Crucial Conversations – Chapter 5 section 3 (part 8 of 18)

Create a Mutual Purpose 

Let’s add one more skill. Sometimes we find ourselves in the middle of a debate because we clearly have different purposes. There is no misunderstanding here. Contrasting won’t do the trick. We need something sturdier for this job.

Commit to Seek Mutual Purpose. As is true with most dialogue skills, if you want to get back to dialogue, you have to Start with Heart. In this case, you have to agree to agree. To be successful, we have to stop using silence or violence to compel others to our view. We must even surrender false dialogue, where we pretend to have Mutual Purpose (calmly arguing our side until the other person gives in). We Start with Heart by committing to stay in the conversation until we invent a solution that serves a purpose we both share.

This can be tough. To stop arguing, we have to suspend our belief that our choice is the absolute best and only one, and that we’ll never be happy until we get exactly what we currently want. We have to open our mind to the fact that maybe, just maybe, there is a third choice out there – one that suits everyone.

We also have to be willing to verbalize this commitment even when your partner seems committed to winning. We act on faith that our partner is stuck in silence or violence because he or she feels unsafe. We assume that if we build more safety – by demonstrating our commitment to finding a Mutual Purpose – the other person will feel more confident that dialogue could be a productive avenue.

So next time you find yourself stuck in the battle of wills, try this amazingly powerful but simple skill. Step out of the content of the struggle and make it safe. Simply say, “It seems like we’re both trying to force our view on each other. I commit to stay in this discussion until we have a solution that satisfies both of us.” Then watch whether safety takes a turn for the better.

Recognize the Purpose Behind the Strategy. Wanting to come up with a shared goal is a wonderful first step, but desire alone is not enough. After we’ve experienced a change of heart, we need to change our strategy as well. Here’s the problem we have to fix: When we find ourselves at an impasse, it’s because we’re asking for one thing and the other person is asking for something else. We think we’ll never find a way out because we equate what we’re asking for with what we actually want. In truth, what we’re asking for is the strategywe’re suggesting to get what we want. We confuse our purpose with strategies. That’s the problem.

For example, I come home from work and say that I want to go to a movie. You say that you want to stay home and relax. And so we debate: movie, TV, movie, read, etc. We figure we’ll never be able to resolve our differences because going out and staying home are incompatible.

In such circumstances, we can break eth eimpasse by asking others, “Why do you want that?” In this case,

“Why do you want to stay home?”

“Because I’m tired of running around and dealing with the hassle of the city.”

“So you want peace and quiet?”

“Mostly. And why do you want to go to a movie?”

“So I can spend some time with you away from the kids.”

Before you can agree on a Mutual Purpose, you must first know what people’s real purposes are. Step out of the content of the conversation – which is generally focused on strategies – and explore the purposes behind them.

When you do separate strategies from purpose, new options become possible. By releasing your grip on your strategy and focusing on your real purpose, you’re now open to the idea that you might actually find alternatives that can serve both of your interests.

“You want peace and quiet, and I want time with you away from the kids. So if we can come up with something that is quiet and away, we’ll both be happy. Is that right?”

“Absolutely. What if we were to take a drive up the canyon and … “

Invent a Mutual Purpose. Sometimes when you recognize the purposes behind another person’s strategies, you discover that you actually have compatible goals. From there you simply come up with common strategies. But you’re not always so lucky. For example, you find out that your genuine wants and goals cannot be served except at the expense of the other person’s. In this case you cannot discovera Mutual Purpose. That means you’ll have to actively inventone.

To invent a Mutual Purpose, move to more encompassing goals. Find an objective that is more meaningful or more rewarding than the ones that divide the various sides. For instance, you and your spouse may not agree on whether or not you should take the promotion, but you can agree that the needs of your relationship and the children come before career aspirations. By focusing on higher and longer-term goals, you often find ways to transcend short-term compromises, build Mutual Purpose, and return to dialogue.

Brainstorm New Strategies. Once you’ve built safety by finding a shared purpose, you should now have enough safety to return to the content of the conversation. It’s time to step back into the dialogue and brainstorm strategies that meet everyone’s needs. If you’ve committed to finding something everyone can support and surfaced what you really want, you’ll no longer be spending your energy on unproductive conflict. Instead, you’ll be actively coming up with options that can serve everyone.

Suspend judgement and think outside the box for new alternatives. Can you find a way to work in a job that is local and still meets your career goals? Is thisjob with thiscompany the only thing that will make you happy? Is a move really necessary in this new job? Is there another community that could offer your family the same benefits? If you’re not willing to give creativity a try, it’ll be impossible for you to jointly come up with a mutually acceptable option. If you are, the sky’s the limit.


Create a Mutual Purpose  

In summary, when you sense that you and others are working at cross-purposes, here’s what you can do. First, step out of the content of the conflict. Stop focusing on who thinks what. Then create a Mutual Purpose.

  • Commit to Seek Mutual Purpose. Make a unilateral public commitment to stay in the conversation until you come up with something that serves everyone.
  • Recognize the purpose behind the strategy. Ask people why they want what they’re pushing for. Separate what they’re demanding from the purpose it serves.
  • Invent a Mutual Purpose. If after clarifying everyone’s purposes you are still at odds, see if you can invent a higher or longer-term purpose that is more motivating than the ones that keep you in conflict.
  • Brainstorm new strategies. With a clear Mutual Purpose, you can join forces in searching for a solution that serves everyone.



Step Out

When others move to silence or violence, step out of the conversation and Make It Safe. When safety is restored, go back to the issue at hand and continue the dialogue.

Decide Which Condition of Safety Is at Risk

  • Mutual Purpose. Do others believe you care about their goals in this conversation? Do they trust your motives?
  • Mutual Respect. Do others believe you respect them?

Apologize When Appropriate

  • When you’ve clearly violated respect, apologize.

Contrast to Fix Misunderstanding

  • When others misunderstand either your purpose or your intent, use Contrasting. Start with what you don’t intend or mean. Then explain what you do intend or mean.

Create Mutual Purpose

  • When you are at cross-purposes, use four skills to get back to Mutual Purpose:
  • Commit to seek Mutual Purpose
  • Recognize the purpose behind the strategy
  • Invent a Mutual Purpose
  • Brainstorm new strategies