Who is Accountable? Understanding Action and Intent

The moment that predicts how well you’ll do in a crucial conversation is the moment right before you open your mouth. In those moments, because of the emotional content of the crucial conversation, we tend to move towards some form of silence or violence.


Through ten thousand hours of observation of people who are magnificently gifted during those moments, here’s what we know: the way you’re about to act during a crucial conversation is going to be largely and profoundly affected by how you feel right now.

No big surprise there.

But, there’s a bigger insight here. If you can absorb this huge concept—if you can embrace it, deeply understand it, and learn to master this concept, it will give you enormous influence during your crucial conversations.

The insight is this: how you feel during a crucial conversation is not a direct result of what you just saw, heard, or experienced.

What I see and hear does not create an emotion. Seeing my friend get wine on an expensive shirt I let him borrow does not create anger.

There’s an intervening variable called your story.

Before you can experience an emotion, you have to tell yourself a story about what just happened to you.

The problem is that you and I are hard-wired to tell certain kinds of stories. What’s creating the emotion is not the wine stain—it’s the story I start to tell myself about the wine stain.

The kind of story you tend to tell yourself that creates frustration is that people are doing what they’re doing because they’re stupid. They’re an idiot—that’s why they’re doing that.

But, if you tend to feel deeply offended, hurt, or even angry, there’s likely a different story you’re telling yourself.

The story you’re telling yourself is that they’re doing what they’re doing because they’re evil—not just stupid, but evil. They have malicious intent. They don’t care about worthy purposes. They don’t care about my concerns. They have their own selfish motives. The problem is their evil, rotten motives.

That story creates an escalated emotion and therefore moves you to either silence or violence. In Crucial Conversations you can learn to intervene and affect that story, learning to control your emotions with real speak up skills will help you understand that someone’s action is not always their intent.

Latest Blog Posts

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter

Improve communication, habits, productivity and more with weekly insights and tips from our authors and experts.

Join our 10,000+ community.