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Contrast to Fix Misunderstanding

Sometimes others feel disrespected during crucial conversations

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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.




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

part) .

For example:

[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

spectacular. ”

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.”




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

Oprah again?




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


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