Crucial Skills®

A Blog by Crucial Learning

Kerrying On

More about Bert

Kerry Patterson is coauthor of the New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.Kerry Patterson is author of three bestselling books, Influencer, Crucial Conversations, and Crucial Confrontations.

Dear readers,

I seem to have struck an awkward chord with several of you out there. I appreciate your watchfulness and dedication to the skills of good communication and consideration. I took a risk in distilling a rather long incident into a short story—please allow me to fill in some of the details.

Some of you have suggested that I was a bit of a wimp and should have taken a stronger stance with my step-grandfather. It’s true—at that time in my life I often chose silence over speaking directly. I was years away from studying and writing Crucial Conversations, and am grateful for the impact those skills have had on my life since. When this story occurred, I was in my mid 20s, dealing with my grandmother’s new husband, and trying to balance being nice to him with the needs of my family. I didn’t really know what to do or say. I hinted several times that we needed to cut the tour a bit short, my grandmother practically begged him, and my wife was quite direct—all to no avail. We were fairly open, but unsuccessful.

Some readers felt that I was the insensitive and excessively focused one in the story. Certainly a janitor would be interested in a janitorial tour. I agree. I was at first surprised by Bert’s reaction. I didn’t know my step-grandfather all that well, but we did adjust to his wishes and then tried to find a way to tailor a tour for him that wasn’t so painful for everyone else. In this we failed.

What I intended to illustrate in this article was the fact that we, like Bert, often get so amazingly focused on one element of our lives (or our arguments) that we miss other important features. Bert, as I learned from further exposure, was a classic low self-monitor who I believe was almost incapable of reading social cues. Recent studies of how the brain functions suggest that a certain portion of our population use their brains in different ways—making it very difficult for them to see what others see in the most simple of human interactions. I find myself acting like this when I get too caught up in an argument. Bert acted this way all the time.

It was with this in mind that I wrote my most recent column. My life has improved greatly as I’ve learned to monitor conversations around me—both the impact I’m having and the skills others are using—and I hope others might benefit from a similar awareness. My apologies to those who found me weak and insensitive. I appreciate the chance to review and improve my crucial conversations skills.

Thanks for your insightful comments,


5 thoughts on “More about Bert”

  1. Brenda Haase

    Bert sounds like a classic case of Asperger syndrome. He doesn’t read social cues well and when he is intersted in something, he is totally into it and doesn’t realize no one else is intersted. I have a son with Asperger and worry that he, like Bert, will be perceived in a negative light because people do not understand that they do not mean to be rude but are only acting as they are hardwired to act. They can change but it is a very difficult and arduous task for them and they will never be totally “normal” when it comes to social protocal. This story just reinforces to me how difficult his life will be because of this condition.

    I also had a problem with the fact that even thought he wasn’t interested in what you were, neither were you interested in what he wanted to do and he was the guest. Your wife should have bowed out of the tour when it got to a point when she felt it was too much and taken the children home. Anyone including an Asperger person would have accepted her apologies and let her leave graciously. You could have gone along on his tour and at least acted interested. It is too bad that we “normal” people expect everyone to be interested in what we are but we aren’t willing to do the same for them.

  2. Michael Cox

    Mr. Patterson, thank you for your Kerrying On articles which always impart a bit of wisdom through a very entertaining story. I understood the theme of “Bert’s Visit” and the lessons you wanted to impart, all while empathizing with a 20-something young man trying to do right by his wife, his kids, his grandmother, and Bert. This article was fine by me.
    P.S. I use your “Wild Mushrooms” story when I teach Crucial Conversations as part of my closing comments and then encourage the students to get beyond “a high five and a rowdy cheer–just for trying” and to “want the mushrooms”. THX for consistently expressing the right priorities in life.

  3. Athena

    I do what Kerry did all the time without meaning to. I think we all do.
    We get stuck in the bad habit of thinking irritating situations are an all or nothing, especially when we are already stretched to the limit.

    In this situation, there were definitely ways to get a win/win solution with only a tiny bit of crucial conversation. A quick conversation to make sure everyone understand what “tour” meant to Grandpa might have led to Mom staying home with the kids and keeping their routine, while Dad took Grandpa on the tour. Maybe Grandma did not want to go either and would have enjoyed reading the bedtime book. As Kerry noted, there was opportunity to learn more about Grandpa’s life by accompanying him. This also may have created the perfect opportunity for Kerry to have the crucial conversation with Grandpa that would put a stop to the belittling behavior.

    Today I’m going to picture in my mind marrying win/win thinking with crucial conversations and see if I can change my communication patterns up a bit to make life better.

  4. Brian

    You’re awesome, Kerry. Not only do you use personal and private experiences when teaching meaninful communication lessons, but you also have the patience and humility to apologize to the world when a few misunderstand your intentions in sharing those stories. Thank you for your guidance and example.

  5. Grizzly Bear Mom

    I liked your afterstory. I too would have expected Bert to want to know what went in inside the classrooms, rather than the janitor’s closet. Now that I am old and wiser, when I realized the children were tired I would have sent them back to the car to rest, and given Bert another 15 minutes of tour.

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