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Search for the Elusive And

The best at dialogue refuse Sucker’s Choices by setting up new choices. They present themselves with tougher questions­ questions that turn the either/or choice into a search for the all­ important and ever-elusive and. (It is an endangered species, you know.) Here’s how this works.

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First, clarify what you really want. You’ve got a head start if you’ve already Started with Heart. If you know what you want for yourself, for others, and for the relationship, then you’re in position to break out of the Sucker’s Choice.

“What I want is for my husband to be more reliable. I’m tired of being let down by him when he makes commit­ ments that I depend on.”

Second, clarify what you really don’t want. This is the key to framing the and question. Think of what you are afraid will happen to you if you back away from your current strategy of trying to win or stay safe. What bad thing will happen if you stop pushing so hard? Or if you don’t try to escape? What hor­ rible outcome makes game-playing an attractive and sensible option?

“What I don’t want is to have a useless and heated conver­ sation that creates bad feelings and doesn’t lead to change.”

Third, present your brain with a more complex problem.

Finally, combine the two into an and question that forces you to search for more creative and productive options than silence and violence.




“How can I have a candid conversation with my husband about being more dependable and avoid creating bad feel­ ings or wasting our time?”

It’s interesting to watch what happens when people are pre­

sented with and questions after being stuck with Sucker’s

Choices. Their faces become reflective, their eyes open wider,

and they begin to think. With surprising regularity, when people are asked: “Is it possible that there’s a way to accomplish both?”

they acknowledge that there very well may be.

Is there a way to tell your peer your real concerns and not insult

or offend him?

Is there a way to talk to your neighbors about their annoying

behavior and not come across as self-righteous or demanding?

Is there a way to talk with your loved one about how you’re

spending money and not get into an argument?


Some people find this whole line of thinking comically unrealis­

tic. From their point of view, Sucker’s Choices aren’t false

dichotomies; they’re merely a reflection of an unfortunate reality.

“You can’t say something to the boss about our upcoming

move. It’ll cost you your job.”

To these people we say: Remember Kevin? He, and almost every

other opinion leader we’ve ever studied, has what it takes to speak up and maintain respect. Maybe you don’t know what Kevin did or

what you need to do-but don’t deny the existence of Kevin or peo­

ple l ike him. There is a third set of options out there that allows you

tu add meaning to the pool and build on the relationship.




When we (the authors) are in the middle of an on-site work­ shop and we suggest there are alternatives to Sucker’s Choicesj someone invariably says: “Maybe you can speak honestly and

still be heard in other organizations, but if you try it here, you’ll be eaten alive!” Or the flip side: “You’ve got to know when to fold if you want to survive for another day.” Then in a hail of “I’ll say!” and “Here, here! ” many nod in agreement.

At first, we thought that maybe there were places where dia­ logue couldn’t survive. But then we learned to ask: “Are you say­ ing there isn’t anyone you know who is able to hold a high-risk conversation in a way that solves problems and builds relation­ ships?” There usually is.


Here’s how people who are skilled at dialogue stay focused on their goals-particularly when the going gets tough.

Work on Me First

• Remember that the only person you can directly control is


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