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 Do others believe I care about their goals in this conversation?

• Do they trust my motives?

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Remember the Mutual in Mutual Purpose. Just a word to the wise. Mutual Purpose is not a technique. To succeed in crucial conversations, we must really care about the interests of others­ not jus t our own . The purpose has to be truly mutual. If our goal




is to get our way or manipulate others, it will quickly become

apparent, safety will be destroyed, and we’ll be back to silence

and violence in no time. Before you begin, examine your motives.

Ask yourself the Start with Heart questions:

• What do I want for me?

• What do I want for others?

• What do I want for the relationship?

Look for the mutuality. Let’s see how Mutual Purpose applies

to a tough example-one where, at first glance, it might appear

as if your purpose is to make things better for yourself. How can

you find Mutual Purpose in this? Let’s say you’ve got a boss who

frequently fails to keep commitments. How could you tell the

boss you don’t trust him? Surely there’s no way to say this with­

out the boss becoming defensive or vengeful, because he knows

that your goal is merely to make your life better.

To avoid disaster, find a Mutual Purpose that would be so

motivating to the boss that he’d want to hear your concerns. If

your only reason for approaching the boss is to get what you

want, the boss will hear you as critical and selfish-which is what

you are. On the other hand, if you try to see the other person’s

point of view, you can often find a way to draw the other person

willingly into even very sensitive conversations. For example, if

the boss’s behavior is causing you to miss deadlines he cares

about, or incur costs he frets over, or lose productivity that he

worries about, then you’re onto a possible Mutual Purpose.

Imagine raising the topic this way: “I’ve got some ideas for

how I can be much more reliable and even reduce costs by a few

thousand dollars in preparing the report each month. It’s going

to be a bit of a sensitive conversation-but I think it will help a

great deal if we can talk about it.”




Mutual Respect

W i l l We Be Able to Remain i n Dialogue?

While it’s true that there’s no reason to enter a crucial conversaM

tion if you don’t have Mutual Purpose, it’s equally true that you

can’t stay in the conversation if you don’t maintain Mutual

Respect. Mutual Respect is the continuance condition of dia­

logue. As people perceive that others don’t respect them, the

conversation immediately becomes unsafe and dialogue comes to

a screeching halt.

Why? Because respect is like air. If you take it away, it’s all

people can think about. The instant people perceive disrespect

in a conversation, the interaction is no longer about the origi·

nal purpose-it is now about defending dignity.

For example, you’re talking with a group of supervisors

about a complicated quality problem. You really want to see

the problem resolved once and for all. Your job depends on it.

Unfortunately, you also think the supervisors are overpaid and

underqualified. You firmly believe that not only are they in

over their heads, but they do stupid things all the time. Some

of them even act unethically.

As the supervisors throw out ideas, you roll your eyes. The dis ..

respect you carry in your head creeps out in one unfortunate ges·

ture. And it’s all over. What happens to the conversation despite

the fact that you still share a common objective? It tanks. They

take shots at your proposals. You add insulting adjectives in

describing theirs. As attention turns to scoring points, everyone

loses. Your Mutual Purpose suffers for a lack of Mutual Respect.

Telltale signs. To spot when respect is violated and safety takes

a turn south, watch for signs that people are defending their dig­

nity. Emotions are the key. When people feel disrespected, they

become highly charged. Their emotions tum from fear to anger.




Then they resort to pouting, name-calling, yelling, and making

threats. Ask the following question to determine when Mutual

Respect is at risk:

• Do others believe I respect them?

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