Crucial Skills®

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Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

Crucial Conversations amidst Controversy

Dear Readers,

I created a firestorm with my response to last week’s question about the crucial conversations world leaders are having about climate change. Like most people, I obviously have my own views on global warming. However, I didn’t intend to write a political column and I am sorry it came out that way. I got more than 40 negative responses on the blog and our editor received several as well. Ben Semadeni echoes many readers’ reactions when he says, “I was disgusted with this column . . . It illustrates that even the ‘experts’ totally botch the process.” But then he goes on to say, “I’d love to see you take another stab at this topic.”

I like Ben’s suggestion. However, rather than dig back into the climate change content, I’d like to use this column for its real purpose—to learn about dialogue. I’d like to apply the crucial conversations principles to last week’s column and its resulting controversy. My guess is that we all find ourselves in this unfortunate position from time to time. I hope my transparent application of these conversation tools will also rebuild my relationship with some of you with whom I may have lost faith.

1. Explore Others’ Paths. Our readers are a pretty gentle crew, so when they write, “you’ve lost credibility,” “you’ve used this forum as a soap box,” and “what unprofessional text!” I know people are deeply upset. I’ve seen and felt the heat of their sentiments and to understand what I’ve done to cause these feelings I need to backtrack to the facts behind these stories.

Backtrack to Facts. Most of the letters I received focus on an assumption I made and never actually acknowledged. I now clearly see this oversight. In my response, I called four statements about climate change that leaders from the BASIC nations had agreed to as “facts.” While the leaders in their agreement also called them “facts,” they are better characterized as “conclusions.” Not only did I label these conclusions as “facts,” I also applauded their agreement because I felt it represented “progress in their dialogue.”

Here’s the rub. Many readers disagree with these “facts” and don’t see “progress” in this direction as a good thing. When I described these as “facts” and as “progress,” it caused these readers to question my credibility and motives. They saw this as an unfair use of the opportunity this forum provides me.

2. Start With Heart. I need to look inside myself and decide what my goals are.

Work on me first. My honest, first reaction to the criticisms was frustration because I felt most comments didn’t deal with what I saw as the topic I’d addressed. Instead of focusing on Copenhagen and the dialogue and disagreements between world leaders, readers focused on disagreements they have with world leaders. That wasn’t my topic.

However, I see now that this reaction on my part was a way of bypassing people’s legitimate frustration with my use of this column.

Focus on what I really want. I need to ask what I really want. As far as this forum is concerned, what I really want is for people to discuss dialogue and influence skills in a way that advances our shared understanding. And I want to be fair and honest in my author role. I really don’t care about advancing or exchanging facts about any political agenda. In the article, I included an undiscussed assumption that many readers saw as a political position, and that was not my intention.

3. Restore Mutual Respect and Mutual Purpose. This is where actions speak louder than words. I care deeply about this forum, so let me begin.

Mutual Respect. I’ve violated mutual respect in two ways. I’ve disrespected some of you by stating a position in a way that came across as underhanded; and I’ve shared an opinion that some of you see as naïve or misguided. I want to apologize to you and clarify my intent.

I’ll try to “practice what we preach” by using a contrasting statement. I didn’t mean to be underhanded. I did try to answer the question posed by one of our readers. Here is what happened. The way the original question was posed (“what dialogue should world leaders have?”) and the way the leaders in Copenhagen framed their agreement (“we’ve agreed on these facts”) created a blind spot that I didn’t see.

I was narrowly focused on the Copenhagen dialogue and failed to remember the broader dispute. As a result, it didn’t occur to me that readers who disagree with global warming would be offended. It was never my intent to either persuade others to accept global warming or to offend readers who don’t accept global warming. I’m sorry I was insensitive to your views.

Mutual Purpose. I see our purpose as building and sharing dialogue skills. We’re not a forum for presenting political views. I will redouble my efforts to avoid doing so. At the same time, we’d like to be able to examine topical political dialogue. We think social and current issues are rich turf for crucial conversations. It would be a shame to put them totally off limits.

I hope you will see this week’s column as more consistent with our community’s purpose. I’ve tried to share how I am applying our dialogue principles to my dilemma. I did not want this to simply be an apology because that would be misusing its purpose as well. Rather, I wanted to demonstrate that I care about what we teach by showing how it helped me through a tough week.


You can learn more insights and skills like this in Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

143 thoughts on “Crucial Conversations amidst Controversy”

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  2. Walter Balk

    When I read the column, I thought: “David is truly testing the ability of his readers to step away from their reptile brains, be it that they love his take on climate change, or that they wholeheartedly disagree with it.” It goes to show that even amongst all of us CC nerds it’s a reptilian jungle out there when hot-button topics are raised!

  3. Philip Greiner

    Dear David,

    You did a nice job applying the crucial conversations methods to this situstion. I found it interesting that, to the left side of your column on my webview, was a small piece on dueling monologues and learning to listen, not disaprove! Those who found fault with your prior column should practice the “learn to listen” aspect. You could have use any of the right wing or Tea Party rhetoric to make your point, and possibly irked some of the more liberal readers. The point is the conversation and the ability to at least listen to what others are saying. Keep up the good work on this column! Phil

  4. Dorothy Gray

    I wish everyone posting blogs could bring to their work (and thinking) this model. It is painful to me to read what is currently posted in so many blogs in so many places—name calling, exaggeration, “information” that is so distorted that it is hard to find any grain of “truth”–all these cutting off the possibilies of meaningful connection and communication. I would love it if blogs everywhere would include this column as a way to encourage dialogue instead of diatribe. Cyberspace would be a nicer place!

  5. Millie Watkins

    I learn the most from real life applications amd I want to thank you for your analysis of last week’s “mistake”. It’s nice to know that even the guys who write about this stuff have to think intentionally about how to apply it and that slip ups aren’t the end of the world if we use them to refocus. I agree that social and political issues are a great context for applying the principles of communication that you write about when they are discussed with language that opens dialog and offers opportunity for multiple perspectives to be heard respectfully. Thanks for your “do over.”

  6. Jill Birch

    Thanks for the clarification and courage, David. We often learn so much more as we backtrack and try again and then have the grace to offer that to others.

  7. david specht

    what were readers upset about withyour climate change column? not clear to me – was it people who dont think climate change is real or people who think the threat is understated?

  8. Kim Blatt

    Thank you for being so good as to use this experience as a teaching one for all of us and on behalf of reasonable people who appreciate what you are doing here, I apologize for the narrow minded who attacked you. It is a glowing example of how a narrow world view can affect people in all aspects of their lives. In other words they were so focused on serving their cause that they couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

  9. Beth Keith

    Well done – I was not offended by your comments last week but if I had been I believe you have demonstrated use of the principles routinely shared in this column. thanks

  10. Glenda Keiper

    A very insightful and appreciated column. Sometimes, it’s not enough to just stop digging when one is in a hole. Knowing that at some point, whether in personal relationships or professional, I will inadverently offend, I will remember this column as the right way to climb out of the hole I have dug.

  11. Emma

    Wow! I think what you wrote originally would not have had such a reaction in Europe and I am extremely worried that climate change is seen as a position of faith/belief or opinion amongst your American audience. This has been a major shock to me and opened my eyes. Just reading the replies to your original email is making me very very upset – but also making me realise how important crucial conversations are.

    I agree that the “facts” you presented were more like conclusions (e.g. we don’t know for sure whether limiting the climate change to 2 degrees is sufficient or too strict). And “developed countries and developing countries will have to follow different paths” is a political decision, rather than a scientific one.

    But the comments you got back didn’t even attempt to hold a crucial conversation. Statements like “The problem that I see appears to be this: the Global Warming “man-caused” team will not look at the solar cycle inputs, or have dismissed them.” are blatantly untrue. Indeed there are several satellites up in space that are checking total solar irradiance at the moment.

    So to accuse you of putting opinions as facts, and then respond by doing the same… Oh dear, oh dear.

    I was absolutely fascinated by your previous column – and I’d still be interested in hearing how you would have applied your influencer skills to that – but maybe you’ll have to make up an alternative situation.

    May I suggest one?

    An issue that would be a lot less controversial to your American readers – in the UK we’ve just got our first coalition government for a very long time. A lot of commentators are saying it can’t work. I’d be interested to know how you would advise two parties that have some very strong disagreements on policy to work together to achieve a strong government at a time of economic difficulty. I advise we don’t discuss what those differences are.

  12. larry siebauer

    I agree you/the site have lost respect and credibility. If you did not intend to push an agenda then why pick that topic? There are plenty of other dialogs to choose from.

