As new problems emerge, we have to be focused enough not to get sidetracked. We can t let every
The answer to this new if question is simple. If the new, emergent problem is more serious, time-sensitive, or emotional than the original one or if it s important to the other person, you have to deal with it right there, on the spot. You can t allow the new and more important issue to be at the mercy of the original problem.
For example, you can t have your
The good news is that if you choose to move to the new and emergent topic, all the skills we ve
Note new problems
Select the right problem: the original problem, the new one, or both
Resolve the new problem and return to the original issue
Deal with problems one at a time
Consciously choose to deal with new issues, don't allow them to be forced upon you
To see how this works, let s look at four different categories of new problems: There is a loss of safety, there is a loss of trust, a completely different issue becomes a problem, and explosive emotions take over. Each category requires the same basic skills, but each is different enough that it
This is the most common emergent problem, and we talked about it earlier. You re discussing a failed promise, and the other person becomes frightened and starts to pull away from the discussion or push too hard. Either response
If you don t step out of the existing conversation and establish safety, you re never going to resolve the issue at hand. So that s what you do. You step out, create safety, and step back in. In this case you don t need to
To restore safety, you point to your shared purpose. You assure the other person that you care about what he or she cares about. You use contrasting to clarify the misunderstanding. You apologize when necessary. You make it safe. If you don t, you ll never be able to resolve the original issue.
For example, you re talking to a coworker about not helping out on a boring job. She was supposed to lend a hand, but she took a phone call and then disappeared until you finished the noxious task. You describe the problem, tentatively sharing your
You respond by sharing your common purpose: I was just hoping to come up with a way to ensure that we re both working on the job we hate the most. Neither of us likes to do it. Then you Contrast: I didn t mean to imply that you weren t a good friend. I think you are. I just wanted to talk about the one job. Then you apologize: I m sorry if it sounded like I was falsely accusing you. I m just
This is probably the most dangerous new problem, the number one killer of accountability, and the chief reason most people can t have a crucial confrontation without breaking out in hives. You ask a person who
Not knowing if this is code for a motivation problem or an ability problem, you ask him
what prevented him from keeping his promise. You re thinking that if it wasn t a meteorite crashing into his
Omar in payroll needed someone to run over to headquarters for him, and I was the only one who drove to work today. Everyone else came in on the
And running an errand for Omar was more important than the training? you ask.
Of course! It was the payroll.
Well, yes, the payroll is important.
The problem with what just
Is this a big deal? Almost nothing in a company, including the payroll, is more important than finding a way to fix the lack of accountability this scene depicts. The person failed to live up to a commitment, and nothing happened. Actually, he was allowed to ignore the real issue: the broken promise.
Companies that continually allow things to come up without dealing with the breach of promise don t survive very long. And while they are limping along, they re horrible places to work. Nothing destroys trust more than casually giving assignments and then hoping against hope that people will deliver. You may like the fact that your boss doesn t always follow up with you, giving you substantial freedom, but you hate it when others are equally loose and unpredictable. Heaven help the company that lets things come up.
In a similar vein, when family members allow one another to break promises and ignore the consequences, pain and suffering are just around the corner. When it comes to child rearing, arbitrary accountability is a big
Let s be realistic. Things do come up. In today s tumultuous world changes occur all the time, and if you can t make midcourse corrections as new information pours in, your company will die. You have to be strong and flexible. You have to be able to bend but not break.
How can you be at once focused and flexible? It s actually easy. At the heart of every
This sentence represents the
I want you to live up to your promise. Please don t unilaterally break it. I want you to focus on getting the job done. At the same time, I realize that the world can change. Things come up. Many of these barriers will negate your existing promise. If something does come up, let me know as soon as possible so there are no
surprisesand so we can decide together how to handle the situation.
