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Why Ta l k i n the Fi rst Place?

Remember the last time someone gave you difficult feedback and

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you didn’t become defensive? Say a friend said some things to

you that most people might get upset over. In order for this per­

son to be able to deliver the delicate message, you must have

believed he or she cared about you, or about your goals and

objectives. That means you trusted his or her purposes so you

were willing to listen to some pretty tough feedback.

Crucial conversations often go awry not because of the con­

tent of the conversation, but because others believe that the




painful and pointed content means that you have a malicious

intent. How can they feel safe when they believe you’re out to do

them harm? Soon, every word out of your mouth is suspect.

Consequently, the first condition of safety is Mutual Purpose.

Mutual Purpose means that others perceive that we are working

toward a common outcome in the conversation, that we care

about their goals, interests, and values. And vice versa. We

believe they care about ours. Consequently, Mutual Purpose is

the entry condition of dialogue. Find a shared goal and you have

both a good reason and a healthy climate for talking.

For example, if Jotham believes that Yvonne’s purpose in rais­

ing this topic is to make him feel guilty or to get her way, this

conversation is doomed from the outset. If he believes she really

cares about making things better for him and herself, she may have a chance.

Watch for signs that Mutual Purpose is at risk. How do we

know when the safety problem we’re seeing is due to a lack of

Mutual Purpose? It’s actually fairly easy to spot. First and fore­

most, when purpose is at risk, we end up in debate. When others

start forcing their opinions into the pool of meaning, it’s often

because they figure that we’re trying to win and they need to do

the same. Other signs that purpose is at risk include defensiveness,

hidden agendas (the silence form of fouled-up purpose) , accusa­

tions, and circling back to the same topic. Here are some crucial

questions to help us determine when Mutual Purpose is at risk:

• Do others believe I care about their goals in this conversation?

• Do they trust my motives?

Remember the Mutual in Mutual Purpose. Just a word to the wise. Mutual Purpose is not a technique. To succeed in crucial conversations, we must really care about the interests of others­ not jus t our own . The purpose has to be truly mutual. If our goal




is to get our way or manipulate others, it will quickly become

apparent, safety will be destroyed, and we’ll be back to silence

and violence in no time. Before you begin, examine your motives.

Ask yourself the Start with Heart questions:

• What do I want for me?

• What do I want for others?

• What do I want for the relationship?

Look for the mutuality. Let’s see how Mutual Purpose applies

to a tough example-one where, at first glance, it might appear

as if your purpose is to make things better for yourself. How can

you find Mutual Purpose in this? Let’s say you’ve got a boss who

frequently fails to keep commitments. How could you tell the

boss you don’t trust him? Surely there’s no way to say this with­

out the boss becoming defensive or vengeful, because he knows

that your goal is merely to make your life bette

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