    Saying: ” I really don’t care about advancing or exchanging facts about any political agenda. In the article, I included an undiscussed assumption that many readers saw as a political position, and that was not my intention.”

    On its face is dishonest or you are unable/unwilling to see your own bias. Not uncommon of course. I will be terminating my email link subscription I am not interested in political opinion subscriptions.

  13. Randy Washburn

    Thanks for clearing up the issue, somewhat.
    I am a scientist with a physics degree and I have studied Climate Science extensively for more than three of the last four years.
    AGW is baseless and cannot be considered as science regardless of who makes that claim. There is a scientific method which we, scientist, are all bound to follow before we can make any credible claim or theory. AGW fails to follow the process of even close to that flow. Descartes (1596-1650) laid out a simple plan for science which begins with: Accept nothing as true which you do not clearly recognize to be so. Rather than look for the real causes of climate change certain politicians look at how they can profit and gain power. All the Climate Change theory is based solely on Man-made Computer Models which are inherently flawed because they fail to consider major climate factors and they fail to accurately equate the logrithmic thermal effects of CO2 concentration. In other words they are programed to show what certain politicians want them to say in order to continue to receive Billions in grants.

    Descartes again: Sceptics only doubt for the sake of doubting and pretend to be always uncertain…Provide oneself with good ground for assurance.

    I am not AGW sceptic, I am assured that AGW is bad science.

    I have spent four years exporing the other’s path and find that it is baseless.
    I do start with heart because what our Government is planning to do will cost everyone and do nothing. It is a waste of tax dollars and time.
    There is a problem with restoring mutual respect regarding a blatant set of lies and scare tactics politicians entend to use to gain more power and control over our everyday lives (tyranny).

    Thanks for your time.

  14. Patricia Otter

    David, While I applaud your respectful and heartfelt response, I find it sad that so many readers launched into attack mode. We are all human and make mistakes and oversights. Those readers made assumptions about your motivations and purpose. They are certainly entitled to do so but I think this is an example of readers expecting perfection of writers just as employees expect perfection of their superiors. We all make mistakes and if we remind ourselves of that before we respond to an article or converse with our co-workers, we would live in a gentler world.

  15. Jason Hamilton

    What a fantastic column this week! Your description of the process and agreement amongst world leaders shows them going through the steps of crucial conversation and lets us as your audience see application to real world, real crucial situations. The separation between them finding shared purpose and the shared purpose of you and your readers is a superb description, rather than a knee jerk apology or a promise to only discuss bland politically neutral topics in the future. Taking the “crucial” out of future columns would lessen our ability as your audience to internalize the process and see potential for having crucial conversations in the controversial areas in our own lives and think that conversations are best reserved for those areas with total agreement.

  16. Marcia Buckingham

    I believe that some of your readers may have also violated Mutual Respect by assuming you had an agenda.

  17. Ed Cotter

    I’m confused on where the complaint is. I have re-read the original and the current. Granted you did mention facts, but what I took from the original was that the world leaders need to agree to a dialogue and not resort to silence/violence. Then once dialogue has been established, they need to move to action and not let the dialogue be empty words.

    I like the way you incorporated Crucial Conversation skills into an actual event rather than just discussing the skill. Application is so much more understandable and tangible than a dictionary explanation. I can read a book to get that.

    This is the second time people have commented negatively about a segment. Personally, I don’t feel people are being liberal enough to allow others to try to express themselves as well as impart learning in the process. I appluad your efforts. It’s those reading and complaining that I feel have missed the bigger picture, intent and understanding.

  18. David Peebles

    Thanks, David. I didn’t comment on the article last week, but I did share the same concerns about your example. Are you sure you didn’t do that on purpose in order to have such a great article this week? 🙂

  19. Gale Boggs

    How nit-picky. Now we have to carefully watch every word we state and how we say it. I am totally disgusted with people who read more into words than should be.

  20. Christine R. Carver

    David, I was actually heartened by last week’s column about climate change. It was something that built credibility for me. And I was really eager to see what else would be forthcoming, as I have never been in the past with this newsletter.
    I reviewed it after reading this week’s column and I agree that it could have been improved in some respects, but I gather from what you are saying that many readers would have objected to the topic, no matter what was written. And that reaction is further evidence of what you referred to as ” the silence or violence” that has dominated this topic in recent years.
    I commend you. I wish I had said this a week ago to counterbalance the many objections. And I encourage you to continue this discussion on how to discuss the issue of climate change. It is a crucial conversation that the world must engage in. I have found it increasingly difficult to function in a world dominated by people whose world view is so at odds with mine. I don’t appreciate being “shouted down”, as you apparently were, by people who who make no effort to understand an alternative point of view. Furthermore I don’t like their resort to labeling those of us who are concerned about climate change as being merely “political”. This really shuts down dialogue and I find that very discouraging. We really need the exercise in how to address topics that are accompanied by so much polarization.

  21. Dave Evans

    Thanks David, I appreciate your efforts to refocus on the purpose of the column. I am Canadian, and I find that the real issue with politics in my country is the acrimony, antagonism and partisanship that surrounds decision making, as opposed to finding mutual purpose. If your message is that we need to work together on what we have in common, despite underlying differences in people’s belief systems, I am in complete agreement. Hopefully that message is not lost due to your political “faux pas”.

  22. James Paterson

    Hi David,
    Sorry to hear of the controversy; I have followed this series inculding the last two and have learned alot about crucial conversations. I truly feel your response to last weeks question was focused on a an important dialogue, not a political commentary. Keep up the good work.

  23. Jim Garland


    I, too, was turned off by what I read as a foregone assumption of facts in your article last week. Rather than write an angry letter in complaint, I simply quit reading and hit the Delete key, as I’m sure many others did (i.e. the Silence response).

    Thank you for writing this follow-up, I read it with much interest. I heartfully agree with your conclusion that an apology alone would not have satisfied. Rather, your approach to use crucial conversation skills to understand and repair the breakdown in dialogue was more than just ‘consistent’ with this venue, it was truly insightful. You demonstrated abmirably that you possess both the ability and the willingness to explore and question the assumptions we make and communicate, and in the process you’ve provided an excellent real-world application of the principles for us to learn from. Well done!

  24. Jeanette Heacock

    Thank you David,
    First for attempting to dissect a sensitive political matter to help us “see” the dialog centric use of crucial conversation skills.
    Secondly, for role modeling the process by your response.

    Your experience resonates how very difficult it is for us to get “out of content” to talk context and get back into relationship and dialog when the subjects are highly emotionally charged. What better forum that political topics of the day. Yes, you will be challenged to demonstrate the mechanics with sufficient neutrality to avoid being perceived as “pitching an agenda”. But,..I would encourage you to be courageous and continue this vision in your pursuits.

  25. Laura

    David, I think you’re being a bit too hard on yourself. Some peoples’ obsession and hypersensitity regarding environmental issues, I believe, is at the heart of these negative reactions. You are primarily about crucial conversations rather than political commentary, but that doesn’t mean you have to be paranoid about occasionally sharing an opinion of your own. It’s rather ironic from my point of view that those interested in the value of crucial conversations and I assume hoping to improve themselves in this regard reacted in this manner to your column.

  26. Anne Alexander

    I agree with Christine. You did a great job modeling what happened using the Crucial Conversation skills. As a small business coach and consultant, the longer I work with business owners, the more I see how indeed CRUCIAL is the ability to have crucial conversations. There is so little of it. We need to read about and practice with all kinds of situations to gradually learn the skills. One of my clients said this week that she feels she’ll never get this (I give the Crucial Conversations/Confrontations books to most of my clients and we work on the skills). I told her it was like learning to talk – THAT took you quite a while, but eventually you got pretty good at it! My feeling is we’re all always learning. And yes, if only we could have good conversations around hot political topics, how much more progress we could make.

  27. Diana Barcus

    Thank you David for the original column and for the clarification. I agree that using topical political dialogue for examples is a terrific way for us all to learn. I really appreciate the newsletter and the valuable work that you all are doing to increase the use of crucial conversations. For a civil society to work, we must be civil (and work together!) and Crucial Conversations offers real and practical tools to help us all behave in a civil manner and provide that opening so those with different views can work together.

  28. Charles Pfeffer

    Nice job taking a misunderstanding and turning it into a learning opportunity. By stepping back from the content and reviewing the process, you helped me see how I might approach dialogue about other controversial content. I believe that we have many, many controversial topics to converse about in the World: immigration, same sex marriage, race and other topics. The more polarized the positions, the more important it is for people with skill and an authentic interest in discovering common ground to help create the conditions for dialogue. Disagreement does not have to be disagreeable. Hey, didn’t you guys say that?
    Keep the controversial topics coming!

