Recognize the Purpose behind the Strategy
Wanting to come up with a shared goal is a wonderful first step,
but it’s not enough. Once we’ve had a change of heart, we need
to change our strategy. Here’s the problem we have to fix: When
we find ourselves at an impasse, it’s because we’re asking for one
thing and the other person is asking for something else. We think
we’ll never find a way out because we equate what we’re asking
for with what we want. In truth, what we’re asking for is the
strategy we’re suggesting to get what we want. We confuse wants
or purpose with strategies. That’s the problem.
For example, I come home from work and say that I want to
go to a movie. You say that you want to stay home and relax.
And so we debate: movie, TV, movie, read, etc. We figure we’ll
never be able to resolve our differences because going out and
staying home are incompatible.
In such circumstances we can break the impasse by asking
others, “Why do you want that?” In this case,
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“Why do you want to stay home?”
“Because I’m tired of running around and dealing with the
hassle of the city.”
“So you want peace and quiet?”
“Mostly. And why do you want to go to a movie?”
“So I can spend some time with you away from the kids .”
Before you can agree on a Mutual Purpose, you must know
what people’s real purposes are. So step out of the content of the
conversation-which is generally focused on strategies-and
explore the purposes behind them.
When you do this, new options become possible. When you
release your grip on your strategy and focus on your real pur
pose, you open up the possibility of finding new alternatives that
can serve Mutual Purpose.
“You want peace and quiet, and I want time with you away
from the kids . So if we can come up with something that is
quiet and away, we’ll both be happy. Is that right?”
“Absolutely. What if we were to take a drive up the
canyon and . . . ”
Invent a Mutual Purpose
Sometimes when we recognize the purposes behind our strategies,
we discover that we actually have compatible goals. From there
you simply come up with common strategies. But we’re not always
so lucky. For example, you find out that your genuine wants and
goals cannot be served except at the expense of the other person’s.
I n this case you cannot discover a Mutual Purpose, so you must
actively invent one.
To invent a Mutual Purpose, move to more encompassing goals.
Find an objective that is more meaningful or more rewarding than
86 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
the ones that divide the various sides . For instance, you and your
spouse may not agree on whether or not you should take the pro
motion, but you can agree that the needs of your relationship
and the children come before career aspirations. By focusing on
higher and longer-term goals, you can find a way to transcend
short-term compromises, build Mutual Purpose, and get to dia
Once you’ve built safety by finding a shared purpose, you should
now have enough safety to return to the content of the conver
sation. It’s time to step back into the dialogue and brainstorm
strategies that meet everyone’s needs . If you’ve committed to
finding something everyone can agree on, and surfaced what you
really want, you’ll no longer be spending your energy on unpro
ductive conflict. Instead, you’ll be actively coming up with
options that can serve everyone.
Suspend judgment and think outside the box for new alterna
tives . Can you find a way to work in a job that is local and still
meets your career goals? Is this job with this company the only
thing that will make you happy? Is a move really necessary in
this new job? Is there another community that could offer your
family the same benefits? If you’re not willing to give creativity
a try, it’ll be impossible for you to jointly come up with a mutu
ally acceptable option. If you are, the sky’s the limit.
CRIB to Get to Mutual Purpose
So when you sense that you and others are working at cross
purposes, here’s what you can do. First, step out of the content
of the conflict. Stop focusing on who thinks what. Then CRIB
your way to Mutual Purpose.
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