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As Greta contemplated this goal, she realized that the biggest barrier she faced was the widespread belief that she was a hyp­ ocrite. On the one hand, she was calling for others to sacrifice. On the other, she appeared to be spending discretionary funds for her own comfort. It was at that moment that she was no longer ashamed or angry, but grateful. She couldn’t have asked for a bet­ ter opportunity to influence these leaders than the one offered up by this penetrating question. And so she moved to dialogue.

Refocus your brain. Now, let’s move to a situation you might face. You’re speaking with someone who completely disagrees with you on a hot issue. How does all of this goal stuff apply? As you begin the discussion, start by examining your motives. Going in, ask yourself what you really want.

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Also, as the conversation unfolds and you find yourself start­

i ng to, say, defer to the boss or give your spouse the cold shoul­ der, pay attention to what’s happening to your objectives. Are




you starting to change your goal to save face, avoid embarrass­ ment, win, be right, or punish others? Here’s the tricky part. Our motives usually change without any conscious thought on our part. When adrenaline does our thinking for us, our motives flow with the chemical tide.

In order to move back to motives that allow for dialogue, you must step away from the interaction and look at yourself­ much like an outsider. Ask yourself: “What am I doing, and if I had to guess, what does it tell me about my underlying motive?” As you make an honest effort to discover your motive, you might conclude: “Let’s see. I’m pushing hard, making the argu­ ment stronger than I actually believe, and doing anything to win. I’ve shifted from trying to select a vacation location to try­ ing to win an argument.”

Once you call into question the shifting desires of your heart, you can make conscious choices to change them. “What I really want is to genuinely try to select a vacation spot we can all enjoy-rather than try to win people over to my ideas.” Put suc­ cinctly, when you name the game, you can stop playing it.

But how? How do you recognize what has happened to you, stop playing games, and then influence your own motives? Do what Greta did. Stop and ask yourself some questions that return you to dialogue. You can ask these questions either when

you find yourself slipping out of dialogue or as reminders when you prepare to step up to a crucial conversation. Here are some great ones:

What do I really want for myself?

What do I really want for others?

What do I really want for the relationship?

Once you’ve asked yourself what you want, add one more equally telling question:




How would I behave if I really wanted these results?

Find your bearings. There are two good reasons for asking these questions. First, the answer to what we really want helps us to locate our own North Star. Despite the fact that we’re being tempt­ ed to take the wrong path by ( 1 ) people who are trying to pick a fight, (2) thousands of years of genetic hardwiring that brings our emotions to a quick boil, and (3) our deeply ingrained habit of try­ ing to win, our North Star returns us to our original purpose.

“What do I really want? Oh yeah, I guess it’s not to make the other person squirm or to preen in front of a crowd. I want people to freely and openly talk about what it’ll take

to cut costs.”

Take charge of your body. The second reason for asking what we really want is no less important. When we ask ourselves what we really want, we affect our entire physiology. As we introduce complex and abstract questions to our mind, the problem-solv­ ing part of our brain recognizes that we are now dealing with

intricate social issues and not physical threats. When we present our brain with a demanding question, our body sends precious blood to the parts of our brain that help us think, and away from the parts of our body that help us take flight or begin a fight.

Asking questions about what we really want serves two important purposes. First, it reminds us of our goal. Second, it juices up our brain in a way that helps us keep focused.

Common Deviations

As we step up to a crucial conversation, fully intending to stim­ u late the flow of meaning, many of us quickly change our origi­

I la l objectives to much less healthy goals. For instance, when Greta fel l under public attack, her immediate reaction was to do




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