  29. Kathleen

    David, thank you for today’s article. While I was not personally offended in any way with your article on climate change, I know that this topic has many charged sentiments. As always you and the staff at Crucial Conversations are able to sort through the issues and speak to the underlying issues of respect and tolerance for differing opinions – that is what is most important in any dialogue. I hope you have a wonderful week and again, thank you for your thoughtful article.

  30. Lil

    Dear David,
    I am curious, 40 negative responses, roughly what % would that be? I was thinking less than 5%. I find it very interesting that so many folks chose to be offended, and strongly so. Although I also did not agree with all of the content (based on the groups approach) I was in no way offended. I find that folks who tend towards offense can find many reasons to be offended. It also appears that those folks may be missing the “lesson” for themselves if they moved in and came from any other place then understanding. Your readdress is very well done. one of the great challenges in facilitating is that you do not get to put words in their mouth, but use the words, content, that is presented to help folks get to where they want to go. Have a better week 🙂 I’m still reading 🙂 Sincerely, Lil

  31. TheoTv

    Interesting. What is the difference between the facts about climate change and the conclusions of scientists and leaders? What constitutes fact? What separates fact from opinion? People confuse and state their opinions as facts often and unabashedly. If we could stack up the facts about global warming into two stacks for and against and give each fact a “thickness value of the width of a US penny” which stack would be higher and by how much? If the pro climate change is real stack is 10% higher does that means the pro facts for outwegh the facts against therefore the facts indicate climate change is real? Can we afford to ignore the possibility that climate change is real and that increaing warmth is a danger to our survival? Is it not a fact that if the climate becomes too warm it will endanger life as we know it? Is it not a fact that too warm temperature in many place around the world have already had a negative inpact on those local economies? Home many facts will it take until we see too many people could die?

  32. Coleen

    sorry to hear about the negative feedback. otoh, i thought after reading the original column, hmmm, just what we need someone with crucial skill capacity helping to guide a fruitful dialogue. i wondered why someone with those skills shouldn’t also be involved in the process. i enjoyed that first posting along with each one i receive weekly. thanks for writing.

  33. Rebecca Atwood

    Wow, I certainly didn’t have the same reaction as some folks. I saw it as a simple presentation of an example of how folks can come together in agreement. Your dissection (probably not the best word) of this was very well done. I think that when a topic is political, some folks see what they think they see or want to see, rather than what is really there. Keep up the good work and shrug off the zingers!

  34. Chuck Blevins


    I guess you did not intend to set up the situation but I think that you used it well to teach the value and principles of crucial conversations. I applaud your response to the heavy criticism.

  35. Ms Allison

    Beautiful and humble. Very well done. I aspire to be able to think and communicate in this fashion.

  36. Laurie Hayes

    Your column last week was great. Keep using current topics to teach us Crucial Conversation and Influencer techniques. Thanks for all you do. Laurie H

  37. Sheri Eadie

    Interesting column. In all honesty, when I saw the title of last week’s column, I thought, “What a weird topic for this forum,” and deleted it!

    I appreciate your openness with this week’s column. What a lesson to all of us about crucial conversations! Some of the responses were good examples of what we do NOT want to say in conversations!

    You are correct that “social and current issues are rich turf for crucial conversations,” and learning how to work with conversations in sensitive areas is a good skill for us to develop/enhance.

  38. pascal evrard

    Dear David,

    I am a french reader of your book and inted to test your method in my company.
    I was very interested in your article on climate change topic and waited with impatience your ideas about the influencer strategy on that subject.
    So, what a disappointment to read your last paper!
    As a scientist, I am very surprised with the comments adressed to you. I wonder if these persons readed the IPCC reports (facts) and made their own opinion or if they just consider climate change as an inconvenience for their business or political belief (own story). The situation is more or less the same in Europe.
    As an influence student, I am anxious because I fear you never will write on that subject again. What I really want is to have your ideas on that problem I consider as an excellent exemple for influence strategy. So, could you inform me about your ideas ? I promish I will keep these informations for my own !
    Thank you, and thank you for your very interesting book.
    Best regards.

    Pascal Evrard
    Véolia Environnemental Services

  39. Kris Crawford

    Thank you, thank you and thanks again. The timing of both your initial article and your follow up to the comments is an excellent exercise in application of crucial conversation skills, that I am going to use with my direct reports. They recently approached me — after the results of a ‘not handled so well’ situation had been escalated to my attention — asking for guidance on what they could have done differently, both individually and collectively. And, I was looking for a safe arena around which to build tangible insight and replace self-doubt with existing and improved capability.

    I plan to take your initial article, as stage one. And, ask that they each determine how they personally feel about your article. Stage two. I will share the comments, and ask that they try to put themselves in the shoes of others to gain their perspective, solely as an exercise.

    And, then stage 3, will be this week’s article, which truly gets to the crux of the matter, which is demonstrating the subtleties of crucial conversations.

    I am looking forward to the exercise and how I anticipate it can help with the application of existing skills and competencies of my staff in a safe environment.

    Okay, so maybe another thank you. Keep up these eMails, they are forever helping me to grow as a director in the best ways.

  40. Knut Olav

    The skills of Crucial Conversation is for me a tool for describing the world as it is. For example, I have learned to change an expression like “that is ugly” into “i think that is ugly”, in order to describe the world more exact. It gets wrong to say “that is ugly” when people disagree about it, and then I have to reformulate the sentence into reality.

    When there has been a consensus among the world leaders that we have to do something about the climate change, it falls natural to say that “we need to do something with the climate”. When someone disagrees, the formular gets wrong, the right ting to say is that “I think, and the world leaders think we need to to something about the climate change”.

    When we make a mistake by describing the world wrong, we must make an apology, and make a new try into describing the world right.

  41. Salley

    Somehow I missed the whole thing. I guess I didn’t read your last newsletter. I could feel the vulnerability and the connection you were creating. Thank you for doing some great modeling of the tools!

  42. Doris Ross

    David, I appreciate your response in this week’s newsletter. Actually I though you role modeled how to react in a situation that you did not forecast when you had your original conversation. I believe that happens more often than we like when we are a strong personality with strong opinions. Thank you.

  43. troubled

    I work in the healthcare field where crucial conversation training has been given and promoted by HR. However, as a leader, we are not able to take on these crucial conversations we promote staff to take on in saving lives and promoting patient safety. I report to someone who lack ability to take on crucial conversations in support of his colleagues, avoids conflicts at any cost and as such, lies about some of the decisions or actions he/she has taken that results in conflict. How does one deal with such a lack of leadership and support?

  44. Sue Miller

    I actually thought your column from last week was quite good and
    people should have seen what you were trying to do as well as the
    content. My only criticism of this weeks column is disrespect is
    a noun and not a verb. You show disrespect or have a lack of respect
    for someone. You cannot “disrespect” them contrary to popular useage.
    Can you tell this is a pet peeve of mine?

  45. Jacalyn Hudson Miller

    Wow, I missed it all! as our 18 yr. old daughter had emergency facial surgery. Nothing like a family crisis to put one’s priorities in place, fast….I just read your “apology article” without the background article, and in the sum total of things, David, your “mistake” as you see it now seems a mosquito on a windshield to me 😉 Can’t we just respect and care for each other, and all try our best? (without over-analyzing, that is…)You are still a Master Communicator in my books. Keep up the good work! (and continue to avoid political discussions, lol)

  46. Rob

    I think what you’ve uncovered here are some entrenched positions that are not even open to the suggestion that there might be other “facts”. That makes any kind of dialogue nearly impossible. I would recommend to the negative emailers that they see this as an opportunity to improve their listening & always to be open to other opinions (not that you intentionally or otherwise stated any opinions). It doesn’t mean to change ones mind, but be open to hearing the other side. If we cannot do that, then dialogue and progress on any issue is impossible. I regularly listen to those that have different opinions than mine & sometimes I hear things I agree with or am persuaded to agree with. It’s actually quite heartening to find common ground with those that you generally disagree with or even find distateful.

  47. lindsay morris

    I am shocked at the number of people who DON’T believe that climate change is happening. I read all of last week’s comments. I wonder what energizes that side of the argument.

    Perhaps the “climate skeptics” prefer denial to the discomfort of addressing a real problem. How does one converse with people who are firmly set into a belief system – a belief system that flies in the face of evidence?

  48. Dave Milefchik

    Well done. You took an understandable misunderstanding of your motives and applied the skills of Crucial Conversations for all to witness. Misunderstanding of motives is common, especially in politically charged topics, and it is not surprising you are a recipient as well. Thanks for the teach.

