Note: While reading a book whenever I come across something interesting, I highlight it on my Kindle. Later I turn those highlights into a blogpost. It is not a complete summary of the book. These are my notes which I intend to go back to later. Let’s start!

Crucial conversation: opposing opinion, strong emotion and high stakes

Focus on what you really want

  • What do I want for me?
  • What do I want for others?
  • What do I want for the relationship

Ask the following question to determine when Mutual Respect is at risk

  • Do others believe I respect them?
  • What else could you do?

Instead of getting hooked and fighting back, break the cycle. See their aggressive behavior for what it is—a sign of violated safety—then step out of the conversation, build safety, and step back into the content.

Step Out

When others move to silence or violence, step out of the conversation and Make It Safe. When safety is restored, go back to the issue at hand and continue the dialogue.

Decide Which Condition of Safety Is at Risk

  • Mutual Purpose. Do others believe you care about their goals in this conversation? Do they trust your motives?
  • Mutual Respect. Do others believe you respect them?

Apologize When Appropriate

  • When you’ve clearly violated respect, apologize.

Contrast to Fix Misunderstanding

  • When others misunderstand either your purpose or your intent, use . Dong. Start with what you don’t intend or mean. Then explain what you do intend or mean.
  • Create a Mutual Purpose

When you are at cross-purposes, use four skills to get back to Mutual Purpose

  • Commit to seek Mutual Purpose.
  • Recognize the purpose behind the strategy.
  • Invent a Mutual Purpose.
  • Brainstorm new strategies.


  • Notice your behavior.


  • Am I in some form of silence or violence?


  • Get in touch with your feelings.
  • What emotions are encouraging me to act this way?

[Tell story]

  • Analyze your stories.
  • What story is creating these emotions?


  • Get back to the facts.
  • What evidence do I have to support this story?
  • Separate fact from story by focusing on behavior.
  • Can you see or hear this thing you’re calling a fact? Was it an actual behavior?
  • It’s particularly easy to act helpless when we turn others’ behavior into fixed and unchangeable traits. For example, when we decide our colleague is a “control freak” (Villain Story), we are less inclined to give her feedback because, after all, control freaks like her don’t accept feedback (Helpless Story). Nothing we can do will change that fact.
  • Kill the Fool’s Choice that’s made you feel helpless to choose anything other than silence or violence. Do this by asking:
  • What would I do right now if I really wanted these results?

So asks yourself

  • Am I pretending not to notice my role in the problem?
  • When I found out that Louis was holding project meetings without me, I felt like I should ask him about why I wasn’t included. I believed that if I did, I could open a dialogue that would help us work better together. But then I didn’t, and as my resentment grew, I was even less interested in broaching the subject.”
  • Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do what Louis is doing? “He really cares about producing good-quality work. Maybe he doesn’t realize that I’m as committed to the success of the project as he is.”
  • What do I really want? “I want a respectful relationship with Louis. And I want recognition for the work I do.”
  • What would I do right now if I really wanted these results? “I’d make an appointment to sit down with Louis and talk about how we work together.”
  • As we tell the rest of the story, we free ourselves from the poisoning effects of unhealthy emotions.
  • I have also found tentative statements to be effective. Instead of saying, “Are you upset with me? What did I do?” I now say, “I’m beginning to feel that you are upset with me. Did I do something to make you angry?” Her response to this question opens the door to the real issue at hand.

If strong emotions are keeping you stuck in silence or violence, try this

  • Retrace Your Path
  • Notice your behavior. If you find yourself moving away from dialogue, ask yourself what you’re really doing.
    • Am I in some form of silence or violence?
  • Get in touch with your feelings. Learn to accurately identify the emotions behind your story.
    • What emotions are encouraging me to act this way?
  • Analyze your stories. Question your conclusions and look for other possible explanations behind your story.
    • What story is creating these emotions?
  • Get back to the facts. Abandon your absolute certainty by distinguishing between hard facts and your invented story.
  • What evidence do I have to support this story?
  • Watch for clever stories. Victim, Villain, and Helpless Stories sit at the top of the list.
  • Tell the Rest of the Story
  • Ask:
    • Am I pretending not to notice my role in the problem?
    • Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do this?
    • What do I really want?
    • What would I do right now if I really wanted these results

Once you’ve worked on yourself to create the right conditions for dialogue, you can then draw upon five distinct skills that can help you talk about even the most sensitive topics. These five tools can be easily remembered with the acronym STATE.

What STATE stands for

  • Share your facts
  • Tell your story
  • Ask for others’ paths
  • Talk tentatively
  • Encourage testing

The first three skills describe what to do. The last two tell how to do it.