Consider the following situations:
Sometimes the thing that comes up will affect motivation. For example, your son is on the way to take a
Sometimes the thing that comes up will affect ability. For instance, the air-conditioning unit breaks down and the production manager thinks she should let everyone go home early even though she
Let s return to our friend who told us that he didn t attend the computer class because something came up. What should we say to him? Naturally, the way we approach the failed promise will depend on our own private history of accountability. If in our company promises are merely rough guidelines, include the possibility of a surprise, or are made with a wink, we ve reaped what we ve sown. There s really not much we can say. In fact, in a huge number of companies (and families are no different) the following is true:
Results = no results + a good story
In institutions where accountability is shaky, people treat you as if you ve succeeded as long as you have a good story. In this
Something came up. It s the
But you know better. You understand that a crucial confrontation by definition deals with failed promises, and if you don t have to keep promises, everything
Therefore, when you first started working with your team, you spoke in great detail about the all-important sentence: If something comes up, let me know as soon as you can.
You explained how these few words, when honored, bring predictability into a turbulent world. You spoke eloquently about how this simple phrase emphasizes the importance of both the need for flexibility and the need for predictability. You talked about how it forms the very foundation of trust. And finally, when you first talked with your direct report about
So what do you say to the fellow who thinks that as long as Omar in payroll asked him to do something important, he has been liberated from his original promise? What is the right crucial confrontation to have? The problem isn t that he didn t attend the class (that is
problem but not
problem); the problem is that he saw what he thought called for a change in the plan and changed it. Not only did he make the choice on his own, he didn t have the
Guess what: If you talk about the training issue and not about the trust problem, you ll walk away dissatisfied and trusting the person even less, and you won t even realize that you ve had the wrong conversation. Of course, if you do talk about
To establish a climate in which crucial confrontations are built on a bedrock of trust, stay focused. Set clear and firm expectations. Stay flexible. End by
stating: If something comes up, let me know as soon as you can. Finally, when you re talking with someone who triesto excuse a missed assignment by saying that something came up, deal with this emergent problem ”this violation of trust ”as a new challenge. Never let it slide.
Let s look at another category of emergent problems. You re talking about a failed expectation, and the other person, besides saying that something came up, does something that is actually
For instance, you re the only
You decide to talk about your conclusion that he s purposely skipping out of the unpopular jobs, knowing that you ll start with the facts and then tentatively tell him what you and others are beginning to conclude. This actually goes
You continue along the problem-solving path, trying to see if he ll agree to take his fair share of the noxious tasks, and he adds: Forceful women are a bit of a
He s now leaning close to you and
He comes back with Exactly what are your turn-ons?
Given his insensitive persistence, you decide to step away from the fairness issue and confront the new problem. He is acting inappropriately, and you don t like it. In fact, it feels like
To deal with this tricky emergent problem, start by announcing the change in topic. It s okay to change topics, but always clarify what you re doing. Place a bookmark where you just were so that it will be easy to return to it later. If you don t, you lose your place and sometimes forget that you changed topics:
I d like to talk about what just happened.
This stops the conversation dead in its tracks.
You just made references to your ˜turn-ons, you moved so close to me that I felt uncomfortable, and your eyes were moving up and down my body. What s going on here?
You then close the discussion by seeking a clear commitment:
So I can count on you to treat me like a professional in the future?
He quickly nods in approval.
That was easy. No need for consequences. No need to analyze underlying ability blocks: Sorry, I was raised by wild animals and am a bit of a social moron. He agrees to back off, and your life just got better.
Now you face one more issue. Do you return to the original problem? You still haven t resolved the job equity issue. This is something you have to decide in the moment. Sometimes, having dealt with a much larger problem, you decide to return to the original problem another time. Continuing now could seem like piling it on. Besides, in this case he may want to make a hasty exit to regain his
These steps can be applied to any new problem that emerges in the middle of a crucial confrontation. Pull out of the original problem, announce the change in topic, confront the new problem, bring it to a satisfactory resolution, and then decide whether you need to return to the original issue.
For instance, you re talking to your seven-year-old daughter about not practicing the piano as she promised she would. She explains that she did practice. You were sitting at the piano folding clothes during the appointed time, and so you tell her that and end with: Since you weren t here, how did you practice? Your
I didn t practice because I hate practicing at four o clock every day, she says. That s the best playtime, and I
Now you know why she didn t practice, but that s no longer the problem you want to discuss. She lied. This is now a relationship conversation. Of course, she wants to talk about the inconvenient practice time (the content issue). That
I d like to talk about what just happened.
