• Qommit to seek Mutual Purpose. Make a unilateral public
commitment to stay in the conversation until you come up
with something that serves everyone.
“This isn ‘t working. Your team is arguing to stay late and
work until we’re done, and my team wants to go home and
come back on the weekend. Why don’t we see if we can come
up with something that satisfies everyone?”
• Recognize the purpose behind the strategy. Ask people why
they want what they’re pushing for. Separate what they’re
demanding from the purpose it serves .
“Exactly why don ‘t you want to come in Saturday morning?
We’re feeling fatigued and are worried about safety issues and
a loss of quality. Why do you want to stay late? ”
• Invent a Mutual Purpose. If after clarifying everyone’s pur
poses you are still at odds, see if you can invent a higher or
longer-term purpose that is more motivating than the ones
that keep you in conflict.
“I certainly don ‘t want to make winners and losers here. It’s
far better if we can come up with something that doesn ‘t make
one team resent the other one. We’ve voted before or flipped a
coin, and the losers just ended up resenting the winners. I’m
more worried about how we feel about each other than any
thing else. Let’s make sure that whatever we do, we don ‘t
drive a wedge in our working relationship. ”
• B.rainstorm new strategies. With a clear Mutual Purpose, you
can join forces in searching for a solution that serves everyone.
“So we need to come up with something that doesn’t jeopard
ize safety and quality and allows your team to attend their col
league’s wedding on Saturday. My team members don ‘t care
abuut the game a bit. What if we were to work the morning and
88 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
early afternoon, and then you come in after the game and take
over from there? That way we’ll be able . . . ”
BACK TO YVONNE AND JOTHAM
Let’s end where we started. Yvonne is going to try to move to
dialogue with Jotham. Let’s see how she does at making it safe in
her crucial conversation. First, she’ll use Contrasting to prevent
misunderstanding of her purpose.
YVONNE: Jotham, I’d like to talk about our physical relation
ship. I’m not doing it to put you on the spot or to suggest
the problem is yours. I’m completely clear that it’s as
much my problem as yours. I’d really like to talk about
it so we can make things better for both of us.
JOTHAM: What’s there to talk about? You don’t want it. I
want it. I’ll try to deal with it.
YVONNE: I think it’s more complicated than that. The way
you act sometimes makes me want to be with you even less.
JOTHAM: If that’s how you feel, why are we pretending we
have a relationship at all?
Okay, what just happened? Remember, we’re exploring
Yvonne’s side of the conversation. She’s the one initiating the
talk. Clearly there’s a lot Jotham could be doing to make things go
better. But she’s not Jotham. What should Yvonne do? She should
focus on what she really wants: to find a way to make things bet
ter for both of them. Consequently, she shouldn’t respond to the
content of Jotham’s discouraging statement. Rather, she should
look at the safety issue behind it. Why is Jotham starting to with
draw from the conversation? Two reasons:
• The way Yvonne made her point sounded to him like she was
blaming him for everything.
MAKE IT SAFE 89
• He believes her concern in one small area reflects her total
feelings toward him.
So she’ll apologize and use Contrasting to rebuild safety.
YVONNE: I’m sorry I said it that way. I’m not blaming you
for how I feel or act. That’s my problem. I don’t see this
as your problem. I see it as our problem. Both of us may
be acting in ways that make things worse. I know I am at
laTHAM: I probably am too. Sometimes I pout because I’m
hurting. And I also do it hoping it’ll make you feel bad.
I’m sorry about that, too.
Notice what just happened. Since Yvonne dealt well with the
safety issue and kept focused on what she really wanted out of
this conversation, Jotham returned to the conversation. This is
far more effective than if Yvonne had gone into blaming.
JOTHAM: I just don’t see how we can work this out. I’m
wired for more passion than you are-it seems like the
only solution is for me to put up with it the way it is or
for you to feel like a sex slave.
The problem now is one of Mutual Purpose. Jotham thinks he
and Yvonne are at cross-purposes. In his mind, there is no pos
sibility of a mutually satisfactory solution. Rather than move to
compromise or fight for her way, Yvonne will step out of the
issue and CRIB to get to Mutual Purpose.
YVONNE: [Commit to seek Mutual Purpose] No, that isn’t
what I want at all. I don’t want anything with you that
isn’t great for both of us. I just want to find a way to have
us both feel close. appreciated. and loved.
90 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
laTHAM: That’s what I want, too. It just seems like we get
those feelings in different ways.
(Notice how lotham is leaving the game behind and joining
the dialogue. Safety-specifically Mutual Purpose-is making
YVONNE: [Recognize the purpose behind the strategy] Maybe
not. What makes you feel loved and appreciated?
laTHAM: Making love with you when you really want to
makes me feel loved and appreciated. And you?
YVONNE: When you do thoughtful things for me. And, I
guess, when you hold me-but not always sexually.
laTHAM: You mean, if we’re just cuddling that makes you
YVONNE: Yes. And sometimes-I guess when I think
you’re doing it because you love me-sex does that for
JOTHAM: [Invent a Mutual Purpose] So we need to find
ways to be together that make both of us feel loved and
appreciated. Is that what we’re looking for here?
YVONNE: Yes. I really want that, too.
laTHAM: [Brainstorm new strategies] Well, what if we . . .
BUT I COULD NEVER DO THAT!
Reading a complicated interaction like this one might lead to two
reactions. First, you might think, “Wow, these ideas could actu
ally work ! ” And at the same time, you could be thinking, “But
there’s no way I could think that clearly in the middle of that
kind of delicate conversation! ”
MAKE IT SAFE 9 1
We admit that it’s pretty easy for us to put all the skills together
when we’re sitting at a computer typing a script. But the good
news is, that’s not where these examples came from. They came
from real experiences. People do act like this all the time. In fact,
you do on your best days.
So don’t overwhelm yourself by asking whether you could
think this clearly during every heated and emotional conver
sation. Merely consider whether you could think a little more
clearly during a few crucial conversations. Or prepare in advance.