The Twelve “Yeah-Buts”

There are no exceptions to the rule.

that everybody likes to be an exception

to the rule


How to Deal with the
Truly Tough

As we’ve taught this material over the last two decades, we’ve grown accustomed to people saying, “Yeah, but my situation is really tough. These skills will never work for me.” At first we thought those people were being belligerent (particularly when they threw in words like bonehead and hayseed), but in most cases the concerned participants were only trying to imagine how the skills applied to their world—their toughest world. If the confrontation skills could help with their worst-case scenarios, they stood to gain a lot. All they really wanted to do was dive deeper into areas that deserved careful attention. They raised the “yeah-buts” because they were being thoughtful and reflective, in some cases highly reflective.

And so with apologies to our friend Stephen R. Covey, we bring you the seven “yeah-buts” of highly reflective people. And then we add five more, just for good measure.



I’M STILL NERVOUS ABOUT stepping up to my boss and openly disagreeing or perhaps even confronting her for not following procedure or causing me problems I could pay dearly and for the rest of my life.”

The Danger Point

When it comes to confronting poor performance—and the stakes are high—people tend to err on the side of caution: Better to live with your existing circumstances than try to take corrective action, fail, and end up losing twice. You’re left with the same bad circumstances because nothing has changed, and now the person who holds all the marbles is really upset with you and soon will exact revenge. This isn’t merely a problem involving the hierarchy. It could happen with a close confidant or a loved one as well. Loved ones won’t fire you from your job, but they can fire you from the relationship, and that can be even more painful.

The Solution

Before we offer some advice, let’s be clear about something. Over the years we have seen bosses who appeared to be narcissistic or authoritarian to the core. Their very purpose appeared to be to stay in absolute control, and anything that threatened that purpose was a threat to them.

In these cases all bets are off. Anything short of groveling will be insufficient. In these cases you have a tough choice to make. You need to choose between coping and cutting out (more on this later).

With that said, we need to be clear about a second point. There are far fewer of these kinds of bosses around than you’d guess from people’s complaints. Ninety percent of your boss’s defensiveness is largely avoidable. We know because we’ve seen highly skilled individuals approach people who others thought were clinically controlling and get away with it.

Here’s the bottom line. The people we watched get through to the toughest bosses differed in soul as much as they differed in skill. They were masters at helping their bosses feel safe because they were masters at seeing problems from their bosses’ point of view. It was easy for them to create Mutual Purpose because they spent as much time contemplating how the problem behavior they were about to confront was creating problems for the boss as they did fretting about the problems it was creating for them. They were incredibly effective at making it motivating for the boss because they had thought deeply about the natural consequences of the boss’s behavior—on the boss. It’s little wonder that the boss welcomed their empowering insight.

Although we don’t want to excuse self-centered bosses for their impatience and defensiveness, we do want to suggest that if in reaction to their selfishness we become similarly self-absorbed, we’ll never have the insight and compassion we need to succeed. We’ll never be able to create enough safety to dissolve the boss’s defenses. Our well-intended influence will be crushed by the weight of selfishness.

This is not a “blame the victim” speech. It is about empowering the weak. If you want greater influence with a powerful and defensive person, what you typically need is not more power but more empathy. What you need is not a bigger hammer but a bigger heart. If you can step away from yourself and consider how the problem behavior is affecting the other person as well as how it’s affecting you, you’ll have a greater capacity to produce better outcomes for both of you. Besides, people never hammer their bosses without hammering themselves as well.

An Important Aside

Let’s get back to choosing between coping and cutting out. When another person is acting in ways that bother you, you have four options. You can carp, confront, cope, or cut out. Carping is the one bad option in this list. You don’t really resolve the problem, you hang around and complain, and nothing gets better. In fact, if you complain and moan enough, you harm your own health, not to mention what you’re doing to everyone else.

