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.”
MAKE IT SAFE 7 1
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.
72 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
Then they resort to pouting, name-calling, yelling, and making
threats. Ask the following question to determine when Mutual