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Which of these insulting conclusions or judgments should you

share? Certainly not the entire menagerie of unflattering tales. In

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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.”




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

Shared Meaning.

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




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.

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