John C. used crucial conversations skills to get to safety when he found himself under live-fire.
Over the years, I’ve canoed the Brazos River near Brenham, Texas. It is usually a relaxing way to get back to nature and away from everyday stress. It is an old, slow, and sometimes shallow river, so you never see jet skis or large motorboats. Many days, you may never see another human being!
The most stressful things I have encountered were the occasional alligator, miscalculations of time, and getting the canoe out of the water on steep and narrow footpaths. One Saturday, however, all of that changed.
That day, the river was high and flowing fast. It was a cool seventy degrees with beautiful fluffy clouds in a perfect blue sky. We heard someone shooting off in the distance.
As we got closer, the shooting became louder. Since we couldn’t see over the steep bank, we figured it was someone target practicing. Then suddenly, we heard another shot followed by the plinking of buckshot hitting the water beside me. Another quick shot and more plinking—this time a few pellets hit the side of the canoe.
We started screaming “Quit it!” as loudly as possible. In the country, sound carries and surely this careless shooter would hear us and stop. But then a third shot and more plinking. We were now fifteen feet downstream from the first blast and the story I told myself was that the gunman was deliberately shooting at us.
My adrenaline started pumping and my first thought was to make this person realize he or she was very much in the wrong by yelling “Stop it you IDIOT!”
I quickly realized I needed to examine my motives and start from my heart. I asked myself what I didn’t want to happen. I didn’t want to get shot. I then asked what I did want. I wanted to get out of there safely. Calling this stranger an idiot might make me feel better for a second, but it wasn’t going to help me achieve my goal.
I then asked myself, “What can I do right now if I really want these results?” The answer was obvious. I quit yelling and dug my oar in hard and fast. My companion heard my paddle, stopped shouting, and quickly joined in getting us to safety.
Before attending Crucial Conversations Training, I would have lost my cool and perhaps angered someone who clearly had the upper hand. And no matter what training we have, we all know who wins when you bring a canoe to a gun fight!
If you have a Before and After story you’d like to share, please send your story to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The ideas expressed in this article are based on the skills and principles taught in Crucial Conversations. Learn more about Crucial Conversations