“Crucial Conversations” – STATE my path

When it comes to sharing touchy information, the worst alternate between bluntly dumping their ideas into the pool of meaning and saying nothing at all. Either they start with, “You’re not going to like this, but, hey, somebody has to be honest…”(a classic Fool’s Choice), or they simply stay mum.
Those who are good at dialogue say some of what’s on their minds, but they understate their views out of fear of hurting others. They talk all right, but they carefully sugarcoat their message.
The best at dialogue speak their minds completely and do it in a way that makes it safe for others to hear what they have to say and respond to it as well. They are both totally frank and completely respectful.

Maintain safety

In order to speak honestly when honesty could easily offend others, we have to find a way to maintain safety. That’s a bit like telling someone to smash another person in the nose, but, you know, don’t hurt him. How can we speak the unspeakable and still maintain respect? Actually, it can be done if you know how to carefully blend three ingredients – confidence, humility and skill.
Confidence – most people simply won’t hold delicate conversations, at least not with the right person. People who are skilled at dialogue have the confidence to say what needs to be said to the person who needs to hear it. They are confident that their opinions deserve to be placed in the pool of meaning. They are also confident that they speak openly without brutalizing others or causing undue offense.
Humility – confidence does not equate to arrogance. Skilled people are confident that they have something to say, but also realize that others have valuable input. They are humble enough to realize that they don’t have a monopoly on the truth nor do they always have to win their way. Their opinions provide a starting point but not the final word. They may currently believe something but realize that with new information they may change their minds. This means they’re willing to both express their opinions and encourage others to do the same.
Skill – people who willingly share delicate information are good at doing it. That’s why they’re confident in the first place. They don’t make a Fool’s Choice, because they’ve found a path that allows for both candor and safety. They speak the unspeakable, and people are grateful for their honesty.

STATE my path

Despite your worst suspicions, you shouldn’t violate respect. In a similar vein, you shouldn’t kill safety with threats and accusations.
Think about what you really want and how dialogue can help you get it. And master your story – realize that you may be jumping to a hasty Victim, Villain or Helpless Story. The best way to find out the true story is not to act out the worst story you can generate. That will lead to self-destructive silence and violence games. Think about other possible explanations long enough to temper your emotions so you can get to dialogue.
The first 3 skills of the STATE acronym describe what to do and the last 2 what to do.
The STATE acronym stands for:

  • Share your facts
    • Facts are the most persuasive. In addition to being less controversial, facts are also more persuasive than subjective conclusions. Facts form the foundation of belief. So if you want to persuade others, don’t start with your stories. Start with your observations.
      Begin your path with facts. Let others experience your Path to Action from the beginning to the end, and not from the other way around. Let others see your experience from your point of view – starting with your facts. First the facts, then the story – and then make sure that as you explain your story, you tell it as a possible story not as concrete fact.
  • Tell your story
    • Even if you’ve started with your facts, the other person can still become defensive when you move from facts to stories. After all, you’re sharing potentially unflattering conclusions and judgements. If you simply mention the facts, the other person may not understand the severity of the implications. For example
      – I noticed that you had company software in your briefcase.
      – Yep, that’s the beauty of software. It’s portable.
      – That particular software is proprietary.
      – It out to be! Our future depends on it.
      – My understanding is that it’s not supposed to go home.
      – Of course not. That’s how people steal it.
      (Sounds like it’s time for a conclusion) “I was wondering what the software is doing in your briefcase. It looks like you’re taking it home. Is that what’s going on here?

      If you’ve done your homework by thinking through the facts behind your story, you’ll realize that you are drawing a reasonable, rational, and decent conclusion. One that deserves hearing.
      Don’t pile it on. Sometimes we lack the confidence to speak up, so we let problems simmer for a long time. Given the chance, we generate a whole arsenal of unflattering conclusions.
      Look for safety problems. As you share your story, watch for sign that safety is deteriorating. If people start becoming defensive or appear to be insulted, step out of the conversation and rebuild safety by Contrasting.
      Be careful not to apologize for your views. Remember, the goal of Contrasting is not 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
    • Key to sharing sensitive ideas is a blend of confidence and humility.
      We express our confidence by sharing our facts and stories clearly. We demonstrate our humility by then asking others to share their views – and meaning it.
  • Talk tentatively
    • Means that we should tell our story as a story rather than disguising it as a hard 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 called for, you want your conclusions challenged. To do so, change “The fact is” to “In my opinion”.
      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.
      Tentative, not wimpy. Some people are so worried about being too forceful or push that they err in the other direction. They wimp out by making still another Fool’s Choice. They figure that the only safe way to share touchy data is to act as if it’s not important. “I know this is probably not true…” or “Call me crazy but…”
  • Encourage testing
    • When you ask others to share their paths, how you phrase your invitation makes a big difference. Not only should you invite others to talk, but you have to do so in a way that makes it clear that no matter how controversial their ideas might be, you want to hear them. Others need to feel safe sharing their observations and stories. Otherwise, they don’t speak up and you can’t test the accuracy and relevance of your views.
      The real test of whether your motive is to win a debate or engage in real dialogue is the degree to which you encourage testing.

When you find yourself just dying to convince others that your way is best, back off your current attack and think about what you really want for yourself, others, and the relationship. Then ask yourself, “How would I behave if these were the results I really wanted?” When your adrenaline level gets below the 0.05 legal limit, you’ll be able to use your STATE skills.
The more you care about an issue, the less likely you are to be on your best behavior.

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