Confronting is your best choice for resolving the issue while building on the relationship. That’s what this book has been saying. Coping requires a bit of an explanation. You’ve done your best to confront and resolve the problem, but you’ve been unsuccessful. In fact, you’ve given up any hope of being successful. Now you can either cope or cut out. Cutting out is obvious. Half of all couples choose this option, and millions of people quit their jobs every year. Coping, in contrast, means that you’ve decided that the issue isn’t big enough to justify ending the relationship. You’re not going to divorce your spouse or quit your job, nor are you going to sit around and carp.

To cope properly, you must tell yourself the rest of the story. Most people are reasonable, rational, and decent. You haven’t been able to work through your differences because rational people have come to different and reasonable conclusions. Your boss isn’t an authoritarian moron; she’s just trying to make sure that her point of view is taken into consideration. Your husband isn’t a selfish idiot; he just forgets to put down the toilet seat in the middle of the night. Forgetting makes him human, not insensitive and uncaring. To cope, you tell the rest of the story and believe it.

Healthy people don’t fake coping. They don’t hang around and moan, and groan, and complain, and nag, and play “ain’t it awful,” and wallow in self-pity, and bad-mouth everyone in the known universe, and talk endlessly about being the “big person” who has found a way to show tolerance—and then have the nerve to say that they’re coping. No, that is carping, not coping, and carping is the bad option.



THE PEOPLE I WORK with are perfectly comfortable violating standards and turning a blind eye to rules. I usually don’t say anything because I don’t want to be the odd person out. It’s not like you can take on the world all by yourself.”

The Danger Point

When you choose to violate a standard practice, depending on the severity of the violation, you’re exposing yourself and others to a whole range of risks. For instance, you’re a nurse watching a doctor go into a sterile area with very sick babies, and he begins to examine them without gloves or a mask. This, of course, can lead to infections. Or you’re an accountant watching colleagues willfully disobey standard practices to satisfy a customer. This could misinform investors and land you in jail. Or you’re an employee watching everyone violate a safety procedure, and nobody says anything because everyone is in a hurry to meet an important deadline.

In each of these cases you feel as if you’re in one of those conformity studies in which everyone before you says that two obviously different lines are identical and now it’s your turn to speak up. Do you do what you think is right and take on your entire work group, or do you go with the flow?

The Solution

The reason you’re unwilling to say anything is probably that what you’re about to say isn’t very pretty. In your view, people are doing what is easy rather than what is right, and in fact they may be doing exactly that. Nevertheless, if you lead with this unsubstantiated accusation, it’s not going to go down well:

“Hey, are we going to follow the regulations on this, or are we just going to sell out and run the risk of killing some people?”

As satisfying as this patronizing attack may feel, it’s not going to be well received. People may comply, but you’ve just driven a huge wedge into the relationship. Tell yourself a different story. Maybe others know something you don’t know. Maybe they’re feeling pressured just as you are. Maybe you just don’t know all the facts. Who knows what they’re thinking?

One thing is for certain: Seeing yourself as the only one with a conscience or a backbone and then acting on that story is sure to make you come across as self-righteous. It’s surely going to provoke other people’s resentment and resistance. How could it not? Change your story, and your behavior will change along with it. Ask yourself why reasonable, rational, and decent people are doing what they’re doing.

Make It Safe

Open the confrontation by acknowledging the competing motivations, and do it in a way that humanizes those who might be leaning in the wrong direction:

“I know it’s inconvenient to suit up for quick and unobtrusive exams.”

Then use a Contrasting statement to eliminate a possible misunderstanding:

“I don’t want this to come off as an accusation; it’s an honest question. Aren’t we supposed to (fill in the blank), or are there circumstances I’m unaware of?”

These simple sentences take the pressure off you. You don’t have to be the police. You don’t have to be moral or ethical or stronger-willed. You don’t even have to be right. You just have to be curious, and that’s a good thing.

If people could find a way to use these simple techniques every time they feel peer pressure to do what they know is wrong, they could save millions of dollars, thousands of lives, and countless other forms of suffering.



