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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.

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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.




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.


Now, let’s add one more tool that helps us focus on what we real­ ly want. We’ll start with a story.

The faculty of Beaumont High School is hashing out possible

curriculum changes in an after-school meeting that’s been going on for hours. It’s finally the science department’s turn to present.

Roycc, a chemistry tcacher who’s been at Beaumont for




thirty-three years, considers himself the elder statesman of the school. He’s much more fond of war stories than he is of neutrons and electrons, but the administration kind of turns a blind eye, because the guy’s a fixture.

At the principal’s cue, Royce clears his throat and begins to

yammer on incoherently about the similarities between curricu­

lum development and battle preparations. His antics are so

embarrassing that the audience quietly heaves their shoulders as

they futilely try to stifle their laughter.

Next, it’s Brent’s, the new guy’s, turn. A couple of weeks ago,

the principal asked him to outline the science department’s pro­

posed curriculum changes. Brent met with his colleagues (even

Royce), gathered suggestions, and came ready to present.

As Brent begins, Royce starts demonstrating bayonet offen­

sives with a yardstick, and Brent snaps. Slamming his fist on the

table, he shouts, “Am I the only one who wonders why we even

allow this fosil to talk? Did he miss a pill or something?”

A room full of stunned faces turns toward Brent. Realizing

that his colleagues must think he’s possessed, Brent utters those

words we’ve all come to hate, “Hey, don’t look at me like that!

I’m the only one around who has the guts to speak the truth.” What a tactic. Brent slams Royce in public, and then instead

of apologizing or maybe simply fading into the shadows, he

argues that what he just did was somehow noble.

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