  49. Krissy Gallardo

    I have been saving and recommending your weekly comments for years, through numerous organizations. I use them to train Last week’s article was the first one I SERIOUSLY considered tossing. For the reasons you so eloquently captured in your response, I was offended.

  50. Carla Babb

    I really value your columns and when i read last week’s i did not have the same reaction some of your readers expressed to you. THough I do question the accuracy of some of the data our world leaders profess regarding climate change I felt your column was speaking to the point we all need to understand – when we disagree with others…even on big, important world topics, there is a way to find common ground and to gain common understanding for differing opinions. I think you made this point very clear this week. Congratulations.

  51. Krissy Gallardo

    Sorry – I hit ‘tab’. I wanted to say that I save and use these weekly columns for the very reasons that you shared in your response today. You practice what you say — and I deeply appreciate it. Your credibility is restored!

  52. Josh Dughi


    I missed your column of last week, and though I haven’t had the fortune of having corporate sponsorship to attend your courses (I’m a network engineer) – my quest started with improving first, anger-management, and then, second, become more adept at interacting with my peers and bosses.

    I take your lesson-learned to heart. In my way, you handled it properly – though I have to admit that I’m still learning the subtleties.

    Thank you for sharing.


  53. Peter Huisman

    I have to say I was a little disheartened by many of the comments to last week’s column as it seemed to me that many didn’t utilize the tools or critical conversations in their responses that we are all trying to incorporate in our dialog.

    When I read last week’s column I suspected that the facts as stated in the article would present a difficult obstacle for many people. You might say a tipping point, or tripping point, where many might stop ‘listening’ and begin to react instead of respond.

    I have tripped and fallen into that trap more times than I’d like to admit. Mastering my stories has helped and I work hard to notice when I’m no longer listening. For me one of the warning signs is how badly I want or need to convince someone how right I am, but more, how wrong they are.

    Magic exits, words have the power to cast spells, advertisers and news agencies know this. To protect ourselves and improve the level of debate in this country each of us must become aware of our tripping points and recognize when we are reacting rather then responding.

    (Did my use of the word magic trip you up?)

  54. Dan Killebrew

    Now it sounds condescending in that sensitivity is required for those not on board with the position that global warming exists.

  55. Jeff Steiner

    That was a really good recovery after quite a stumble last week. I think you hit the nail on the head in your understanding of why some of us were a bit disenchanted last week. A simple acknowledgement that the so-called experts “facts” are held in question by many credible and respectable scientists was the main element necessary for you to keep the focus on the world leaders’ dialogue rather than the real questions that exist about whether global warming 1) exists and 2) is propagated by man. Keep up the great work.

  56. Stephen Ruten

    Like you I have my own opinions about global warming and have decided to keep them. Besides, you could have picked a different topic such as abortion vs adoption and probably caused a much worse “storm” response! Unfortunately, the USA will continue to remain divided by political boundaries until everyone learns how to debate without taking things as if they are personal attacks upon our own self character or our family history. I recently had someone send my boss a email message stating they had a personal problem with me over something I never said. He stated this in front of some elected officials and was told quickly by one of them that they do not believe I ever made that statement and that it did not sound like something I would ever say. The controversy ended immediately ! When I later met with that person it was never brought up! It made me wonder why anyone would want to put words in my mouth when I would never make such a statement. I cannot help but wonder why that person would want me fired over something I never said and my feelings were hurt. I know that I will never receive an apology from that person for making that claim. After reflecting upon it I decided to pray for that person as they might have more pain in their life than they can endure and it probably has caused them much grief over the years. It worked for me ! Hope your day is bright.
    Thank you,

  57. Ruth Oppedahl


    I applaud you for using climate change as a topic for your last column. I saved that column on my computer as an honest attempt to tackle a huge communication problem. Climate change is in dire need of communication strategies that will allow people to have productive discussions, even if they disagree. As you experienced in your comments, it is almost impossible to have a rationale conversation about climate change without it devolving into personal attacks on values and beliefs.

    As an educator on natural resources, I now frame the issue as one of risk management. I have given up on trying to reach consensus on the “facts” as very few people actually read the scientific reports to try and learn the facts. However, the _risks_ are readily apparent. Industries such as the insurance business and energy corporations (Exxon Mobil) for several years have been taking these risks (more intense storms, increased flooding, rising sea levels, increased energy costs) into account in their rate planning, strategic planning and facility planning. It is simply smart business to do good risk management.

    So perhaps the shared pool of information can start with the risks, which are apparent and we are dealing with right now, rather than trying to agree on the fundamental “facts”.

    What do you think of this approach? It’s leap-frogging beyond trying to find fundamental agreement, and instead tries to find agreement at an action level.

    Thank you for trying your best to talk about this and sharing the results!

  58. Kimberly

    Wow. Thoroughly enjoyed your response to the original column. Provided me with a lot of insight. My first reaction when I started reading was to be defensive, and I didn’t even write the original column!!!! I suppose I reacted that way because I know how I would have felt if something I had written had caused such a firestorm. I would have been hurt and felt attacked, which would have initiated the need to defend myself. I learned so much from you in how you handled this. Thank you for providing the response.

  59. Janet Covey

    Well done! As the old saying goes it’s usually best to avoid the topics of money, religion, and politics. Even among friends.

  60. Robin Harris

    Not being the sharpest tool in the shed, I have a large gap or hole in my understanding of the techniques in Crucial Conversation. Where in the book (which I have yet to finish) do I find information on “testing” the biases people may have with the topic at hand? If I knew them, might I conduct the conversation differently?

  61. Laura

    Thank you David for making a second attempt at this article. I appreciated this approach. Whether its climate change, healthcare reform, gay marriage or any other hot button issue, we all find ourselves in situations of controversy with family members, friends and colleagues. Your approach reminds us that no matter our position on an issue, the skills you teach can be applied in any situation and can lead to better dialogue and greater understanding.

  62. Sharli Frederiksen

    I am very impressed with your article today – although I was also impressed with the one last week. I really should take the time more often to tell you (all of you) that – rather than letting only the “negatives” speak up. I must admit – I tend to avoid unhappy things and would have found it very difficult to do what you did this week – your introspection and commitment to make it right are very inspiring! You model excellent leadership and much courage. Thank you.

  63. Mathieu Federspiel

    I would be interested in knowing your take on this book:

    “Why we disagree about climate change : understanding controversy, inaction and opportunity”
    by Hulme, M. (Michael)

    Parts of what Hulme says reflect what you describe, using different language. He, of course, goes deeper into the issue than you can in this format.

    What I would like to be able to apply is the ability to discuss this with others who disagree with my view. While I try to understand where they come from, they usually only want to talk emotions. This is an emotional issue, and while world leaders struggle and fail, so do I in trying to get others to hear my beliefs. Using your insights, Mr. Maxfield, and Mr. Hulme’s and others, I hope to be able to do that.

  64. Nita Zelenak

    What a great opportunity your “firestorm” has created! I wonder if anyone used the “State” format in their emails to you, bringing up their conflict with your article?

    It surprised me that people thought you were pushing a political agenda. That sounds like an assumption to me, and it never entered my mind as a possibility because I’ve never seen anything like that from your organization yet.

    You did initially lose credibility with me with last week’s article. My disappointment was that you called conclusions by a certain group of people “facts”.

    My reaction was “How could an expert in communication and influencing people so totally miss it by calling such a controversial assumption/conclusion a “fact? He will offend everyone who doesn’t believe those are facts.” But everyone makes mistakes and you redeemed yourself this week by acknowledging your error in calling an assumption a “fact.”

    To me, an important lesson from this firestorm is the lesson about the damamge that can happen when we call assumptions “facts”. It shuts down the dialogue between disagreeing parties.

    By the way, was there anyone who brought up their disagreement with you in an agreeable way? Nita

  65. lynne smith

    This just goes to show, no matter how skilled you are in these techniques, there’s no accounting for people’s political biases and immovable opinions. If someone is absolutely determined to be insulted, they will be, even if you are a master at crucial conversations. It also shows politics is no answer because people don’t care about “facts” only their posture. How sad in this so-called enlightened age. I hope those people who berated you have flood insurance.

  66. Janet

    I do not understand why you are back-pedaling.

    You are surely entitled to your opinion on a matter that is so crucial to our planet.

    Most thinking people would agree with your earlier column and you do not need to compromise your views, just because a few people get huffy and label it a political statement.

  67. Rob

    @larry siebauer
    Correction: you are not interested in hearing political ideas that differ from your own. Don’t you find it interesting that you will go to the point of cancelling your email subscription just because the author “may have… or you suspect may have” offered a political opinion that you disagree with?

