How To Resolve a Conflict by Inventing a Mutual Purpose



“Exhausting someone in argument is not the same as convincing them.” — Tim Kreider

Sometimes we find ourselves in the middle of an argument, debate or communication conflict because we clearly have different purposes.

There is no misunderstanding here.

Pointing out how your ideas or styles or approaches are different is not going to help, because you haven’t established common ground.

You need to get to Mutual Purpose.   In other words, you need to create a shared goal so that instead of competing or creating conflict, you focus on collaboration and achieving a win-win.

In many conflicts, the only reason there is a win-lose, is because you didn’t take the time to figure out how a Mutual Purpose.

In Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler write about how to use four skills, CRIB, to get to Mutual Purpose.

CRIB to Get to Mutual Purpose

According to the authors of Crucial Conversations, when you sense that you and others are working at cross-purposes, step out of the content of the conflict.  Stop focusing on who thinks what, and CRIB your way to Mutual Purpose.

CRIB is an acronym for the following steps:

  1. Skill #1 – Commit to Seek Mutual Purpose
  2. Skill #2 – Recognize the Purpose Behind the Strategy
  3. Skill #3 – Invent a Mutual Purpose
  4. Skill #4 – Brainstorm New Strategies

Step 1. Commit to Seek Mutual Purpose

Agree to agree. Make a unilateral public commitment to stay in the conversation until you come up with something that serves everyone.

The Crucial Conversation team writes:

“As is true with most dialogue skills, if you want to get back to dialogue, you have to Start with Heart. In this case, you have to agree to agree.

To be successful, we have to stop using silence or violence to compel others to our view.

We must even surrender false dialogue, where we pretend to have Mutual Purpose (calmly arguing our side until the other person gives in).

We Start with Heart by committing to stay in the conversation until we come up with a solution that serves a purpose we both share.”

When you commit to Mutual Purpose, consider the following points:

  • To stop arguing, you have to suspect your belief that your choice is the absolute best and only one, and that you’ll never be happy until you get exactly what you currently want.
  • You have to be willing to verbalize this commitment even when your partner seems committed to winning.
  • If your partner seems stuck in silence or violence, act on faith that if you demonstrate more commitment to finding a Mutual Purpose, that your partner will feel more confident that dialogue could be a productive avenue.

Example of Seeking Mutual Purpose

The Crucial Conversation team shares an example of seeking Mutual Purpose:

“This isn’t working. Your team is arguing to stay late and work until we’re done, and my team wants to go home and come back on the weekend.

Why don’t we see if we can come up with something that satisfies everyone?”

Step 2. Recognize the Purpose Behind the Strategy

It helps to know what problem people are trying to solve or what they wan to achieve.

Ask people why they want what they’re pushing for.

Separate what they’re demanding from the purpose it serves.

Break the impasse by asking others, “Why do you want that?.”

Before you can agree on Mutual Purpose, you must know what people’s real purposes are. Step out of the content — which is generally focused on strategies – and explore the purposes behind them.

When you do this new options become available.

You open up the possibility of finding new alternatives that can serve Mutual Purpose.

Example of Finding the Purpose

The Crucial Conversation team shares an example of finding the purpose behind what a person is arguing or asking for:

“Exactly why don’t you want to come in Saturday morning?

We’re feeling fatigued and are worried about safety issues and a loss of quality.

Why do you want to stay late?”

Step 3. Invent a Mutual Purpose

Create common ground. If you can’t discover a Mutual Purpose, invent one. Sometimes you recognize the purpose behind the strategies, you discover that you actually have compatible goals.

From there, you can simply come up with common strategies.

When that’s not the case, such as when you find that your genuine wants and goals cannot be served except at the expense of the other person’s, then you need to invent a Mutual Purpose.

See if you can invent a higher or longer-term purpose that is more motivating than the ones that keep you in conflict.   Look for the win-win.

The Crucial Conversation team writes:

“To invent a Mutual Purpose, move to more encompassing goals. Find an objective that is more meaningful or more rewarding than the ones that divide the various sides.

For instance, you and your spouse may not agree on whether or not you should take the promotion, but you can agree that the needs of your relationship and the children come before career aspirations.

By focusing on higher and longer-term goals, you can find a way to transcend short-term compromises, build Mutual Purpose, and get to dialogue.”

Example of Inventing a Mutual Purpose

The Crucial Conversation team shares an example of inventing a Mutual Purpose:

“I certainly don’t want to make winners and losers here. It’s far better if we can come up with something that doesn’t make one team resent the other one.

We’ve voted before or flipped a coin, and the losers just end up resenting the winners.

I’m more worried about how we feel about each other than anything else. Let’s make sure that whatever we do, we don’t drive a wedge in our working relationship.”

Step 4. Brainstorm New Strategies

Suspend judgment and think outside the box for new alternatives.

The Crucial Conversation team writes:

“Once you’ve built safety by finding a shared purpose, you should now have enough safety to return to the content of the conversation.

It’s time to step back into the dialogue and brainstorm strategies that meet everyone’s needs.

If you’ve committed to finding something everyone can agree on, and surfaced what you really want, you’ll no longer be spending your energy on unproductive conflict.

Instead, you’ll be actively coming up with options that can serve everyone.”

Example of Brainstorming New Strategies

The Crucial Conversation team shares an example of brainstorming new strategies:

“So we need to come up with something that doesn’t jeopardize safety and quality and allows your team to attend their colleague’s wedding on Saturday.

My team members don’t care about the game a bit.

What if we were to work the morning and early afternoon and then you come in after the game and take over from there?

That way we’ll be able …”

Key Takeaways

Here are my key takeaways:

  • Find the higher, common ground. Finding the higher ground is a proven practice for results. From experience, I know it’s particularly effective for cross-group collaboration scenarios. Turf wars happen because of a scarcity mentality. While there are times when there really is a scarcity scenario, usually the problem is you haven’t framed out a bigger playground for everyone to play.
  • Don’t get stuck on the how, focus on the why. If you get stuck on arguing for your implementation or “how,” you limit options and better alternatives, or options that might be more inclusive. Instead, focus on the “what”and the “why.”
  • Stay focused on Mutual Purpose. If the other person doesn’t trust that you have their best interest at heart, you’re going to face resistance. Buy-in might take time.

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  1. I was occupied lately with this – thinking how to find the common ground with another person so we can play chords. I am more focused and he is more entrepreneur. I stick to the process and try to coordinate all the members. He runs furthers and more creative. Adizes [] calls folks like me Integrators and folks like him Entrepreneur. Adizes says that there will be always conflict between I and E. No doubt. I love his creative side, but on other hand I am trying to stick to the procedures and he feels like I choke him. We are definitely in conflict with good goals. I was thinking how we can get to the convergence. This post seem to be the answer to my questions – thanks.

  2. […] collaboration between the teams and management to define opportunities for discovery, and create a mutual purpose […]

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