What s that?
When I asked you about your piano practice, you said that you did practice, but you didn t.
That s because everyone plays kick ball in the cul-de-sac, and I love to play kick ball.
What I d like to talk about is not your practice time; we ll get back to that later. [Place a bookmark.] I want to talk about the fact that you lied to me. [Announce the new topic.]
Then you talk about lying. She says she ll never ever do it again, but you fear that she doesn t fully understand the consequence of her lying, and so you choose to explain what happens when you can no longer take her at her word. You treat this as a teaching moment, explain the natural consequences that result from lying, and work through the problem, and she apologizes. Then she wants to get back to the trouble with her piano practice time, which you resolve by moving it to a later
Pull out, announce the change in topic, confront the new problem, work it through to a satisfactory resolution, and then decide whether you want to return to the original infraction. Of course, this can work only if you spot the new problem and then choose to deal with it. This can be difficult when you re already trying to handle another problem, but that s how the world of human interaction unfolds. New problems emerge all the time.
Sometimes you can experience three different emergent problems in a couple of minutes, and you have to decide which ones to confront. For instance, you re talking with your husband, who is out of work and isn t spending much time seeking employment. You make enough to support the two of you, and he s starting to look way too comfortable staying at home and surfing the Net. You re from the school of thought that says that if you lose your old job, your new job is finding a job, and so you STEP up to that crucial confrontation.
Your husband responds by saying that it s not his fault that the economy is so horrible. Then he starts playing on your emotions by explaining how
When your husband was first laid off, he didn t do much to find a new job, and so you jointly developed a plan in which he agreed to work at getting work. That included eight hours a day of looking, sending out r sum s, filling out applications, and so forth. He s not doing it, and that s the problem you want to talk about. He obviously wants to talk about a whole lot of other things, not his broken promise. You step back to the original problem by returning to the notion that he s supposed to be working at getting a job: That s the gap you describe. Now he calls you a nag and asks you to get off his back.
At this point you have several issues you may want to address. To help select the right problem let s return to our CPR model. First, there s the content: Is he going to look for work? That s the original problem, and it s a big deal to you. You re not going to be easily sidetracked. Second, there s the pattern: This is the third time you ve had to bring up the issue. Third, there are several relationship issues: He s playing with your emotions by asking for sympathy instead of talking about the violated promise. He s trying to sidetrack you, and that feels manipulative. He s labeling you as a nag and taking the focus off the original problem, and this feels insulting.
To help you choose from the CPR model which combination of these issues to deal with, you can apply the questions we asked in Chapter 1. When the turf is changing with each paragraph, it s probably
Now let s take emergent problems to the final level. The other person goes to silence or violence
becomes quite emotional. This person isn t merely pushing his or her argument too hard, he or she s becoming
You work as a manager for a small family-owned company that imports
To make sure you don t set a bad tone, you describe the gap: Carl, I noticed that the monthly report wasn t in my box this morning. Did you run into a problem? Carl explains that he didn t know that it really mattered; besides, he really hates doing it. You don t leap to your power. Instead, you share a couple of natural consequences. Carl then states that he ll get right on it. No big deal.
That s how you expect the interaction to unfold. You act professionally, and your efforts pay off. However, there are exceptions. For instance, you
Then he grabs a sales sample, a half-
To deal with a person who becomes emotional (this includes anger, frustration, fear, sorrow, etc.), we have to get to the source of all feelings. Let s return to the Path to Action.
Once again, emotions don t come from outer space. We create them ourselves. A person does something, we see it, and then we tell
To create a strong feeling, we tell a story that includes a strong value. For instance, a coworker lets you down on purpose. She disrespects you. Your boss double-checked your work because he doesn t trust you. Jordan got the raise because the policy is unfair . Your neighbor drove too fast because she doesn t care about your safety . These are sacred values. You become quite upset. Then, of course, your adrenalin kicks in, and it s off to the world of strong feelings, weak mind.