  68. Jesse Taylor

    Kudos, David! I am just beginning my quest to improve using Crucial Conversations and it was indeed heartening to me to know that even one of the creators of this tool can slip from time to time and have to fall back on the tools to get the conversation back on track. Politics is one of the two most passionate topics for anyone and because of the passion it can be easy to backslide into the old traps. Thank you for walking the walk and putting CC to work. It is an example I will carry with me.

  69. Ana Rosas

    Well done. I wish more leaders would acknowledge when they completely go in another direction and do not explain themselves more clearly. They run around with an entire entourage and still make the wrong point.

  70. Dele Lowman

    While I found it curious that Vital Smarts was addressing such a politically charged topic as climate change, my initial concerns were allayed after I read the column. I felt that you treated the issue dispassionately and gave clear examples of how to apply CC principles and practices to a difficult and important topic.

    I am dismayed to learn about the backlash you all experienced from some of your readers, which leads me to believe that the partisan divide in this country is out of hand. How intolerant must one be to react so strongly to someone simply discussing a topic you don’t agree with? I’m attending a conference on civility in public discourse, which is a topic sorely need of attention these days. (I see a CC opportunity here!) I hope these readers will apply the CC principles to themselves to become more tolerant and civil and not so reactive.

  71. CS Enfield

    What an excellent demonstration of the principles of Crucial Conversations. Thank you for last week and this week.

  72. Kim Clarke

    Thank you for this fantastic opportunity to learn and grow. I did not read the column last week. Teaching in this manner has taken my understanding of crucial conversations to a new level resulting in increased confidence in my ability to co-create a respectful, considerate, and forward focused environment with those in my circle of influence.

  73. Laura

    @Krissy Gallardo If you have been saving and using the columns consistently for years, and this one came along and offended you (which I don’t relate to), maybe you should ask yourself whether you truly ought to be offended, and whether you might need to chalk this one up to your own lack of understanding about David’s motives, intent, etc., or simply lack of understanding about the way this subject matter was communicated. Crucial Conversations gurus ought to be more savvy in this regard than the average Joe.

  74. Belinda Smith

    Climate Change Denialists are a small but vocal group who could have any number of their friends commenting on your column. I would take their actions with a grain of salt. The vast majority of us are witnessing climate change in our own backyards, so don’t worry, and keep up the good work!

  75. Nina


    I just want to give you a word of encouragement. Like many people, my opinion regarding global warming changed when the frauds were uncovered. Still, I did not write to complain about the underlying premises of your example dialogue in the first column, because I totally understood that the acceptance or non-acceptance of global warming theory was not the point of the column. I now feel bad that I did not write in to tell you I thought the column was quite good, for what it was intended to be. Good job on the first column, and I am sorry you had to write the second column.

  76. Liz

    David, this week’s columns was fine, and I learned from it, but I wouldn’t worry too much about the negative comments from the last column. People need to chill out and realize you were walking them through a process for productive conversation, not taking sides on global warming.

  77. Taffy Davis

    So, instead of creating a villian, then publically flogging the person when the emotions took over, didn’t people ask, “Why would a reasonable, rational,and decent person do this?” Because choosing examples of world leaders in, or not in dialogue is a great example. No apology necessary.

  78. Constance McFarland

    This whole commentary does nothing more than point out how extreme politics have become, and in my opinion, social media is a contributing factor. It is easy to “send” a message and not have to deal with immediate face-to-face feedback from another living, breathing, feeling, human being. Everybody needs to learn and practice, practice, practice, crucial conversation skills!! Each of our individual opinions are subject to change as the pool of shared knowledge expands. Keep up the good work David!!

  79. Vincenza

    Thanks for the brilliant example of the model. I’m new to Crucial Conversations, but certainly not new to conversations gone wrong. Your step-by-step application was a wonderful reinforcement. Thanks!

  80. Barbara Knutson

    Thank you so much David for your humble and honest working through of the communication skills needed for this example of exchange. As I worked through your example, I thought through a current situation that was similar and resolved by way of your example of how I should best respond and hopefully, after praying about it a little more now, I will send this off today to start restoring a difficult relationship. Thanks and blessings!!

  81. Marilyn

    I comment here for the first time, because the angst that seems to have been created by last week’s column, leaves me wanting to crawl quickly back into, what I perceive as, my safe corner of silence. (“I was disgusted with this column . . . It illustrates that even the ‘experts’ totally botch the process.”) I am disillusioned to find that people who care enough about getting communication to work, demonstrated by the fact that they follow this column, would so miss the good illustration you presented on how world leaders might use these skills. I didn’t see the content of the conversation as the issue. Did these same ones get as upset during their CC training when so many example conversations were examined and critiqued? I aspire to reach your level of patience and faith in people. Please, keep up the good work. We’re listening.

  82. Stacy

    Dan Killebrew :Now it sounds condescending in that sensitivity is required for those not on board with the position that global warming exists.

    I think the effort to placate you should be accepted as that, a gesture of goodwill intended to mend the hurts from last week. The writers always do a fantastic job at responding to any type of feedback and making amends when necessary. A response that we could all learn from I am sure.

    David: thank you for your transparancy as always and kudos for another job well done this week. This continues to be a grade A operation!

  83. Michael Sklar

    The responses of climate change deniers raises an interesting question that may be beyond the ability of crucial conversations to address: the power of confirmatory bias to blind us to facts and logic that contradict our deeply held beliefs or threaten our perceived self-interest. If one tries to add to the pool of shared understanding and tries to understand the factual and logical basis for others’ perspectives, but the other party is unable or unwilling to do so, how can one have a productive dialogue?

    There are thoughtful skeptics regarding the extent and speed of climate change in response to human activities. But the fundamental physics of the greenhouse effect and the fundamental chemistry of fossil fuel combustion are not subject to credible dispute. Those who would assert otherwise are bound to offer clear, compelling, and extraordinary evidence to support their case. They are bound to offer a testable, verifiable, and falsifiable set of physical laws, scientific models, and observations — just as someone who wants to claim that the earth is flat rather than an oblate spheroid with minor surface height variations would have to provide.

  84. Bruce Denis
  85. Steve Cooper

    David, when I stand back and survey the whole chemical reaction, certain life-lessons are once again reinforced: 1) This stuff is hard – it takes dedication and constant self-evaluation to make it work. 2) No matter how skilled we are, at some point we will all screw up. 3) A person’s reaction on any issue actually reveals more about the quality of his/her own character than it does about the issue.
    Thanks for modeling your message. I’m a big fan.

  86. Suzanne Scherr

    I also had to use CC techniques in my own college classroom to make amends with my students over some misunderstood instructions. My goof and subsequent amends-making blatantly using STATE was the most instructive part of the course. Of course it felt very uncomfortable for me however it cleared the air and prompted much more honest discourse. Good for you for following the STATEd path.

  87. Lost a bit of hope

    Apology was indeed necessary and accepted. Last week I lost hope and was left sketical of you and the VitalSmarts site. “Conclusions”, or opinions, were stated to be facts and then extended to define “progress”. This demonstrates that we use tools to promote what we want to believe which is the opposite of what crucial conversations is all about. After all, there is much debate in what is considered “progress” and “conclusions” yet your position assumed both to be fact and as the starting point for earning mutual respect and common purpose. Shame on you for such a material oversight. THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH POLICITES WHICH SHOULD NOT BE USED AS AN EXCUSE. If I may offer a comparison to illustrate – think of the Government’s Eminent Domain right they have recently excercised. They take people’s private homes and give them to developers to convert into shopping malls and luxury condos in exchange for a higher tax base. This is viewed to be in the “public interest” and is their view of “progress”. The gov’t assumes that we agree (conclusion)and that they are correct in their subjective use of land for the greater good (progress), trumping private property rights of home owners. This position is very much like the one you took in your article. There are a lot of assumptions that get one to the definition of conclusions and progres on any topic, political or not. When one opens a conversation with these as the starting point, it is the exact opposite of everything I thought crutical skills is about. This is a great example of how complex topics can be and how our prior feelings on a topic erode mutual purpose, respect, trust and hope.

  88. Arlene Kruize Fults

    This is a good example of writing in response to negative comments from readers. Most people have to write this type of response at some time in their careers. (Some more than others…)

    This is well written! Thanks.

    Keep sending me the news letter as I find it full of information I can use.

  89. Lon

    Apology was definitely not needed. Anyone reading this newsletter should be able to detach from their politics for a second and try to learn from your comments. Climate Change is for sure a hot button topic, and just because the ‘Drill baby, Drillers’ disagree with or do not believe the evidence pointing to climate change, does not mean that you needed to back-peddle like this. Take it for what it is people, David is trying to educate (and sell a product), he is not Bill Maher.

