Crucial Conversations – Chapter 5 section 1 (part 6 of 18)

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in baskets of silver. – Proverbs 25:11


Chapter 5 – Make It Safe. How to Make It Safe to Talk About Almost Anything.

The last chapter contained a promise: If you spot safety risks as they happen, you can step out of the conversation, build safety, and then find a way to talk about just about anything. In this chapter, we’ll fulfill that promise by teaching what it takes to restore safety.



What do you do when you don’t feel like it’s safe to share what’s on your mind? … The key is to step out of the content of the conversation. Don’t stay stuck in what’s being said.

First things first – Start with Heart. The first question is: “What do I really want?” … If you really want to have a healthy conversation about a topic that will make or break your relationship, then for a moment or two you may have to set aside confronting the current issue.

In these circumstances, the worst at dialogue say whatever is on their minds – with no regard for how it will be received. … The good realize that safety is at risk, but they fix it in exactly the wrong way. They try to make the subject more palatable by sugarcoating their message. … They try to make things safer by watering down or dressing up their content. This strategy, of course, avoids the real problem, and it never gets fixed.

The bestdon’t play games. Period. They know that in order to solve their problem, they’ll need to talk about their problem – with no pretending, sugarcoating, or faking. So they do something completely different. They step out of the content of the conversation, make it safe, and then step back in. Once safety is restored, they can talk about nearly anything.



Mutual Purpose – the Entrance Condition

The first condition of safety is Mutual Purpose. Mutual Purpose means that others perceive that you’re working toward a common outcome in the conversation, that you care about their goals, interests, and values. And vice versa. You believe they care about yours. Consequently, Mutual Purpose is the entry condition of dialogue. Find a shared goal, and you have both a great reason and a healthy climate for talking.

Watch for signs that Mutual Purpose is at risk. How do we know when the safety problem we’re seeing is due to a lack of Mutual Purpose? It’s actually fairly easy to spot. Frist, when mutual purpose is at risk, we end up in debate. When others start forcing their opinions into the pool of meaning, it’s often because they figure that we’re trying to win and they need to do the same. Other signs that purpose is at risk include defensiveness, hidden agendas (the silence form of fouled-up purpose), accusations, and circling back to the same topic. Here are two crucial questions to help us determine when Mutual Purpose is at risk:

  • Do others believe I care about their goals in this conversation?
  • Do they trust my motives?

Remember the Mutualin Mutual Purpose. Just a word to the wise. Mutual Purpose in not a technique. To succeed in crucial conversations, we must really care about the interests of others – not just our own. The purpose has to be truly mutual. If our goal is to get out way or manipulate others, it will quickly become apparent, safety will be destroyed, and we’ll be back to our silence and violence in no time. Before you begin, examine your motives. Ask yourself to the Start with Heart questions:

  • What do I want for me?
  • What do I want for others?
  • What do I want for the relationship?


Mutual Respect – the Continuance Conditions

Will we be able to remain in dialogue? While it’s true that there’s no reason to enter a crucial conversation if you don’t have Mutual Purpose, it’s equally true that you can’t stay in the conversation if you don’t maintain Mutual Respect. Mutual Respect is the continuance condition of dialogue. As people perceive that others don’t respect them, the conversation immediately becomes unsafe and dialogue comes to a screeching halt.

Why? Because respect is like air. As long as it’s present, nobody thinks about it. But if you take it away, it’s allthat people can think about. The instant people perceive disrespect in a conversation, the interaction is no longer about the original purpose – it is now about definding dignity.

Telltale signs. To spot when respect is violated and safety takes a turn south, watch for signs that people are defending their dignity. Emotions are the key. When people feel disrespected, they become highly charged. Their emotions turn from fear to anger. Then they resort to pouting, name-calling, yelling, and making threats. Ask the following question to determine when Mutual Respect is at risk:

  • Do others believe I respect them?

Can you respect people you don’t respect? Some people fear they’ll never be able to maintain Mutual Purpose or Mutual Respect with certain individuals or in certain circumstances. How, they wonder, can they share the same purpose with people who come from completely different backgrounds or whose morals or values differ from theirs? What do you do, for example, if you’re upset because another person has let you down? And if this has repeatedly happened, how can you respect a person who is so poorly motivated and selfish?

However, we can stay in dialogue by finding a way to honor and regard another person’s basic humanity. In essence, feelings of disrespect often come when we dwell on how others are differentfrom ourselves. We can counteract these feelings by looking for ways we are similar. Without excusing others’ behavior, we try to sympathize, even empathize, with them.