We become righteously indignant only when others have tread on sacred ground.
If you want to deal with your own emotions, you have to deal with your own stories. You have to find a way to tell them differently, leading to a different feeling and different actions. But how do you deal with other people s emotions? How do you affect their stories?
Take Carl. You ask him about a simple report, and he goes posthole. He s one of your most levelheaded
You do know some things. First, Carl isn t simply responding to your opening question. You re picking up the conversation in the middle of a lengthy argument Carl has been making to himself. Second, Carl is not in a position to talk about the issue calmly and rationally. He s feeling the effects of
Fortunately, Carl gave you the corporate, not the Neanderthal, version of a fight. He held thousands of years of genetic engineering in check by not attacking you. Then again, he did throw something at an innocent file cabinet. You figure that he was
That is exactly what you should be determining. When other people become angry, there is always the chance that they will become violent. They ve stepped over one line. Will they step over the next one? Fortunately, most bosses never face anything close to danger at work, at least not from employees. People go to silence more than they go to violence. They complain to their loved ones. They play the martyr and despise you. They carp and seethe, but they don t explode.
Nevertheless, there are exceptions. That s why you must determine how dangerous the situation is. No listening skill or anger-reduction technique will
Don t be a hero. If you think you re in danger, leave. Remove yourself from the situation. Take flight; don t fight. Then call the appropriate authorities. In most companies that s security or human resources. Let your boss know what happened. Don t even think about dealing with the danger yourself.
If you re not in danger, go straight to the emotion; don t deal with the argument per se. If someone came to you strung out on drugs, you wouldn t dream of talking to that person about a work-
Anger creates a similarly inflated and abnormal reaction. Anger-based chemicals are legal, of course, but they prepare the body to spring into action, and that doesn t mean talking politely. Therefore, don t deal with the content of the argument until you ve dealt with the emotion. The other person isn t very likely to listen to you ”or, for that matter, explain his or her own argument clearly and calmly ”until the chemical surge has subsided. Any argument you make won t be
But how? What does it take to douse internal fires that have been fueled by unhealthy stories?
Dealing with anger nose to nose, so to speak, is tremendously hard, so hard that it s almost
Left to our natural tendencies, most of us respond to anger in kind. We get hooked. We become the very monsters we re
It s hard to imagine that anyone would treat anger with smug indifference, but it happens:
An employee barks, That s the third time in a row accounting has screwed up my check!
The boss strikes back with Big deal. When I held your job, I had to walk six blocks to pick up my pay. There was a time when I didn t get a red cent for almost two months, and that was over Christmas no less! You ve got it easy.
When other people become angry, they want first to talk about and then to resolve their problem, not yours. They
Acting holier than thou really doesn t work, as this example shows:
One of your direct reports charges into your office and complains, What was Larry trying to do in that meeting?
He humiliated me in front of everyone!
You come back with Now, now. Quit throwing a childish tantrum. If you expect to talk to me, you ll need to act like an adult. Or you might say, I can see you re out of control. Here s a dollar. Go get a cup of coffee and return when you re under control.
Telling people to calm down or grow up throws gas on the flames of violated values. They re already fuming about being mistreated, and then you heap on more abuse. You patronize them. Your tone
To see what we should do in the face of strong emotions, let s return to our Path to Action.
When someone becomes noticeably emotional, we see only the action that comes out at the end of their path. In fact, all we can ever see is anyone s action or behavior. Everything else ”feelings, stories, and observations ”gets trapped inside.
Because we can never see what s going on inside other people s heads, it s important to help bring their thoughts and feelings into the
Next, we have to find a way to understand why others get emotional as well as let them know that we understand. We have four power listening tools to help us. We ll use the acronym AMPP to help us recall them and as a reminder that they boost the power of our pathfinding skills. For those of you who are familiar with our previous book, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, this material should have a familiar ring.
AMPP reminds us that we can simply
sk to get the conversation rolling,
What s going on?
He comes back with the classic: Nothin !
You ask him to join in a conversation: No, really. I d love to hear what happened.
I don t want to talk about it.
