What do I really want for the relationship?
Once you’ve asked yourself what you want, add one more equally telling question:
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How would I behave if I really wanted these results?
Find your bearings. There are two good reasons for asking these questions. First, the answer to what we really want helps us to locate our own North Star. Despite the fact that we’re being tempt ed to take the wrong path by ( 1 ) people who are trying to pick a fight, (2) thousands of years of genetic hardwiring that brings our emotions to a quick boil, and (3) our deeply ingrained habit of try ing to win, our North Star returns us to our original purpose.
“What do I really want? Oh yeah, I guess it’s not to make the other person squirm or to preen in front of a crowd. I want people to freely and openly talk about what it’ll take
to cut costs.”
Take charge of your body. The second reason for asking what we really want is no less important. When we ask ourselves what we really want, we affect our entire physiology. As we introduce complex and abstract questions to our mind, the problem-solv ing part of our brain recognizes that we are now dealing with
intricate social issues and not physical threats. When we present our brain with a demanding question, our body sends precious blood to the parts of our brain that help us think, and away from the parts of our body that help us take flight or begin a fight.
Asking questions about what we really want serves two important purposes. First, it reminds us of our goal. Second, it juices up our brain in a way that helps us keep focused.
As we step up to a crucial conversation, fully intending to stim u late the flow of meaning, many of us quickly change our origi
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whatever it took to save face. Other common, but not·all-that
healthy, objectives include wanting to win, seeking revenge, and hoping to remain safe.
Wanting to win. This particular dialogue killer sits at the top of many of our lists. Heaven only knows that we come by this deadly passion naturally enough. Half of the lV programs we watch make heroes out of people who win at sports or game shows. Ten minutes into kindergarten we learn that if we want to get the teacher’s attention, we have to spout the right answer.
That means we have to beat our fellow students at the same game. This desire to win is built into our very fiber before we’re
old enough to know what’s going on. Unfortunately, as we grow older, most of us don’t realize that
this desire to win is continually driving us away from healthy dia logue. We start out with the goal of resolving a problem, but as soon as someone raises the red flag of inaccuracy or challenges our correctness, we switch purposes in a heartbeat.
First we correct the facts. We quibble over details and point out flaws in the other person’s arguments.
“You’re wrong! We’re not spending anywhere near a hun dred and fifty thousand dollars on the furniture. It’s the redesign of the office that’s costing so much, not the fur niture.”
Of course, as others push back, trying to prove their points, it’s not long until we change our goal from correcting mistakes to winning.
If you doubt this simple allegation, think of the two antsy
young girls as they stared each other down in the cramped bath room. Their original goal was simple enough-relief. But soon, caught up in their own painful game, the two set their jaws and committed to doing whatever it took to win-even if it brought them a fair amount of personal discomfort.
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Seeking revenge. Sometimes, as our anger increases, we move from wanting to win the point to wanting to harm the other per son. Just ask Greta. “To heck with honest communication!” she thinks to herself. “I’ll teach the moron not to attack me in pub lic.” Eventually, as emotions reach their peak, our goal becomes completely perverted. We move so far away from adding mean ing to the pool that now all we want is to see others suffer.
“I can’t believe that you’re accusing me of squandering good money on a perfectly fine office. Now, if nobody else has any intelligent questions, let’s move on!”
Everyone immediately clams up and looks at the floor. The silence is deafening.
Hoping to remain safe. Of course, we don’t always fix mis
takes, aggressively discredit others, or heartlessly try to make
them suffer. Sometimes we choose personal safety over dialogue.
Rather than add to the pool of meaning, and possibly make
waves along the way, we go to silence. We’re so uncomfortable
with the immediate conflict that we accept the certainty of bad
results to avoid the possibility of uncomfortable conversation.
We choose (at least in our minds) peace over conflict. Had this
happened in Greta’s case, nobody would have raised concerns
over the new office, Greta never would have learned the real
issue, and people would have continued to drag their feet.
SECOND, REFUSE THE SUCKER’S CHOICE
Now, let’s add one more tool that helps us focus on what we real ly want. We’ll start with a story.