One of the foundational pieces of the Crucial Conversations** paradigm for dealing with conflict is: Start with Heart.
One translation of that is the question, what do I want? Or, what do I really want?
There is invariably a layered assortment of ways to answer that question – rather like one of those fancy cakes – each one with a different flavor. How do you know when you have found the answer that will actually serve your ability to have the crucial conversation before you?
Here’s an exercise to help work through the layers of your motivations.
When preparing for a meeting, or when preparing to propose something to your supervisor or a working group etc., begin by laying out your agenda. For the meeting as a whole, or for each argument leading to an “ask” point, look at:
- In the top layer, the most obvious desire, namely, wanting to hear “yes” to whatever you are asking. You’re not going to show this to anyone else, so be gut-wrenchingly honest. Is it a project you totally believe in? Is your ego wrapped up in it? Is your job or promotion on the line? Will this influence a larger project you are interested in? Will it give you an advantage over a co-worker you’ve been skirmishing with? In the “yes” to your request, what else will you be hearing?
- In the bottom layer, or the root driver layer, what is your overall motivation in life (or, at least, your career)? Success? Ego? Saving the world? Getting people to like you? Self-growth? Providing for your family? Self-worth? What deep-level motivation is this request aligned with, and how?
Now you have the two bounding layers. In between, you can include questions such as:
- What do I want from this particular meeting? What am I hoping to achieve, for both the shorter and the longer-term?
- What do I want in relation to this particular person or group? How do I want this interaction to shape that relationship?
- What do I want from my overall relationship with this project or area of endeavor? How does it fit into my future, my career, etc.?
- What do I want in relation to my employing institution/unit? How will this support its success (assuming that is part of my goal)?
- What do I want in relation to my discipline/specialty or field of study? What is my overall goal here?
- What motivated the development of my idea in the first place? Why do I think it is a good idea? What overall purpose does it serve?
As you go through the layers of motivation, look for the first one that allows you to hear others’ input with pleasure – even if it is contrary to your own ideas – because it might help solve the problem. This is the point at which you can collaborate with others. To have a successful crucial conversation, you must be in collaboration mode – that is, be willing both to speak your side and to hear the other side(s), and to look for the way through where all parties are satisfied.
If there is no layer in this cake that allows you to hear others’ input with openness, then the crucial conversations model is just not going to work for you.
**In case you’d like to read more:
Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, Second Edition (Business Books)
Kerry Patterson, Josephy Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler.