Contrast to Fix Misunderstanding
Sometimes others feel disrespected during crucial conversations
even though we haven’t done anything disrespectful. Sure, there
are times when respect gets violated because we behave in clearly
hurtful ways. But just as often, the insult is entirely unintended.
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The same can happen with Mutual Purpose. You can start by
innocently sharing your views, but the other person believes your
intention is to beat him or her up or coerce him or her into accept
ing your opinion. Clearly an apology is not appropriate in these cir
cumstances. It would be disingenuous to admit you were wrong
when you weren’t. How, then, can you rebuild Mutual Purpose or
Mutual Respect in order to make it safe to get back to dialogue?
When others misinterpret either your purpose or your intent,
step out of the argument and rebuild safety by using a skill called
Contrasting is a don’tldo statement that:
• Addresses others’ concerns that you don’t respect them or that
you have a malicious purpose (the don’t part) .
• Confirms your respect or clarifies your real purpose (the do
[The don’t part] “The last thing I wanted to do was com
municate that I don’t value the work you put in or that I
didn’t want to share it with the VP.
[The do part] I think your work has been nothing short of
Now that you’ve addressed the threat to safety, you can return
to the issue of the visit itself and move to remediation:
“Unfortunately, just when I was starting to make the trip out
here, an issue came up with the VP that I needed to address
right then and there, or it could have cost us a huge piece of
our business. I tell you what-I’ll see if I can get him down
here sometime tomorrow to review your work. He’ll be here
for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Let’s see if we can show off
t he process impl’Ovcments you came up with.”
78 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
Of the two parts of Contrasting, the don’t is the more
important because it deals with the misunderstanding that has
put safety at risk. The employees who worked so hard are act
ing on the belief that you don’t appreciate thejr efforts and
didn’t care enough to keep them informed-when the opposite
was true. So you address the misunderstanding by explaining
what you don’t intend. Once you’ve done this, and safety
returns to the conversation, then you can explain what you do
intend. Safety first.
Let’s go back to Yvonne and Jotham. Yvonne is trying to get
the conversation going, and Jotham suspects her motives. Let’s
see how Contrasting might help her.
YVONNE: I think it makes things worse when you withdraw
and won’t talk to me for days at a time.
JOTHAM: SO you expect me not only to put up with regular
rejection, but also to be sociable and happy when I do?
Jotham appears to believe that Yvonne’s motive is to reshape him.
It’s unsafe. Mutual Purpose is at risk. Rather than responding to
his sarcasm, she should step out of the content and clarify her real
YVONNE: I don’t want to suggest that this problem is yours.
The truth is, I think it’s ours . I’m not trying to put the
burden on you. I don’t even know what the solution is.
What I do want is to be able to talk so that we can under
stand each other better. Perhaps that will help me change
how I’m responding to you, too.
laTHAM: I know where this is going. We talk, I continue to
get rejected, but you get to feel good about yourself
because “we’ve communicated.” Have you been watching
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Obviously Jotham still believes that Yvonne merely wants to con
firm that their existing relationship is okay and if she does, she’ll
be able to continue to reject Jotham-but feel good about it.
lotham still feels unsafe. So Yvonne continues to step out and
build safety, using Contrasting.
YVONNE: Seriously, Honey. I’m not interested in discussing
why our current relationship is really okay. I can see that
it isn’t. I merely want to talk about what each of us likes
and doesn’t like. That way we’ll be able to see what we
need to improve and why. My only goal is to come up
with some ideas that will make both of us happy.
JOTHAM: (Changing tone and demeanor) Really? I’m sorry
to be so insecure about this. I know I’m being a bit selfish
about things, but I don’t know how to make myself feel
Contrasting is not apologizing. It’s important to understand
that Contrasting is not apologizing. It is not a way of taking back
something we’ve said that hurt others’ feelings. Rather, it is a
way of ensuring what we said didn’t hurt more than it should
have. Once Yvonne clarified her genuine goals (and not merely
some trumped-up goal that appeals to lotham), lotham felt safer
acknowledging his own contribution, and the two were back in