Remember the last time someone gave you difficult feedback and
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
MAKE IT SAFE 69
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
70 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
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