Like to win?
Like to be right?
Like to look good?
If you admit you actually like these things, you may feel a little guilty. But rest assured — there’s nothing wrong with wanting them.
However, there is something wrong when winning, being right, or looking good becomes the goal of your conversations.
Try this instead:
How often do you try to keep the peace?
Are you good at avoiding conflict?
If you answered positively, you may feel pretty good. It’s good to keep the peace and avoid conflict, right? Well, not in a crucial conversation.
When we find ourselves in a difficult conversation, we must re-evaluate our typical goals. Rather than aiming to win, be right, save face, keep peace, or avoid conflict, we need a new goal: Dialogue.
Our Natural Goals Aren’t Always Healthy Goals
Some goals are not healthy for a conversation. I hate to admit it, but look at the lists below:
I’m not a fan of these lists. Why? It disturbs me that the list on the left is considered unhealthy.
When you’re in a crucial conversation, the unhealthy goals are tempting and attractive. We’re innately drawn to them.
We like to be right, look good, and save face. We want harmony in some situations and we just want to win the argument in other situations. As we navigate difficult conversations, it’s easy to move to punishing and blaming others for the challenges we’re experiencing.
Even our attempt to avoid conflict compromises our effectiveness. Rather than resolve the issue, we put ourselves in a position where we’re less healthy and capable of moving into effective crucial conversations.
We’ve been taught some of these behaviours our entire lives. They make sense. But, like it or not, these tendencies do not move us closer to resolving issues in a healthy way.
What’s wrong with keeping the peace?
It doesn’t move us toward dialogue.
In fact, none of these unhealthy goals allow us to establish a free flow of meaning between two or more people. So, results suffer.
When we pursue unhealthy goals, we don’t get the best solutions.
How to Change Our Focus
Instead, we want to shift towards goals of dialogue. Rather than focusing on what we want in the moment when emotions are flaring, we need to focus on the big picture.
Ask yourself, “How can I open the door to a conversation that leads to real, effective solutions?”
Look at the goals of dialogue:
Our primary focus should be learning — learning about the other person, their perspective, and their ideas.
We must seek truth — even if it’s different than what we think it should be or what we anticipate it will look like when we enter the conversation.
We also want to focus on producing results. Some of us think, “I’m always focused on results so I’m not sure that’s a challenge for me.” But how many times in a conversation have we settled for the kind of results that look like this: Just do what I say. As long as we can commit to this deadline, we can move forward.
Does that really move us forward or will we have the same conversation again later because no one was committed to the solution at hand?
When we talk about producing results, we’re talking about the long-term sustainable kind that actually move us forward.
Results don’t justify harming a relationship. We must value the importance of strengthening relationships WHILE we produce results.
From Me to We
As we focus less on the unhealthy goals and begin to prioritise the goals of dialogue, our focus shifts from “me” to “we.”
The goals of dialogue help us see the needs of the other person and the relationship. It moves us out of the short-term focus and into long-term thinking.
There’s nothing wrong with winning a game or wanting to look good — but that’s no way to approach a conversation.
When we enter into the conversations that matter most, we have to focus on the goals that matter most too.