MY SPOUSE NEVER wants to talk about anything
I experience a problem with him, and he tells me not to worry or not now or I’ve got it all wrong, or he just turns back to the TV set and says he’ll get back to me later. But he never does.”

The Danger Point

When the researchers we referred to in the Introduction asked newlywed couples to talk about a topic that typically led to an argument, they noticed a common pattern among the couples who later ended up divorcing. Not only did those couples use poor techniques when trying to discuss a controversial topic, more often than not one of them tried to work through the issue to its resolution while the other tried to escape.

The fact that one of the pair wants to talk while the other prefers not to is the common pattern in strained relationships. Not only can’t people talk well, but one cuts off any avenue of resolution, and matters only get worse. This is a big deal.

The Solution

If ever there was a pattern that needs to be confronted, this is it. Any single instance may not seem like that big of a deal, but over time the pattern is killing the relationship. So talk about the pattern.

First, ask if it would be okay to talk about an issue because you think that doing that would strengthen your relationship. You want to be able to talk more openly and freely about problems; your spouse seems to prefer to remain quiet. This is the problem. Fight your natural proclivity to focus on the other person. Instead, acknowledge any complaints the other person may have about what you may be doing to drive him or her to silence. Hint: When people move to silence, it’s typically because they feel verbally outgunned. If that’s the case with you, acknowledge that sometimes you guilt-trip or dominate or hound the other person until he or she succumbs. You want to change this.

When you frame the conversation as an opportunity to solve problems the other person cares about and acknowledge some of the things you’ve done that might be contributing to the problem, you’re creating safety. This, of course, is always the best place to start.

With that done, don’t demand that the conversation happen now. Set aside a time to talk. The other person gets to pick when. One of the reasons important discussions often get sidelined is that the other person isn’t emotionally up to it. He or she arrives home from a trip, you’ve been musing for days, and bang, before he or she can catch a breath, a huge issue needs to be resolved. Choose your time carefully. You’re going to be talking about a longtime pattern. This topic isn’t time-sensitive.

When you do talk, share your concerns along with your tentative conclusion that he or she may be purposely avoiding key problem-solving discussions. Don’t make this an accusation. Share two or three quick examples and then suggest that this is what is going on. Then prime. Is it because the discussions often don’t go well? Is there a way to make sure that they don’t end up as arguments? Is there something you can do to make sure that they run more smoothly? Make it safe for the other person to explain why he or she thinks it isn’t safe.

Jointly brainstorm things you can do to make sure that you’re both comfortable holding crucial confrontations. Is your timing wrong? Are you waiting too long and then getting angry? Stick with the brainstorming until you’ve brought barriers to the surface and found ways to remove most of them. Make this conversational. Lovingly try to resolve the issue. Don’t try to “fix” the other person.



what do you do when you don’t actually see the problem? Coworkers complain endlessly, saying things like ‘He’s impossible to work with,’ ‘He can’t be trusted,’ and ‘He never listens to feedback.’ How do you handle hearsay?”

The Danger Point

When people consistently complain to you about a specific employee, you face an interesting challenge. How do you share hearsay? If others are not willing to talk to the person themselves or own up to the negative feedback, you have no right to confront that person on the basis of secondhand information. That would be both unfair and unhelpful. You’re not close enough to the problem to share detailed feedback, and so you end up making general complaints that leave the person upset and confused.

Naturally, if employees complain about something that is dangerous or illegal, you need to consult with human resources immediately.

The Solution

Master your own story. Refuse to accept other people’s gossip as fact until you gather firsthand information. When you adopt other people’s stories about someone as your own, you surrender control. Observe the problem on your own. Then you can describe the problem in detail. More important, you can own it as well. Rather than coming off as a messenger or having to apologize for what others think, you can address the problem head on. People deserve to face their accusers. They also deserve specific, detailed feedback. Anything short of this is unhelpful and unfair. And who knows? As you gather your own data, you may end up with a story different from the one that others attempted to induce you to believe.

