2 Keys to Keep Conversations Safe

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Safe Places

Whenever a conversation moves from routine to crucial/ volatile there has been a change in one of two areas:

1) Mutual Purpose
2) Mutual Respect

Mutual Purpose

The entry point of the conversation: A desire for a mutual purpose. While both parties may not agree on the path to the outcome, there is agreement that the conversation is at least needed. Both parties may not “want” to have the conversation, but both should be aware that it’s needed. If so, even with two purposes at work, there is a possibility that a mutual purpose can be reached.

It becomes difficult to create safety in a conversation, when one person feels the other is out to harm them. Mutual purpose becomes threatened when one party interprets the content of the conversation as a means of spewing ill-will.

It’s important, where appropriate, to genuinely care about the interest of the other party. Clearly, this can be a challenge if the individuals are on opposite sides of a litigation or other contentious dispute. However, there is an adage that states, “Everyone wishes to be heard.” In those instances, it may be more appropriate to ensure that you take the time to at least “hear” the other party.

Before agreeing on a mutual purpose, people have to understand one another’s real purpose/ motivation for having the conversation. Time and energy should always be spent exploring the purpose behind the conversation. We have to remember the goal is to move from two purposes to one all-encompassing purpose. It’s a process that may require cultivation and a willingness to “hear” the other party.

Mutual Respect

Mutual respect is considered a “continuance condition” of conversation. Once there is a breakdown in respect, the purpose of the conversation will normally be lost. The moment people feel disrespected, the interaction shifts from seeking mutual purpose to defending dignity. The purpose of the conversation can become lost in attempts at regaining respect.

Personal dislike or differing POVs don’t mean mutual respect cannot be present. Disrespect often comes from focusing on differences versus points of agreement. Which reminds me of another adage, “What you focus on expands.” If during the course of a conversation, you spend an inordinate amount of time dredging through the differences, the energy of the conversation will remain with the differences. As opposed to examining the points of agreement and seeking ways to expand on those points to reach a place of final agreement.

Ways to Maintain Mutual Purpose and Mutual Respect

1) Apologizing When Appropriate – Give up the ideas of :“saving face,” “being right” or “winning.” When appropriate, simply be the bigger person and apologize.
2) Contrasting – “don’t/do” statements. The “don’t” addresses the point of misunderstanding. (e.g. “I don’t want you to think I don’t value your contributions to the company.”) The “do” statement clarifies what one believes. (e.g. “I do think you can improve your closing skills.”)
• Committing to seek mutual purpose – A willingness to work through the difficulty in the conversation in order to reach a mutual purpose.
• Recognizing the purpose behind the strategy – Looking beyond the points of contention to the purpose/ motivation behind the conversation.
• Inventing a mutual purpose – Move beyond the initial goal(s) and perhaps seek a purpose based on the points of agreement.
• Brainstorming new strategies – Being open to new approaches.

The person who can master the art of preserving mutual purpose and mutual respect in conversations/ negotiations will be viewed as an invaluable member of any team. The ability to keep conversations focused and participants constantly seeking solutions is a skill that corporations and firms always find in short supply.

Elliott Robinson, JD is an Executive Coach, Workshop Facilitator & Mediator with Trove, Inc. . You can contact Elliott for information on coaching, workshops or mediation at CoachE@Troveinc.com. Elliott brings his unique insight to the areas of leadership development, communications and career advancement. Elliott’s writing can be found at: www.erobinsoncoach.com, www.onbeingablacklawyer.com and his relationship blog, www.wisdominlove.com. Elliott is the co-host of Blog Talk Radio shows: The Wellness Blueprint (http://bit.ly/wbradio) and Career Impact Radio by Trove, Inc. (http://bit.ly/ciradio). You can follow him on Twitter at: @ERobinsoncoach.


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