Crucial Conversations: Part 2 of 2
Last time, we talked about what a crucial conversation is and what to do within yourself to get prepared. Remember, we said the first thing is not to just charge in, but instead we want to decide what we really want to accomplish by having the conversation. Now, let’s look at how to master the stories we’re telling ourselves about the conversation and discover how to hold the conversation to ensure the maximum shared understanding.
Have you ever wondered why, when you want to be on your best behavior, you often find yourself acting your worst? Sometimes, it has to do with the stories we’re telling ourselves. Let me explain. A story is anything that is not an observable fact. Sounds simple enough, right? The problem is that we sometimes think of our stories as facts. Here’s an example: "I like chocolate ice cream." Fact or Story? Well, assuming you actually do like chocolate ice cream, we’ll agree that this statement is a fact. What about this one? "Chocolate ice cream is delicious." You might think, “Well, that’s a fact. It’s delicious to me, so I think it’s a fact.” But can you prove it? If you find just one person who doesn’t agree that it’s delicious, your “fact” suddenly evaporates.
What does all this have to do with a Crucial Conversation? Well, if you’re preparing to talk to you co-worker about the spoiled food he’s left in the refrigerator over a week—after you have repeatedly told him to get rid of it—you might be tempted to think that “My co-worker is an insensitive jerk!” is most certainly a fact. But, it’s not, it’s a story. Stories are identified as judgments, conclusions, and inferences that we make when we observe the facts. Now, that doesn’t mean that your story is untrue. If you can separate your facts from your stories, you can effectively tell your story as a story in the moment.
Once you’re finally ready to have the conversation, because you’ve got your heart and your head (facts vs. stories) in the right place, the book uses an acronym to help us understand how to do this effectively. We call it "STATE my path." The good news is that you really only need to remember the first three letters of STATE.
S – Share your Facts
T – Tell your Story
A – Ask for the other person’s point of view
The final T and E stand for Talk Tentatively, and Explore Other’s Paths.
Share your Facts. You should always start a crucial conversation by telling what you saw actually happened. Even if you didn’t observe it for yourself, and you’re working from information someone else has provided, you will want to tell them something like, “it has come to my attention…” Why start with the fact? Facts are difficult to dispute and they lay the groundwork for why you’re telling yourself this story.
Tell your Story. Once you’ve shared your facts, you should be ready to tell your story. Be careful to share it as a story, not a fact. Often, you will need to use softer language to cue yourself (and the other person) that this is not part of the facts, but something that is bothering you. Phrases such as, “it seems to me…,” or “I’m starting to think that…” help you turn from fact to story.
Ask for the other person's point of view. It’s tempting to think you already know what the problem is and there’s no use asking them for their opinion but, remember, you started with heart and you want to fix the situation and maintain the relationship, so it’s best to give the other person a chance to tell their side of the story. Simply asking, “what am I missing here?” or “can you help me understand?” gives the other person a chance to be heard.
So, let’s put this all together. Returning to your coworker and the spoiled food, you might say something like this: “Hi, John, can I visit with you about something that’s bothering me? I asked you 2 or 3 times to remove the food in the refrigerator before it spoiled (fact), but I noticed today that some of the food is still there and now it’s gone bad (fact). I’m starting to think you don’t care about the rest of us who use that refrigerator (story). Can you help me understand what’s going on? (asking for their point of view). If John answers defensively, you can always go back over the facts and your story to see if you can find some common ground.
The book, Crucial Conversations, and the training course are outstanding and cover many more tools for helping you talk to “almost anyone about almost anything.” I highly recommend both.
Next time you are faced with a Crucial Conversation, remember to separate your facts from your stories and then STATE your path. You may be surprised at the results.