The family version of this problem revolves around the ever-present “tattletale.” The same principles apply. Unless safety is at risk, gather data on your own. Carry your own message.



WHAT IF THE FEEDBACK you want to give could crush the other person? I’ve got an employee who thinks she’s the world’s best writer. She’s always begging to compose letters. The truth is that her writing stinks. I don’t have the heart to say anything.”

The Danger Point

Most people would rather take a blow to the head than say something that could devastate another person. Telling people that they are incompetent at something they take pride in certainly falls into this category. Bosses often go for years letting people think they’re doing a good job when they’re not. Then they either make up for the poor job themselves (doing a work-around) or learn to live with substandard work. Both alternatives are unacceptable.

The Solution

If you’ve allowed a person to operate under the illusion of competency for quite some time, you really aren’t in a position to judge whether that person is truly incompetent. You’ve never held him or her accountable. Begin having crucial confrontations about single areas that could use some improvement. Express your appreciation for the person’s willingness. This is something you can praise. Then explain that there is one thing you’d like to see improve. You want to see him or her take the quality in the area you’ve selected to the next level. Provide clear, direct, and detailed feedback about that area alone. Don’t talk about problems per se; talk about setting new standards.

Once the person has improved in that area, pick another problem and work on it. Over time, if the person hasn’t been able to improve, since you’ve consistently and respectfully held the content conversations and worked to test your assumption about whether he or she is truly incapable of mastering the skill, you will have earned the right to have the larger relationship conversation.



WHAT IF A PERSON is totally out of line most of the time but threatens to file a grievance if you confront him? And the worst of it is that because of his special circumstances, he’d probably win. Then what?”

The Danger Point

It’s shocking to learn how many companies are stuck with one or more really unproductive employees who hold leaders hostage. Those employees have no interest in doing their jobs, fight legitimate work at every turn, make life miserable for everyone, and have cowed the supervisor. They rattle the saber of litigation, or they imply that they’ll take it all the way to the top or that they have dirt on someone. Outsiders routinely ask: “Why is that person still working here?”

The Solution

Resolve to hold the employee accountable. Meet with human resources and jointly develop a plan. Select a behavior that is out of line and indefensible. If necessary, clarify your standards regarding insubordination, resistance, and poor performance. Inform the employee that the action you’ve selected isn’t acceptable and will no longer be tolerated. Simultaneously assure the employee that your goal is for him or her to succeed.

Describe some of the more poignant and relevant natural consequences of the employee’s current behavior, such as being stuck in boring assignments and being rebuffed by colleagues. Take care to tell the person what will happen if he or she steps over the line. Once again, make sure that the employee knows that this is not what you want to have happen but is a step you will have to take to protect the interests of colleagues and the organization. Document the discussion. Watch the employee closely. Confront the first infraction immediately but respectfully and then start down the path of discipline. Don’t be held hostage.



WE’RE MAKING A BREAK with the past. It used to be that people looked the other way when you violated policy, but now we’re supposed to hold people accountable. How do you change the rules in the middle of the game?”

The Danger Point

Many organizations are just beginning to ask their employees to step up to a new level of initiative, teamwork, customer service, and so on. Unfortunately, despite leaders’ efforts to bring about change, slogans, buttons, and banners aren’t enough to transform a culture. Calling a group a team doesn’t make it a team. Telling your children they can no longer walk all over you may not reverse the results of a decade of weak parenting.

The Solution

You can’t solve long-standing problems if you haven’t let others know exactly what you want. With unclear expectations, you don’t have the right to confront individual violations. Confront the past. Without singling anyone out, outline for people the natural consequences of how things have been. For example, you may describe how saying yes to every urgent demand has caused you to have chronically poor quality and terribly costly operations. As you help people connect consequences with past behavior, you build moral authority for resetting expectations.

