, the information won’t make it into the pool.
Besides, with both facts and stories, we’re not absolutely certain
they’re true. Our observations could be faulty. Our stories
well, they’re only educated guesses.