It's not how you play the game. It's how the game plays you.
—SPY GAME (MOVIE)
Here's where we are in our Crucial Conversation:
We've recognized the conversation might be crucial (Chapters 1 and 2).
We've even zeroed in on the right conversation to address (Chapter 3).
We've thought about what we really want (Chapter 4).
We are almost ready to open our mouths. But not quite yet. We still have one problem to solve: We don't feel like engaging in dialogue. What we feel like doing would forever eliminate the chance to run for public office.
As we learned in Chapter 2, one of the defining features of Crucial Conversations is strong emotions. Without these emotions, most of us do just fine in a conversation. We can talk about the weather like a champ. But when our emotions come into play, we often become the very worst version of ourselves, and the conversation nosedives. This chapter explores how to gain control of Crucial Conversations by learning how to take charge of your emotions. How you respond to your own emotions is the best predictor of everything that matters in life. It is the very essence of emotional intelligence. By learning to exert influence over your own feelings, you'll place yourself in a far better position to use all the tools of Crucial Conversations.
How many times have you heard someone say, "He made me mad!"? How many times have you said it? For instance, you're sitting quietly at home watching TV, and your mother-in-law (who lives with you) walks in. She glances around and then starts picking up the mess you made a few minutes earlier when you whipped up a batch of nachos. This ticks you off. She's always smugly skulking around the house, thinking you're a slob.
A few minutes later when your spouse asks you why you're so upset, you explain: "It's your mom again. I was lying here enjoying myself when she gave me that look. To be honest, I wish she would quit doing that. It's my only day off, I'm relaxing quietly, and then she walks in and starts judging me. It drives me nuts."
"Does she drive you nuts?" your spouse asks. "Or do you?"
That's an interesting question.
No matter who is doing the driving, some people tend to react more explosively than others—and to the same stimulus, no less. Why is that? For instance, what enables some people to listen to withering feedback without flinching, whereas others pitch a fit when you tell them they've got a smear of salsa on their chin? Why is it that sometimes you yourself can take a verbal blow to the gut ...