Illuminate your general vision of how things are going to be in the future with specific, identifiable, and replicable actions. Clarify dos and don’ts. Study best practices. Contrast what people used to do with what they need to do now. Then teach and focus on those specific actions. If you don’t know precisely what you’re looking for, you have no right to expect it. Only after you’ve clarified your new expectation do you have the right to begin having crucial confrontations with those who violate the new standards. More than a right, it will then be a responsibility.



A WOMAN WHO WORKS for me is always messing up the details. She’s not bad enough to be called incompetent, but she’s so borderline that you always worry about her work.”

The Danger Point

When someone is always doing marginal work, it can test your ability to have a clear and specific crucial confrontation:

“Okay, it’s not that you didn’t respond to the client; it’s that you didn’t do it in what I would call a prompt fashion and had a bad attitude when you did respond.”

Taking a vague and stilted position like this can be hard to defend and makes you vulnerable to arguments such as “You’re never satisfied no matter how hard I try.” Now it’s your problem, not theirs.

The Solution

Three factors set those who are adept at dealing with subtle, borderline behavior apart from the rest of the pack: research, homework, and connections.

First, you need to gather data. Have a conversation with the marginal performer about what she likes and doesn’t like about her current work situation. What are her frustrations, aspirations, and concerns? Approach your “research” conversation with a genuine desire to discover underlying barriers and then see if you can find ways to resolve them.

Next, scrupulously gather facts—from memory and observation—that will allow you to describe in illuminating detail the difference between mediocrity and excellence. This is crucial. Most people are so vague about that difference that they end up using the feel-good, mean-nothing terms that typically pepper pregame speeches, such as “Your attitude determines your altitude” and “We need you to give 110 percent.” This advice may make sense to those giving it but only confuses and insults the people who are supposed to change.

Ask yourself, What actual behaviors can I describe to make this distinction clear? Here is an example:

“I notice that after finishing a letter you skim it once then hit ‘send.’ When it’s going to an external recipient, I’ve found that it helps to take three extra steps: spell check and then grammar check it, reread it a couple of hours later, and then ask a reliable partner to read it thoroughly.”

You will not succeed at helping other people understand the gap between where they are and the vague objective of excellence unless you do the homework required to make your descriptions crystal-clear. Carefully gathering useful facts is the homework required for crucial confrontations.

Finally, connect your homework with your research. Explain how your recommendations will not only resolve others’ concerns but also help them achieve their aspirations. When you can make this link, your influence will increase enormously. If you can show the other person how the changes you’re recommending link to his or her own goals, there’s a good chance that the person will be motivated to learn and grow. If you can’t do that, don’t expect the person to improve.



WHERE I WORK OUR biggest problem can’t be discussed in public. We’re constantly given more work than we can manage, and then we have to pretend that we’re going to do everything. If you express your concern aloud, you’re treated like you’re not a team player.”

The Danger Point

Here’s a trick for getting people to do things you could never ask them to do without getting in trouble. The various branches of the military have been using this technique for years: They encourage recruits who are a few weeks ahead of the brand-new initiates to abuse their peers in ways that people in official positions of authority could never get away with. People will do things to their coworkers that would land their bosses in the slammer if they did the same things.

This is exactly what organizations do when nobody in authority ever says a word, writes a policy, or publishes a document that calls for an unhealthy workload. Who could do such a thing? Instead, bosses make unrealistic demands and then count on the fact that everybody will sit there and take it. Although it’s true that leaders may use their influence to push people to work insane hours or take on insane workloads, if employees put up with the abuse or watch others put up with it, everyone becomes a party to the problem. It’s a conspiracy of silence.

If new employees speak their minds about issues of work-life balance, they’re acutely aware of the fact that if they say something in public, they aren’t merely questioning the boss, they’re going toe to toe with the entire “culture.” And if they take on the culture, they won’t be seen as “team players.”

The Solution

This is a conversation that has to start with Mutual Purpose. Go straight for the issue of being a team player:

“I’d like to talk about a subject that most people don’t seem comfortable discussing in public. My goal is to make sure that we’re all able to contribute to the company and meet our objectives. I want to be a team player, and I want to understand what that takes.”

