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Two ugly options. This pernicious strategy is particularly well

suited for keeping us off track. It’s known as a Sucker’s Choice.

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In order to justify an especially sordid behavior, we suggest that

we’re caught between two distasteful options. Either we can be

honest and attack our spouse, or we can be kind and withhold

the truth. Either we can disagree with the boss to help make a

better choice-and get shot for it-or we can remain quiet,

starve the pool, and keep our job. Pick your poison.




What makes these Sucker’s Choices is that they’re always set up as the only two options available. It’s the worst of either/or thinking. The person making the choice never sug­ gests there’s a third option that doesn’t call for unhealthy behavior. For example, maybe there’s a way to be honest and

respectful. Perhaps we can express our candid opinion to our boss and be safe.

Those offering up a Sucker’s Choice either don’t think of a third (and healthy) option-in which case it’s an honest but tragic mistake-or set up the false dichotomy as a way of jus­ tifying their unattractive actions. “I’m sorry, but I just had to destroy the guy’s self-image if I was going to keep my integrity. It wasn’t pretty, but it was the right thing to do.”

Open Yourself to Change

Not only do Sucker’s Choices set us up to take ineffective actions, but they close us down to change. They present our brain with problems easily solved with restricted blood flow. After all, if we are simply choosing between fight and flight, who needs much creative thought?

They also keep us stuck in ineffective strategies by justifying our attacking or retreating behaviors. Why alter our behavior when we’re the only one savvy enough to keep quiet? “Stand up to my boss? What turnip wagon did you just fall off?” “Tell my spouse that her parental style is too controlling? No way. I ‘ll pay for years.” In a similar vein, why would you ever change when you think you’re the only one around with an ounce of integrity? “Somebody has to state the ugly truth. It’s the only way I can look myself in the mirror.”

I n summary, Sucker’s Choices are simplistic tradeoffs that keep us r rom thinking creatively of ways to get to dialogue, and

that justify our silly games.




So how do we break away from perverted logic that keeps us

trapped in hurtful behavior?

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.

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

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