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.commit to Seek Mutual Purpose

As is true with most dialogue skills, if you want to get back to dia­

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logue, 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 vio­

lence to compel others to our view. We must even surrender false

dialogue, where we pretend to have Mutual Purpose (calmly argu­

ing our side until the other person gives in) . We Start with Heart

by committing to stay in the conversation until we come up with

a solution that serves a purpose we both share.

This can be tough. To stop arguing, we have to suspend our

bel ief that our choice is the absolute best and only one, and that

we’ l l 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 different choice out there-one that suits





We also have to be willing to verbalize this commitment even

when our 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 a 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. I commit to stay in this discussion

until we have a solution both of us are happy with.” 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 it’s not enough. Once we’ve had a change of heart, we need

to change our strategy. 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 want. In truth, what we’re asking for is the

strategy we’re suggesting to get what we want. We confuse wants

or 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 the impasse 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 know

what people’s real purposes are. So step out of the content of the

conversation-which is generally focused on strategies-and

explore the purposes behind them.

When you do this, new options become possible. When you

release your grip on your strategy and focus on your real pur­

pose, you open up the possibility of finding new alternatives that

can serve Mutual Purpose.

“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 . . . ”

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