Kerry Patterson is author of three bestselling books, Influencer, Crucial Conversations, and Crucial Confrontations.
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,