How To Reduce Conflict by Starting with Heart



“When the heart speaks, the mind finds it indecent to object.” — Milan Kundera

When conversations get tough, it’s easy to fallback to bad patterns including saving face, wanting to win, seeking revenge, and hoping to remain safe.

Skilled people start with heart and stay focused on intentions.

In Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler write about starting with heart.

Skilled People Start with Heart

Stay focused on the right motives, no matter what happens.

The Crucial Conversations team writes:

“Although it’s difficult to describe the specific order of events in an interaction as fluid as a crucial conversation, we do know one thing for certain: Skilled people Start with Heart.

That is, they begin high-risk discussions with the right motives, and they stay focused no matter what happens.”

Two Ways to Maintain Focus

Know what you want and refuse the Sucker’s Choices.

The Crucial Conversations team writes:

“They maintain this focus in two ways. First, they’re steely-eyed smart when it comes to knowing what they want. Despite constant invitations to slip away from their goals, they stick with them.

Second, Skilled people don’t make Sucker’s Choices (either/or choices).

Unlike others who justify their unhealthy behavior by explaining that they had no choice but to fight or take flight, the dialogue smart believe that dialogue, no matter the circumstances, is always an option.”

Work On Me First

Remember that the only person you can directly control is yourself. See How To Practice the Principle “Work on Me First”.

Focus on What You Really Want

When you find yourself moving toward silence or violence, stop and pay attention to your motives. Whether you fall off track in a conversation or you need to prepare for a crucial conversation, stop and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I really want for myself?
  • What do i really want for others?
  • What do I really want for the relationship?
  • How would I behave if I really wanted these results?

There are two reasons for asking yourself these questions:

  • The answer to what we really want helps you find your bearings and locate your own North Star to guide you.
  • You effect your entire physiology. You shift your body from fight or flight mode to problem solving mode.

Refuse the Sucker’s Choice

As you consider what you want, notice when you start talking yourself into a Sucker’s Choice:

  • Watch to see if you’re telling yourself that you must choose between peace and honesty, between winning and losing and so on.
  • Break free of the Sucker’s Choices by searching for the and.
  • Clarify what you don’t want, add it to what you do want, and ask your brain to start searching for healthy options to bring you to dialogue.

See Refuse the Sucker’s Choice.

Key Takeaways

Here are my key takeaways:

  • Use focusing questions to move away from fight or flight mode. I’m a fan of using questions as a technique to change your focus or get into a more resourceful state. It works. If you don’t believe it, ask yourself “How might that be true?”
  • Work on me first. You can change yourself faster than you can change someone else.
  • Focus on what you want. If you know the outcome you want, you can stay focused on that. You can ask yourself questions like “how’s that going to land” or “am I acting consistent with my intentions or am I having an emotional response?” to stay on track.
  • Avoid Sucker’s Choices. Don’t limit yourself to “either / or” choices. Raise your bar and go for the “and” solutions.

You Might Also Like

6 Styles Under Stress

How To Make It Safe to Talk About Anything

How To Practice the Principle “Work on Me First”

How To Resolve a Conflict by Inventing a Mutual Purpose

Refuse the Sucker’s Choice


  1. This book has done a lot for me. After reading it and applying it in the workplace… I was given my own office and a promotion. I’ve only been working at this place for a year and a half… I’ve improved my relationships with upper management and built trust with my direct boss. He trusts me with special projects and goes to me to get inside feedback on employee moral and his own management style…

  2. @ steppingitup

    It’s a great book. I think it takes a while to master, but I love how the book frames out the tools and techniques for effective dialogue.

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