  90. Jeff Borchers

    @Ruth Oppedahl I second the motion: framing a crucial conversation in terms of risk acknowledges scientific uncertainty and frees participants to agree on possibilities and what to do about them.

    Clearly, many governments and corporations have had this conversation, and have hedged their bets. Sadly, the U.S. remains mired in a naive political discourse where fringe agendas have frustrated any rational discussion of the possibility of grave danger.

  91. Jackie Payne

    Bravo! I didn’t read your first article, but I think it takes a lot of courage as an expert to admit you goofed. I hope that political dialogue does come up for future articles. Look at our currect political dialogue of politicians-It is immature, unprofessional, and these are the leaders who are supposed to help serve the nation. I wish some of them had your ethics and tact at dialogue.

  92. michael

    I also have strong feeling about this subject. I was interested in hearing what you had to say but thought you missed a more important oportunity directly revolving around crucial conversations. how do you broach a subject in a way that is a hot topic where there seems to be no middle ground in a way to have a crucial conversation. some times I only have the 1 minute elevator conversation and want to broach a subject in a way that draws somone in and then have the oportunity to have a crucial conversation. How do you respond to those on both sides that use sound bites to throw gas on the fire and win by dividng us.

  93. Randy

    I think you did an excellent job in helping us see where you went off track… and also a heart felt apology.

    What I especially liked was how real this was and what a clear example you provided.

    I’d have to agree that I don’t tune into this site for a dose of politics… but even so, I feel I learned from your pain.


  94. Charlie Compton

    You said you didn’t want to dig deeper, then you buried yourself. Cancel me permanently, if this is the level of your understanding of “facts” I don’t need it.

    My only Masters level training is in Geology. AGW is a complete hoax by people whose religion is “Mother Earth”.

    You must understand if what you say isn’t 100% correct then you are WRONG.

  95. Jim Desjean

    I’ve enjoyed the Crucial Skills Newsletter for many years. However, the tone and content of your comments last week we’re unlike any I had previously seen here. Like others, I wrote a response to you but I didn’t send it because I thought it would be a waste of time. The bottom line is, I come here to learn to be a better communicator. Last week I felt I was given a lecture but this week I learned something.

  96. Coleen

    I have to admit I didn’t react strongly to last week’s newsletter but I was puzzled at what seemed to be a political response to a process question and puzzled as well by anyone could answer the question without causing a huge debate.
    I think you have done a extremely good job of responding to the negative feedback and explaining what you meant and what you didn’t mean. I love the site and the concepts and will keep coming back.

  97. Tom

    I experienced your Climate Summit artile as a straightforward response on how to apply crucial conversation principles to a real situation.

    Factual basis of world leader conclusions notwithstanding, the point, to me, was that they came to agreement at all – thereby establishing “the common ground needed to build solutions” – even if others do not concur with their facts/conclusions/assumptions.

    Your quote just to the left of the “Start With Facts” paragraph seems apropos, “We can’t let the desire for consensus prevent us from taking action either independently or with small groups”. Having achieved consensus, the Copenhagen group can now move on to the more challenging task of finding mutual purpose. Should they find that one or more of their initial facts/conclusions/assumptions were faulty, their commitment to mutual purpose will more easily facilitate a required course correction as they continue to move along the road to action.

  98. Kylie Schultz

    Hi David,

    I have to say that I am VERY happy that you all with the Crucial Confrontations/Conversations organization have taken on the subject of Climate Change. Whether or not your readers “believe” in climate change, it is important that the public know how to talk about it in a reasonable, rational way, from whatever viewpoint they may come from.

    In addition, many of the skills Crucial Confrontations gives its readers are very applicable to the climate change conversation — such as separating reality from the stories we tell ourselves first and being able to recognize and observe strong emotions for what they are. Let’s get real, people react with such strong emotion to this issue because they are scared — scared of changing lifestyles, scared of what might happen to the human race. So let’s start there first.

    If the readers out there are having strong emotional reactions to this subject, then they haven’t read or understood the over 40 years of accumulated science, rational thought, reasoned argument from thousands of professional scientists, journalists, science writers and other very learned people — that yes, in fact, the earth’s climate is changing and it is due to human activity. We, as a global community will have to deal with these facts one way or another, and I applaud Crucial Conversations for helping us begin some rational conversation about it.

  99. Carlyn

    If only those who criticized you last week will learn from your humility and promotion of mutual respect you will never make this so-called “mistake” again! Keep up the good work–this week and last!

  100. Marilyn Schroeder

    Bravo – you’ve proven your reliability and sensitivity. I agree that political topics are prime territory for a need to have crucial conversations. As long as it is method and no assumptions of facts or options on either side, this is an important area.

  101. Susan

    I love it that we got to witness the process as you so clearly modeled what you teach. Thank you so much!

  102. Ron Rowan

    Dear David,
    Sorry I didn’t respond to your original article on this subject. I read it, and thought it was well reasoned and focused on creating dialogue on a controversial subject, not on proving that global warming is a “fact”. Unfortunately, any discussion even vaguely political these days seems to generate strong negative responses using language that further separates those having the discussion. All the more important to have skills in Crucial Conversations to establish some common ground. Please don’t think that the majority of your readers took your article negatively. Many of us probably just smiled and thought “oh yes, if only world leaders would act this way”.
    Many thanks for your thoughtful columns!

  103. Chris Squibb

    “It was never my intent to either persuade others to accept global warming or to offend readers who don’t accept global warming. I’m sorry I was insensitive to your views.”

    If this is your way of back-peddling, I would say you are better to stay away from scientific discussions altogether. Science, at its heart, shouldn’t have to be about being sensitive to others opinions. Gathering and analyzing data in a scientific way should obviate the need for opinion, outside trying to sell an idea to the uneducated public.

    I understand you are trying to run a business, and don’t want to offend your customers. Stay away from angering the anti-vaccination, and free-energy cranks too.

  104. ian

    I do not agree with a lot of the unhappy writers to your previous article. The point that I thought you were trying to make was how do you resolve issues that are very contentious. I think the whiners and crybabies are saying more about their personal outlook then about applying techniques to improve their communication skills.
    You have used any number of contentious social issues and still they wouldn’t see the big picture. That Is so sad.
    Keep up the good work.

  105. Paul

    I appreciaeted this week’s newsletter,and not because I was upset with the one on climate change. What I appreciate most is your willingness to admit wrong doing. This models one of the principles taught in the book. It also gives me hope in a way, because Crucial Conversations is hard work. It requires effor to learn the principles and then work to apply them and then more work to improve them. It’s an ongoing process, not an event. Thank you for persisting to help us all communicate in a dramatically more effective way and by modeling how it should be done.

  106. Kenneth Cole

    What a great practical example of “Crucial Conversations”. By responding to the original article’s feedback, you clearly demonstrated for us readers how to use the various tools of Crucial Conversations. I feel safe now; and I understand your intentions. Thanks

  107. Barbara Sorensen

    Thank you for your thoughtful and heartfelt response. The idea of “blind spot” especially resonated with me. We all have them. You were more than gracious with your apology, clear with your purpose, sound in your analysis. I’ll use this column as a model for an upcoming conversation I need to have.

  108. Kate Sanford

    While you did a masterful job of backtracking and restating your purpose, in this instance I feel you let yourself be bullied. I am going to get a little political here: It seems that a few close-minded individuals making a lot of noise can corrupt an otherwise open conversation.

  109. Dave Denholm

    David, may I applaud your response. It helps demonstrate one of the biggest attributes that great leaders have – that of humility. No, we don’t get it right all of the time ans we don’t have all the answers so, when we get it wrong then, as one of my friends in the USA says, “If you’re going to eat crow, eat it when it’s fresh!”
    I’ve taken some valuable lessons from your srticle. Thank you for sharing them in the way you did.

  110. Anne Sesing

    I loved your article – I found it useful as a dialogue tool, so much so that I have a hard copy tacked to my cubicle wall. I can find many situations to apply the priciples you outlined.
    Job well done!! And it wouldn’t hurt our global “leaders” to read it and learn from it.

