Why would you stop and retrace your Path to Action in the first
place? Certainly if you’re constantly stopping what you’re doing
and looking for your underlying motive and thoughts, you won’t
even be able to put on your shoes without thinking about it for
who knows how long. You’ll die of analysis paralysis.
Actually, you shouldn’t constantly stop and question your
actions. If you Learn to Look (as we suggested in Chapter 4) and
note that you yourself are slipping into silence or violence, you
have good reason to stop and take stock.
MASTER MY STORIES 1 03
But looking isn’t enough. You must take an honest look at
what you’re doing. If you tell yourself a story that your violent
behavior is a “necessary tactic,” you won’t see the need to recon
sider your actions. If you immediately jump in with “they started
it,” or otherwise find yourself rationalizing your behavior, you
also won’t feel compelled to change. Rather than stop and review
what you’re doing, you’ll devote your time to justifying your
actions to yourself and others.
When an unhelpful story is driving you to silence or violence,
stop and consider how others would see your actions. For exam
ple, if the 60 Minutes camera crew replayed this scene on
national television, how would you look? What would they tell
about your behavior?
Not only do those who are best at crucial conversations notice
when they’re slipping into silence or violence, but they are also
able to admit it. They don’t wallow in self-doubt, of course, but
they do recognize the problem and begin to take corrective
action. The moment they realize that they’re killing dialogue,
they review their own Path to Action.
Get I n Touch with You r Fee l ings
As skilled individuals begin to retrace their own Path to Action,
they immediately move from examining their own unhealthy
behavior to exploring their feelings or emotions. At first glance
this task sounds easy. “I’m angry ! ” you think to yourself. What
could be easier?
Actually, identifying your emotions is more difficult than you
might imagine. In fact, many people are emotionally illiterate.
When asked to describe how they’re feeling, they use words such
as “bad” or “angry” or “frightened”-which would be okay if
t hese were accurate descriptors, but often they’re not.
I ndividuals say they’re angry when, in fact, they’re feeling a mix
01′ embarrassment and surprise. Or they suggest they’re unhappy
1 04 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
when they’re feeling violated. Perhaps they suggest they’re upset
when they’re really feeling humiliated and cheated.
Since life doesn’t consist of a series of vocabulary tests, you
might wonder what difference words can make. But words do
matter. Knowing what you’re really feeling helps you take a more
accurate look at what is going on and why. For instance, you’re
far more likely to take an honest look at the story you’re telling
yourself if you admit you’re feeling both embarrassed and sur
prised rather than simply angry.
How about you? When experiencing strong emotions, do you
stop and think about your feelings? If so, do you use a rich
vocabulary, or do you mostly draw from terms such as “bummed
out” and “furious”? Second, do you talk openly with others
about how you feel? Do you willingly talk with loved ones about
what’s going on inside of you? Third, in so doing, is your vocab
ulary robust and accurate?