Refuse the Sucker’s Choice


“There are three constants in life… change, choice and principles.” — Stephen Covey

EITHER / OR choices are Sucker’s Choices.

More effective people at dialogue refuse Sucker’s Choices by setting up new choices.

They create an AND.

We can do this AND that.

More effective people ask tougher questions that turn the EITHER / OR choice into a search for the all-important and ever elusive AND.

In Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler write about how to search for the elusive AND.

How To Search for the Elusive AND

Here are the key steps to searching for the elusive and:

  • Step 1. Clarify What You Really Want
  • Step 2. Clarify What You Really Don’t Want.
  • Step 3. Present Your Brain With a More Complex Problem.

Step 1. Clarify What You Really Want

First, clarify what you really want.

For example, “What I want is for my husband to be more reliable. I’m tired of being let down by him when he makes comments that I depend on.”

Step 2. Clarify What You Really Don’t Want.

Second, clarify what you really don’t want.

For example, “What I don’t want is to have a useless and heated conversation that creates bad feelings and doesn’t lead to change.”

Step 3. Present Your Brain With a More Complex Problem.

Third, present your brain with a more complex problem.

For example, “How can I have a candid conversation with my husband about being more dependable and avoid creating bad feelings or wasting our time?”

Ask, “Is There a Way to Accomplish Both?”


  • Is there a way to tell your peer your real concerns and not insult or offend him?
  • Is there a way to talk to your neighbors about their annoying behavior and not come across as self-righteous or demanding?
  • Is there a way to talk with your loved one about how you’re spending money and not get into an argument?”

Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler write:

“With surprising regularity, when people are asked: “Is it possible that there’s a way to accomplish both?” they acknowledge that there very well may be.”

Key Take Aways

I’m an “and” kind of a guy, so turning this OR that into this AND that certainly resonates with me.

Here are my key take aways:

  • Don’t fall prey to a Sucker’s Choice. A Sucker’s Choice is a this or a that, an either / or … etc. The assumption is that you have to trade one thing for another.
  • Find an “and” solution over “either / or“. Find a way to have it both ways. Challenge yourself to seek the higher ground.
  • Know what you want and what you don’t want. Stating what you want and don’t want are powerful because they clarify your intentions. Clarifying what you don’t want can be particularly powerful because of the principle of contrast. It can can also help take away perceived threats. Clarifying intentions is an important step because it’s easy to get lost in the content and lose sight of the real intentions. Your intentions guide you through your dialogue.

You Might Also Like

Mutual Purpose

Start with Heart

Work On Me First

Photo by Joe Shlabotnik


  1. this great recipe can be easily adapted to run a successful meeting! i can rephrase it:
    – set an agenda [what you really want]
    – set and expected outcomes [what’s beyond this is what you really do not want]
    – stay focused on it [that is hell complex problem :), people easily tend to get distracted during the meeting]

  2. Great to hear. I think even just knowing the types of roles we play helps (Manager, Entrepreneur and Technician - Another thing that might help is Six thinking Hats ( You can both wear the same hats at the same time to agree on perspectives. This helps with rapport. If you don’t first build rapport, influence is a challenge.

  3. […] the Suckers Choice – what do I not want? (ex: winning / losing) How should I go about getting what I really […]

Comments are closed.