As it turns out, you don’t have to choose between being honest and being effective. You don’t have to choose between candor and your career. People who routinely hold crucial conversations and hold them well are able to express controversial and even risky opinions in a way that gets heard. Their bosses, peers, and direct reports listen without becoming defensive or angry.
When two or more of us enter crucial conversations, by definition we don’t share the same pool. Our opinions differ. I believe one thing; you another. I have one history; you another.
when people feel comfortable speaking up and meaning does flow freely, the shared pool can dramatically increase a group’s ability to make better decisions.
People who believe they need to start with themselves do just that. As they work on themselves, they also become the most skilled at dialogue. So here’s the irony. It’s the most talented, not the least talented, who are continually trying to improve their dialogue skills. As is often the case, the rich get richer.
Put succinctly, when you name the game, you can stop playing it.
Asking questions about what we really want serves two important purposes. First, it reminds us of our goal. Second, it juices up our brain in a way that helps us keep focused.
Third, present your brain with a more complex problem. Finally, combine the two into an and question that forces you to search for more creative and productive options than silence and violence.
On the other hand, if you make it safe enough, you can talk about almost anything and people will listen.
When you don’t feel safe, even well-intended comments are suspect.
if you don’t feel safe, you can’t take any feedback.
So instead of taking their attack as a sign that safety is at risk, you take it at its face—as an attack. “I’m under attack!” you think. Then the dumb part of your brain kicks in and you respond in kind. Or maybe you try to escape.
Silence consists of any act to purposefully withhold information from the pool of meaning. It’s almost always done as a means of avoiding potential problems, and it always restricts the flow of meaning.
Violence consists of any verbal strategy that attempts to convince, control, or compel others to your point of view. It violates safety by trying to force meaning into the pool.
The best don’t play games. Period. They know that in order to solve their problem, they’ll need to talk about their problem—with no pretending, sugarcoating, or faking. So they do something completely different. They step out of the content of the conversation, make it safe, and then step back in. Once safety is restored, they can talk about nearly anything.
Mutual Purpose means that others perceive that you’re working toward a common outcome in the conversation, that you care about their goals, interests, and values. And vice versa. You believe they care about yours.
Before you begin, examine your motives. Ask yourself the Start with Heart questions:
• What do I want for me?
• What do I want for others?
• What do I want for the relationship?
Mutual Respect is the continuance condition of dialogue. As people perceive that others don’t respect them, the conversation immediately becomes unsafe and dialogue comes to a screeching halt.
Ask the following question to determine when Mutual Respect is at risk:
• Do others believe I respect them?
We Start with Heart by committing to stay in the conversation until we invent a solution that serves a purpose we both share.
We also have to be willing to verbalize this commitment even when our partner seems committed to winning. We act on faith that our partner is stuck in silence or violence because he or she feels unsafe.
Just after we observe what others do and just before we feel some emotion about it, we tell ourselves a story. We add meaning to the action we observed. We make a guess at the motive driving the behavior. Why were they doing that? We also add judgment—is that good or bad? And then, based on these thoughts or stories, our body responds with an emotion.
People who excel at dialogue are able to influence their emotions during crucial conversations. They recognize that while it’s true that at first we are in control of the stories we tell—after all, we do make them up of our own accord—once they’re told, the stories control us.
Question your feelings and stories. Once you’ve identified what you’re feeling, you have to stop and ask, given the circumstances, is it the right feeling?
Don’t confuse stories with facts. Sometimes you fail to question your stories because you see them as immutable facts.
Either our stories are completely accurate and propel us in healthy directions, or they’re quite inaccurate but justify our current behavior—making us feel good about ourselves and calling for no need to change.
These five tools can be easily remembered with the acronym STATE. It stands for:
• Share your facts
• Tell your story
• Ask for others’ paths
• Talk tentatively
• Encourage testing
To make matters worse, this strategy creates still another self-fulfilling prophecy. We’re so anxious to blurt out our unflattering conclusions that we say things in extremely ineffective ways. Then, when we get bad results (and we are going to get bad results), we tell ourselves that we just can’t share risky views without creating problems. So the next time we’ve got something sticky to say, we’re even more reluctant to say it. We hold it inside where the story builds up steam, and when we do eventually share our horrific story, we do so with a vengeance. The cycle starts all over again.
One of the ironies of dialogue is that, when talking with those holding opposing opinions, the more convinced and forceful you act, the more resistant others become. Speaking in absolute and overstated terms does not increase your influence, it decreases it. The converse is also true—the more tentatively you speak, the more open people become to your opinions.
You should never pretend to be less confident than you are. But likewise, you should not pretend to be more confident than your limited capacity allows. Our observations could be faulty. Our stories—well, they’re only educated guesses.
By tentatively sharing a story rather than attacking, name-calling, and threatening, the worried spouse averted a huge battle, and the couple’s relationship was strengthened at a time when it could easily have been damaged.
You simply have to win. There’s too much at risk and only you have the right ideas. Left to their own devices, others will mess things up. So when you care a great deal and are sure of your views, you don’t merely speak—you try to force your opinions into the pool of meaning. You know, drown people in the truth. Quite naturally, others resist. You in turn push even harder.
Open yourself up to the belief that others might have something to say, and better still, they might even hold a piece of the puzzle—and then ask them for their views.
By holding people accountable, not only do you increase their motivation and ability to deliver on promises, but you create a culture of integrity.
If others don’t want to talk about tough issues, it’s because they believe that it won’t do any good. Either they aren’t good at dialogue, or you aren’t, or you both aren’t—or so they think.
Every time you become aggressive or insulting, you give your spouse additional evidence that crucial conversations do nothing but cause harm.
Make it perfectly clear that once you’ve given an assignment, there are only two acceptable paths. Employees need to complete the assignment as planned, or if they run into a problem, they need to immediately inform you. No surprises. Similarly, if they decide that another job needs to be done instead, they call you. No surprises.
That is, people who improve their dialogue skills continually ask themselves whether they’re in or out of dialogue.
The other person has the ability to choose how to respond to your efforts. These skills are not techniques for controlling others; they are not tools for manipulating behavior or eliminating others’ agency. These skills have limits and do not guarantee that other people will behave in exactly the way you desire.
If yse these skills exactly the way we tell you to and the other person doesn’t want to dialogue, you won’t get to dialogue. However, if you persist over time, refusing to take offense, making your motive genuine, showing respect, and constantly searching for Mutual Purpose, then the other person will almost always join you in dialogue.