Maybe he really doesn t want to talk. Maybe he does but has to be encouraged a little. He wants to know that you care enough to stick with it. The trouble is that both conditions start with the same signal: I don t want to talk about it.
You ask him in one more time by saying: Honest, I m all ears. I promise I ll just listen. Sometimes that can help.
Well, this morning before science class . . .
When you re talking to emotionally charged people, you may want to do more than simply ask them to talk. You may want to bring in a bigger gun: mirroring.
Here s how it works. Say Tom, one of your direct reports, sat glumly in a meeting, said nothing, and
In truth, he s not. He s upset and a little embarrassed. Over the last year Tom has put on 30
Only he says it in a tone of voice and with a body
You know, the way you said that makes me wonder if you are okay. You seem kind of, I don t know, low-energy, maybe a bit glum. Are you sure you re okay?
What you re trying to do, of course, is make it safe for Tom to talk. By holding up a mirror, you re letting him know that you re
Sometimes you catch a break. Say an employee is upset, walks in, and dumps out her entire Path to Action in one fell swoop:
Boy, am I miffed. You can be so controlling. It drives me crazy. Yesterday I got another one of your follow-up notes. Do you have to monitor me by the hour? I feel like I m being baby-sat!
She has shared her feeling (miffed), her story (you control me too much because you don t trust me: the violated value), and the fact that her feeling is based on either the note you sent her or your history of sending notes to check on how things are going.
With this much information on the table, it s best to check to see if you understand what she said. Paraphrase; that is, put in your own words what you think she stated. But don t parrot. Restating
what the other person said can be annoying and often sounds
You re upset because you think I overmanage you? I m too controlling and send you too many notes ”is that it?
Paraphrasing serves two functions. First, it shows that you are listening and that you care. This alone often calms the other person down enough to allow a rational conversation. Second, it helps you see what you do and don t understand.
No, I don t care about the notes, she says. It
Ah, so it s an issue of equity or respect (different core values).
You think I give you more notes than others, that I don t respect you?
Well, yeah. Yesterday you talked to Ken and then let him go without so much as a single follow-up. But with me. . . .
Sometimes it takes quite a bit to encourage other people to talk openly. They figure that speaking their minds is a bad idea. If they express their feelings openly, they re likely to get into trouble.
You ve invited and mirrored, but so far the other person has remained emotionally charged
mute. What next? Our final tool takes us right into the other person s story. We prime: We add words to the conversation (much like putting water in a pump to get it
Are you upset because I did something unfair? I gave the promotion to Margie, and maybe you think that you re more qualified or that I didn t do a good job of making a choice. Is that it?
The second half of this skill lies in how you guess the story. You re trying to make it safe for others to share their thoughts. That means you have to express your best guess in a way that says, Don t worry; I ll be okay with this discussion. I won t become defensive or angry. You do this, of course, by stating the story calmly and matter-of-factly.
Openly talking about the other person s path puts us in a position to deal calmly with the issues that have surfaced. If we willingly talk about people s thoughts and feelings without mocking, squelching, or attacking them, they are much more likely to calm down enough to both express their thoughts and listen to ours. Once we ve uncovered the story and the action that led to it, we re in a position to deal with the problem itself, and this is what we should do. We re not listening for the sake of listening. Once again, we re learning about how to communicate, in this case how to listen actively not as an intellectual exercise but as a way to get to results.
Before we bring this chapter to a close, let s look at one final issue. You approach your boss with a problem that he is
You find his remarks duplicitous because his tone is always snippy and insulting, but in a thinly veiled
Actually, you have a third choice. You can step back and buy yourself time. You can and should take a strategic delay:
You know what; I need to think about this in more detail. I ll get back to you later.
And with that short comment you hotfoot it back to your office. This is not a retreat. It s a strategic delay. This is not silence; you plan on returning. Once you re ensconced in the safety of your office, you take a deep
If your emotions are in control but you re having trouble coming up with the right words, take a strategic delay. Think about what you d like to say privately, safely, and slowly and then return later.
Finally, if your emotions are in control but you re about to lose your temper, also take a strategic delay. Your grandmother was wrong when she counseled you on the eve of your