Next, blend facts and your tentative conclusions:

“There are times when I feel like we’re taking on assignments we know we can’t keep. I know I do. We look around the room and nobody is saying anything, so we all smile politely and agree. I get the sense that we’re hoping that others won’t be able to meet their obligations, and then, if they speak up first, we won’t get in trouble for missing our deadlines. It’s like playing chicken. Who will be the first to turn away from the head-on collision of a massive assignment soon to meet an impossible deadline? Could we talk about this subject, or am I the only one who sees it this way?”

At this point you’ll have to explore all the underlying sources that are leading to a culture of impossibility. Don’t point fingers; look for causes. Remember, the world around you has been perfectly organized to create a culture in which smart people are doing stupid things. What are you doing to each other? How many of the issues are structural? What’s going on in the environment that’s forcing people into such unfavorable circumstances?

This is a huge issue. It’s causing more stress with more people than most of us might imagine. As international competition increases and resources continue to be cut, hours increase. The workload goes from doable, to nearly impossible, to a joke. We’re now overworked, stressed, and dishonest.

One Final Note.

This is probably a conversation you want to have with several people in private before bringing it up in public. Unlike just about everything we’ve talked about until now, this is not a problem that is solved one to one because it’s part of the whole culture. But it is a problem that is best prepared one to one. Meet with several colleagues. See if others share your concerns. If they do, ask them to share their honest opinions when you do bring up the issue. Then go public.



I KEEP BRINGING UP THE SAME problems over and over, and my spouse and children continue in their old ways. It makes me feel like a nag, and I don’t want to be a nag.”

The Danger Point

Nagging is the home version of Groundhog Day. People repeatedly make the same mistake. We talk about the original infraction, but we don’t address the bigger issue: They’re continually making commitments and not keeping them.

The Solution

The second time a person fails to pick up her clothes off the bedroom floor or doesn’t put his dishes in the dishwasher or continues to squeeze the toothpaste in the middle of the tube, you have a new problem: That person has failed to live up to a promise. You are at a crossroads. You can confront the pattern. You can nag. You can cope.

Toothpaste tubes and dishes in the sink are the stuff nagging is made of: minor infractions, often repeated and often reprimanded. Nobody ever says, “My wife is such a nag. Every time I have an affair with a woman half my age, she makes a big deal about it.” Big issues, often repeated, are ongoing disasters. Little issues, often repeated—that’s nagging. Choose your battles.

If the original issue continues to bother you, talk about the pattern, but only if the original issue is worth it. Sometimes the infraction is just not worth the aggravation. This is a toothpaste tube we’re talking about. Maybe you should expand your zone of acceptance. If you choose to cope, explain to the other person that you’ve decided that it’s not worth arguing about the issue. You would prefer that he or she not squeeze the toothpaste tube in the middle, but you’re not going to bring it up again. Then let it go.



I WORK WITH A PERSON who is constantly making mistakes. Every conversation we have is about a problem. I get the feeling that he no longer listens to me. I walk in the room and the guy bristles. How do I problem-solve with a person with whom I have such a onesided relationship?”

The Danger Point

It’s hard to make it safe to talk about performance gaps when you have no relationship with the other person save for the occasional problem-solving discussion. Like it or not, every relationship has a tipping point. When the majority of your conversations turn into confrontations, the other person starts to wait for the other shoe to drop, no matter the topic, no matter your intent. You cease to be a force other than a nag.

The Solution

Get to know people under less strained circumstances, it matters a great deal. In fact, three separate studies conducted by the authors revealed that the single best predictor of satisfaction with supervision is frequency of interaction. And if your interactions are infrequent and only about problems, you’re really doomed. Every crucial confrontation starts off on the wrong foot. Others only hear your position; they never see you as a person.