A Sample Conversation

  • BRIAN: Since I started work here, you’ve asked to meet with me twice a day. That’s more than with anyone else. You have also asked me to pass all of my ideas by you before I include them in a project.
    [The facts]
  • FERNANDO: What’s your point?
  • BRIAN: I’m not sure that you’re intending to send this message, but I’m beginning to wonder if you don’t trust me. Maybe you think I’m not up to the job or that I’ll get you into trouble. Is that what’s going on? [The possible story]
  • FERNANDO: Really, I was merely trying to give you a chance to get my input before you got too far down the path on a project. The last guy I worked with was constantly taking his project to near completion only to learn that he’d left out a key element. I’m trying to avoid surprises

Too soft: “It’s probably my fault, but…” Too hard: “You wouldn’t trust your own mother to make a one-minute egg!” Just right: “I’m starting to feel like you don’t trust me. Is that what’s going on here? If so, I’d like to know what I did to lose your trust.”

State my Path

When you have a tough message to share, or when you are so convinced of your own rightness that you may push too hard, remember to STATE your path:  + Share your facts. Start with the least controversial, most persuasive elements from your Path to Action.  + Tell your story. Explain what you’re beginning to conclude.  + Ask for others’ paths. Encourage others to share both their facts and their stories.  + Talk tentatively. State your story as a story—don’t disguise it as a fact.  + Encourage testing. Make it safe for others to express differing or even opposing views.

Whenever you notice safety is at risk, you should step out of the conversation and restore it. When you have offended others through a thoughtless act, apologize. Or if someone has misunderstood your intent, use Contrasting. Explain what you do and don’t intend. Finally, if you’re simply at odds, find a Mutual Purpose.

A Sample Conversation

  • YOU: (Tapping on door.) Wendy? May I talk with you please?
  • (You enter her room and sit on her bed.)
  • YOU: I’m really sorry for embarrassing you like that. That was a bad way to handle it.
    [Apologize to build safety]
  • WENDY: It’s just that you do that a lot. It’s like you want to control everything in my life.
  • YOU: Can we talk aboutthat?
  • WENDY: (Sounding angry) It’s no big deal. You’re the parent, right?
  • YOU: From the way you say that, it sounds like it is a big deal.
    [Mirror] I really would like to hear what makes you think I’m trying to control your life.
  • WENDY: What, so you can tell me more ways that I’m screwed up? I’ve finally got one friend who accepts me, and you’re trying to chase him away!
  • YOU: So you feel like I don’t approve of you, and your friend is one person who does?
  • WENDY: It’s not just you. All my friends have lots of boys who like them. Doug’s the first guy who’s even called me. I don’t know—never mind.
  • YOU: I can see how you’d feel badly when others are getting attention from boys and you aren’t. I’d probably feel the same way.
  • WENDY: Then how could you embarrass me like that?!
  • YOU: Honey, I’d like to take a stab at something here. I wonder if part of the reason you’ve started dressing differently and hanging out with different friends is because you’re not feeling cared about and valued by boys, by your parents, and by others right now. Is that part of it?
  • WENDY: (Sits quietly for a long time) Why am I so ugly? I really work on how I look but… From here, the conversation goes to the real issues, parent and daughter discuss what’s really going on, and both come to a better understanding of each other.

Think of your ABCs. Agree when you agree. Build when others leave out key pieces. Compare when you differ.


  • To encourage the free flow of meaning and help others leave silence or violence behind, explore their Paths to Action. Start with an attitude of curiosity and patience. This helps restore safety. Then, use four powerful listening skills to retrace the other person’s Path to Action to its origins.
  • Ask. Start by simply expressing interest in the other person’s views.
  • Mirror. Increase safety by respectfully acknowledging the emotions people appear to be feeling.
  • Paraphrase. As others begin to share part of their story, restate what you’ve heard to show not just that you understand, but also that it’s safe for them to share what they’re thinking.
  • Prime. If others continue to hold back, prime. Take your best guess at what they may be thinking and feeling.

As you begin to share your views, remember:

  • Agree. Agree when you share views.
  • Build. If others leave something out, agree where you share views, then build.
  • Compare. When you do differ significantly, don’t suggest others are wrong. Compare your two views

Turn your successful crucial conversations into great decisions and united action by avoiding the two traps of violated expectations and inaction.

Decide How to Decide

  • Command. Decisions are made without involving others.
  • Consult. Input is gathered from the group and then a subset decides.
  • Vote. An agreed-upon percentage swings the decision.
  • Consensus. Everyone comes to an agreement and then supports the final decision.

Finish Clearly

Determine who does what by when. Make the deliverables crystal clear. Set a follow-up time. Record the commitments and then follow up. Finally, hold people accountable to their promises

Example “I’d like to step away from this scheduling issue for a moment—then we’ll come right back to it. The way you’re leaning in toward me and raising your voice seems disrespectful. I want to help address your concerns, but I’m going to have a tough time doing so if this continues.”