  111. bean q

    “I’ve disrespected some of you by stating a position in a way that came across as underhanded; and I’ve shared an opinion that some of you see as naïve or misguided. I want to apologize…” “I’m sorry I was insensitive to your views.”

    congratulations on a “real” apology, according to randy pausch, however i think you go a little far into the responsibility zone when you say that you made something come across a certain way and ask forgiveness for the way people see things. i don’t think it’s news that WE’RE RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT WE SEE to a large extent.

    i think another necessary lesson would be for those who piped up with hasty conclusions about the intentions of your position to be reminded to master their stories. they act like provocateurs hoping to come up with the worst conclusion and watch you defend yourself. sometimes they’re aware of that and sometimes they’re not. for them to ask curiously about your intentions is one thing but for them to jump straight to a decline in quality due to your positions is childish, i think.

    and this is something i’ve touched on before. there’s no reason we shouldn’t be held responsible for our perspective. to baby them by defending their right to throw out provocative accusations is unfair to more than just those of us who try to apply the principles we learn here: it becomes unfair to even the provocateurs when we use these skills at work and THE MOST SENSITIVE PERSON IS THE ONE WHO DOESN’T HAVE TO LEARN THE CRUCIAL SKILLS. certainly not that i’ve gotten it down pat, but LET’S UPHOLD QUALITY WHERE IT’S BEEN ESTABLISHED.

  112. Dari

    Good column. I might add that subjects such as global warming, politics, taxes, etc. might be exactly what you SHOULD focus on from time to time. This is where Crucial Conversations is really most important. As an exercise, maybe trying to see opposing ‘sides’ of a hot issue could illustrate dialogue most effectively, much as your column heartily did. A roadmap showing others how to break out of familiar patterns would be valuable indeed.

  113. Donna Michele Dorado

    Thank you for your straightforward response. You could have run from the topic, but in addressing it you served the purpose of the column, communication education.

    I too was deeply incensed by the content of the last column, but I chose the path of not communicating. I see that was wrong.

    I find myself struggling daily with what are accepted “norms” with people I respect in many other ways than their political views.

    It’s difficult when your interests lie in educational and cultural pursuits and your political thoughts do not fall in the same vein. My friends and family often assume a shared ideology simply because we share the same love of history or theater. I find I can’t challenge every statement, even if it is in a postive and thoughtful way, without stressing the friendship.

    Any suggestions besides getting new friends and family?

  114. Heidi

    Thank you for this follow-up column, David. I enjoyed reading your article last week & was surprised when I read this week’s column and saw you apologizing! However, I feel the way you handled this situation is remarkable and I really appreciated seeing you put the Crucial Conversations skills to work. Thank you for being a great role model and continuing to help the rest of us perfect our own crucial conversations!

  115. Mark Stringer

    I appreciated this post, David. So very well done, even if you may have, as others have suggested here, given those who were upset by your original article a little too much credit. But, you know, that’s the point of the Crucial Conversations approach and I admire your application of it here. As a minister, I have found myself, at times, having to accommodate reactions to my sermons that have little to do with what I actually said, and less to do with what I intended. As another poster said, those coming after me would do well to “master their stories”. And yet…and yet…someone has to be mature, humble, curious, open, forgiving, etc. Someone has to let go of the intoxicating drug of being right in exchange for the possibility of connection and understanding. That’s what Crucial Conversations asks of us. I’m grateful for the reminder. Keep up the good…and very important!…work.

  116. Christine R. Carver

    @Peter Huisman “magic” didn’t trip me up but it did take a long time to realise that “exits” was a typo and that you meant “exists” :)) There are times I could use some “magic exits” if anyone has any for sale.

  117. Chris Freeman

    David, I missed the post on “climate change discussions” and left your response to feedback, and went immediately to the original article to read it first when I read the word “firestorm”. I was not offended by the article, but I do take the point that a statement like “The world leaders agreed on what they saw as facts” could have been less inflammatory to some readers. I did not see it as you promoting those facts, or the leaders (or your own) views about climate change, and I certainly get that your intention was to examine the conversation critically. I think I also understand that someone who really disagreed with the whole notion of climate change could read your article in a very different way than I did.

    I do respect your reply to the feedback, as other do, because I imagine you did a great deal of centering and looking within, in order to be respectful and focused and balanced when you responded. I”m not convinced that you have given away too much, I think you acknowledged the offense that was taken, took responsibility for your contribution, and contrasted by saying what your intention was and focused on your purpose which was to promote (and engage in) learning about Crucial Conversations. I thought you accepted other views, and held to what you believed to be important.

    I noted the passion with which readers responded and was very curious about that. I could hear some really deep hurt.

    I appreciate the candid sharing and at the same time I also wondered if you were offended by the way some of the comments were offered. If you were, I could see how you could have easily responded in a more negative way, but you chose not to.

    What this conversation highlights for me is the importance of establishing some kind of mutual purpose, because if there is disageement (as there seems to be in this case) about the “facts” we are working from, then that argument could really stall us from taking any productive action.

    I like the example of the people with different views about abortion who could have been stalled in an argument, but instead were able to come up with one common goal, or area of agreement, and then work from there to develop a shared initiative that everyone could support.

    I’ll be thinking about this for a while, and I’m grateful for all the comments and for the opportunity to hear and digest them all.

  118. Christine R. Carver

    @Charlie Compton
    Can you not see that you are engaging in personal attacks on people you don’t agree with? And that this will shut down dialogue? Your statements make it appear as though you think the Crucial Converstions method applies only in certain situations but in others it can be tossed aside?
    “Cancel me permanently” is a barrier you are throwing up. I guess I would classify it as violence, since it is a threat. If you just anonymously unsubscribed yourself, then it would be silence.

  119. Kris


    Interesting, I thought it was a great article not so much because of the content but because of how you illustrated the use of CC tools to breakdown an issue related to moving this seemingly stuck conversation forward. In fact I liked it so much I forwarded an edited version- taking the key points and then putting in our example “being stuck”.


  120. David Maxfield

    Thanks for all your input. Many of you are also asking some very interesting questions, which I’ll save for future column. The most common questions are whether last week’s feedback made me feel defensive (of course it did), and how I dealt with that. I used two approaches. First, I used the crucial conversations skills as described in this week’s column. Second, I asked people I trusted to read my first draft, and give me feedback. This feedback was very important in helping me stay focused on what I really want and in seeing my own blind spots. I encourage you all to share drafts of conversations, emails, and letters with someone you trust–and someone who cares enough about you to tell you when you’re off base.

    David Maxfield

  121. Suzanne


    ian :I think the whiners and crybabies are saying more about their personal outlook…they wouldn’t see the big picture…

    Name-calling and accusations have no place in a productive crucial conversation. I respectfully suggest that you start with a little more heart.

  122. William Sheridan

    It is a “fact” that some people treat “conclusions” as “facts.”

    It is a “fact” that some peoples’ “misunderstandings” are rather “disagreements.”

    It is a “fact” that “dialogue” (talking back and forth) may exchange “information” but not “agreement” – in the words of a current title, “Many Communicate, Few Connect.”

    It is a “fact” that preceeding “dialogue” many people have already “made up their minds.”

    It is a “fact” that all the “dialogue” in the world will not persuade those who are commited to “incommensurability.”

    It is a “conclusion” that there have always been disagreements, and always will be.

    It is a “conclusion” that disagreements, with or without dialogue, are NOT a catastrphe.

    It is a “fact” that those in power usually impose their definition of reality on others.

    It is a “conclusion” that most of the analysis on global warming, both pro and con, is NOT factually-based.

    It is a “conclusion” that although “global warming” is actually occuring, the causes of this are usually mis-attributed.

    It is a “fact” that long-term alterations in solar flux have been producing cycles of both global warming and global cooling for millions of years.

    It is a “fact” that human activity is only contributing about 15% to the present cycle of global warming that is currently occuring.

    It is therefore a good “conclusion” that the most appropriate political actions to counter-act the effects of global warming, would be far more effective policies for water and land management (less wasteful irrigaton and lawn-watering, better cultivation techniques, etc.).

    So DAVE – be cool – your complainers have as many hidden and inappropriate assumptions and conclusions as you do. Why not invite a dialogue in which everyone apologizes all-round.

  123. Kris Michaelis

    I relish difficult topics discussed in this newsletter. The Crucial Conversations skills provide ready flow and clarification as one speaks; that’s the beauty of live dialogue. But we also have to learn how to write effectively, openly and yet with a viewpoint. Otherwise I fear we are leaders without moral courage. Sure, there’s not universal agreement on global warming, and we know that people disagree about how much man impacts our environment. But there is no value in shying from the exploration of our respective views and, in fact, we limit our ability to learn from others if we don’t pose such viewpoints. So, please continue, David, and as others have suggested, apologize as needed. Press on, however. Through the tough stuff. Not around it.

  124. Louise

    I thought your original column was excellent.

  125. Elizabeth Thelen

    Be a role model and a leader is what I say often! That is exactly what this response demonstrates. Thank you!