So go out of your way to create a wider range of interactions. And when you do interact, feel free to let down your business persona and connect at a personal level. The very first leadership study the authors conducted revealed something rather astonishing. When those who were viewed by senior managers as top performers showed outsiders around their work area, they introduced their employees. They bragged about them. They shared interesting tidbits about their children. “Kelvin’s son is at the Naval Academy.” They had obviously talked about a whole host of topics and developed a personal relationship. Bottom performers, in contrast, showed outsiders the machines and products. They walked right by their people as if they weren’t even there.

So develop more full relationships. Take people to lunch. Don’t have an agenda, just talk. Walk around and casually chat about topics that interest the other person. And when you see “things gone right,” recognize people for doing a good job. Become a whole person, and not just a purveyor of problems. Create a healthier context for solving problems when they do come up.

As far as your family is concerned, if you don’t take a break from your busy schedules and take your teenagers to lunch, with no purpose other than hanging out together, you’ll eventually pass the family tipping point. No matter how wrong they may be or how often they may cause problems—no matter how called for the confrontations—at some point you’ll be seen as little more than an uncaring nag. Your motive will always be suspect. Your ability to have a broader influence by holding crucial confrontations becomes severely limited. So, don’t pass the tipping point. The more often others let you down, the harder you’ll have to work to create a well-balanced relationship.



THESE ARE LIFELONG PATTERNS we’re talking about. I’m not sure that I or any of the people around me can actually change. Reading is a lot easier than actually acting differently.”

The Danger Point

It’s easy to get discouraged when staring into the face of habit. When it comes to human interaction, much of what we do, we do almost without thinking. We follow lifelong scripts: well worn, familiar, and nearly automatic. We lay into our kids with the same ease and lack of thought typical of ordering fast food. We know what we’re going to say, we know what others are going to say, and we don’t even have to think about it. We could play either part.

How do you break away from lifelong habits?

It’s also easy to get discouraged when we know that we tried to make improvements in the past and failed. Ninety percent of those of us who have attempted to lose a few pounds have dropped and then regained the same weight so many times that we no longer believe our own stories: “This time I’m going to keep it off for sure. This time it’s different.” Or maybe it’s been an exercise program that has yielded a different mechanical contraption every year until the garage is bursting with nearly new aerobic ab machines, yet we still break into a sweat trying to open a jar of pickles. Or perhaps we made a commitment to eating healthier foods but sort of lost steam when we found ourselves stopping at a Fat Burger for a pick-me-up on the way to the health food store.

Accustomed to talking ourselves into short-term action that can’t be sustained, we become cynical self-doubters who are reluctant to start down one more trail we’ll never follow to the end.

So how do we stick to a plan?

The Solution

The good news is that nothing in this book is new or the least bit alien. The skills we teach weren’t discovered on the planet Krilnack. On your best day you do much of what every interpersonally smart person does. You step up to a crucial confrontation, work hard to ensure that you don’t fly off the handle or otherwise act stupid, and do a pretty good job. On your best day you are the kind of person the authors were studying when they isolated the best practices for dealing with failed promises.

You don’t have to change everything—just a few things—and maybe be a bit more consistent. Better still, you don’t have to change your underlying, immutable, “I-can’t-help-it-if-I-was-born-this-way” personality. To improve your results, you need to reshape a few of your thoughts and alter a few of your actions. That’s it. There is no need for a full-fledged genetic intervention, and frontal lobotomies are out of the question (save for recreational purposes).

To make this “tweaking of thoughts and words” easier, we have a few suggestions. First, studying this book is best done in pairs. Find one or more other people and share ideas. Develop goals, practice together, and support each other as you step up to new and untested crucial confrontations.

Whether you’re working in pairs or alone, pick one skill and work on it. Then do the same thing with another skill. Devote one hour a week for 10 weeks. That’s all it takes to bring about important changes. Set aside a time at home and at work when you will talk about issues that normally you would leave untouched. Finally, check out the support materials available at www.crucialconfrontations.com. Download the free material. Watch the video examples. Sign up for ongoing assistance and reminders. Pick one skill and work on it for a week. Eat the elephant of personal change one bite at a time.

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