  126. Peter Huisman

    The way we Communication has undergone a great deal of change in just a few years – blogging, texting, email, face book, twitter, cell phones – and the one thing in common with those methods is that we are not physically interacting with the person we are attempting to communicate with.

    The reality is we depend a great deal on non verbal communication clues during our interactions with others and without them we are far more likely to ‘read minds’ inferring motive and intent no matter how many smiley faces. (we do this face to face as well but IMO its a bigger problem with text communication.)

    Take the example of last week’s news letter but this time the interaction is face to face. David’s intuition is the same, to explain how to use the critical conversation skills when talking about a difficult topic.

    During this interaction when David states the ‘facts’ being skilled, he noticed that the persons listing to him reacted unexpectedly, perhaps stopped listening, or the person may have even interrupted him . At this point David could have stopped, make it safe and utilize the STATE tools to get the conversation back on track.

    The problem with virtual conversations is that the medium though ‘instant’ is slow.

    Very much slower than face to face dialog, and as such requires greater self awareness from both the communicator and reader, especially of our stories and ‘tripping points’.

    Pehaps in the next edition of Crucial conversations a new chapter should be added, or new book, on the difficulties of virtual (wireless, connectionless) communication is needed.

  127. Peter Huisman

    Instead of – David’s intuition – read David intention

    Might also add that
    In my onion the problem with virtual conversations is that the medium though ‘instant’ is slow – but we react just as fast or faster.

  128. Carol

    I have followed your two postings on climate change with interest. I knew you had stepped into some deep doo-doo the first time. Though I am probably on the opposite side of the issue from many of your objectors, I knew what you had cited as fact didn’t really qualify, and that in general this is a hornet’s nest.

    That said, I second the comment in #11 above that I would love to see you demonstrate how to address hot political topics. I think the crucial conversations model has a great deal to offer, and you can use it to do more than graciously correct a misstep!

  129. Pat Ciriacks


    Nice recovery — well done! Great example of humility and using the tools “real time”. Thanks.

  130. illana

    I missed the first article due to time pressures. I am tempted to go and find it! I really enjoyed this article and it is the first time I have read the comments. CC is such hard work, talking tentatively and not looking like your own beliefs are not relevant can be difficult.
    You just role modelled so many of the great principles and I thank you for it. An authentic and open example of the principles in action.

  131. Michael K Taylor

    I did not write about your global warming column, but I also felt it was inappropriate and espoused a controversial political position. That being said it did not offend me. I really don’t know your position on this topic, but you are entitled to whatever it is. Don’t beat yourself up over this. Just keep writing great columns! Thanks for your advice.

  132. Catherine

    It is too bad that the people reading your column didn’t use their Crucial Conversations skills or they would not have jumped to such conclusions. I read your column as an evaluation of the conversations of the world leaders thru skills of Crucial Conversations. It would be another column to explore why dialogue is so difficult today. It seems, at least, to me that lots of people only want to say what is on their mind and not listen with an open mind to what others have to say. To me,
    some of the readers need to examine the stories they have created before the lash out at someone just trying to describe the possibilities of real dialogue. It is sorely missing in our society as a whole.
    Just my thought,

  133. Caroline Overton

    Those whose stories (their interpretations of what is said – facts) are negative, may get defensive when facts are stated that are contrary to their beliefs. That’s okay.

    Please don’t apologize too much. I think you had a great response, demonstrating the skills, but I think your first article also demonstrated the skills as well – illustrating that these skills are beginning to be used by our leaders and also need some more work by our world leaders. These topics (science, politics, religion, etc.) are the meat of controversy where we learn to best use these skills!

    How many people subscribe to this newsletter? Please know for every 40 negative responses, there are a hundred of those of us that realize what you are trying to accomplish and are on board with you. Some of us are still continuing to learn. Unfortunately, you’ll always hear more form the disgruntled, so that’s why I write today – to compliment you and your team on your continued work. We just don’t say “thank you” enough.

    Happy to align with you,

  134. Lindsay Wagner

    Well done, David, I so appreciate that you took the opportunity of a real conflict and applied it. Although we’re in a medium that doesn’t give us the whole ‘tone’ of what you have to say, you sound sincere and truthful about your intent, what you missed in the translation, and how you so excellently set the record straight. I appreciate the learning and your response that is, indeed, a great example of an applied crucial conversation.

  135. Edward

    Dear David:
    Don’t feel too bad! It is in the conservative/reactionary mantra to immediaely attack anyone who has the audacity to suggest anything contrary to what is held by them as doctrine. This seems to be particulary true when such subjects as climate change are raised in any context. As a result it is impossible to have a reasoned discussion about any topic which might have political implications.

    Keep up the good work.

  136. Bob Yamashita

    Hi David,
    Talking about difficult topics can be messy, and we as responsible nations will need to hold many more crucial conversations to constructively address the challenges posed by the topic you chose to address. I appreciate your forthrightness and effort to reinforce the principles of holding crucial conversations. I think you are truly an exceptional teacher, using your own situation to demonstrate the principles (and qualities) necessary to hold crucial conversations. Good on you!


  137. cheryl forbes

    Gee, David, I can’t wait to hear how you handle the abortion issue.

    There is a moral code written on our hearts. How brave are you?

    Your follow up letter was moving and humble, you have a great heart.

    Thanks for sharing courage with us. God love you, Cheryl

  138. Kelly

    I want to echo what Ron Rowan said above.

    I appreciate your willingness to continue tackling political and social issues in this forum. It’s unfortunate that the most important issues of our time tend to be the ones we don’t discuss because we’re too worried about offending people.

    I see Crucial Conversations as a tool that you can use to talk to anyone about anything, even if you disagree. It is through opening our minds to what others believe and why they believe it, and them doing it in return to us, that we come to greater understanding of each other and find a common ground to work from.

    Personally, I was not offended in the least by the global warming talk. But I can understand how certain people with certain views would have been. My hope, though, is that we can turn that into a productive, reasonable conversation, rather than saying a topic is off-limits for this forum.

  139. Rhonda

    David, thank you for using your column to teach us. Who hasn’t gotten themselves into a similar situation. Frankly, I’m not sure I would have broken it down without your help as I wasn’t offended.

    Difficult topics involve difficult conversations with all sorts of pitfalls. Thank you for your humility. Please continue to use political and sensitive topics to train us!

  140. Mary Richardson

    I love your response. I know I have certainly put something out there in speech or writing, and had a similarly intense reaction. Seeing the return to mutual purpose and mutual respect, creating a safe space, and being transparent, stating your intention and sharing your reflections on where your thought process went off track was outstanding. I will always hit a nerve, no matter how well intentioned I may be; it is in practicing the recovery of relationship which matters.

  141. Trudy

    wow. Months later, I am just now seeing this. I am amazed at the strident and threatened responses.

    One person wrote, “Alarmist statements such as ‘Island and low-lying countries—places like Bangladesh and Vietnam—will lose large portions of their land mass, producing tens of millions of climate refugees, ” cause people to shut off, and disregard the conversation.”

    But why? Low-lying areas are ALREADY underwater. This is not alarmist prediction, it is “now.” But even when we humans know something exists, many of us “shut off.” We simply don’t want to identify. And, if someone or something is implying that we change our lifestyles? Get out! That’s just rude!

    Why is the question whether humans caused climate change or not? People are, in effect, shouting like children, “I didn’t DO it!” Regardless of the cause, there are consequences. We can roll up our sleeves like adults, and pitch in to solve it.

    Personally, I loved your article. Sure, substitute “conclusions” where you wrote “facts.” I agree with this not so much because I think you should try to avoid offending people, but simply because it is a more precise term. All science is a process, never a final destination, and all along the way its core is made up of “assumptions” and “conclusions,” all of which are displaced over time by greater understanding and more encompassing models.

    “Crucial Conversations is supposed to be about talking about “stuff that matters.” I’d love to see a dialog about the human tendency to go into silence or violence on any topic with economic implications. Many of those letters were examples of one or the other, I think.

  142. trudy

    Five years ago, in May of 2010, i was struck by the intensity of the comments left here in reaction to your two posts on “climate change.” I had felt dismay that you felt compelled to “walk back” some of your intention with the first post (hence my comment, above). Recalling this exchange so clearly, I got curious and searched for the posts, & found them here.

    Since much time has passed in which more clarity on the climate crisis is available and now mainstream, I sincerely wonder if your two posts would now be read differently by those who took such umbrage that the topic was even raised. I admired your patience and humanity in dealing with some very strident and very personalized reactions. But I also hope you feel that recent years have only underscored your original points about the need for CC skills in political analysis and decision making.

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