By Organisation Development Division
Let’s look at the “What Happened” Conversation in depth.
Recall a recent disagreement you had with
|| Can you identify ‘the other story’?
|| How did what the person say
impact you? What did you assume were his intentions?
What were your own intentions?
||Try to identify and understand
what each of you contributed to the disagreement.
|People typically disagree on one or more
of the following:
|| What happened (Story)
|| Who meant what (Intentions)
||Who should answer for what happened (Responsibility)
On each of these fronts – truth, intentions and blame – we make
common but often crippling assumptions. Dealing with these assumptions
is essential to improving our ability to handle difficult conversations
This assumption causes endless grief. For example, “I am right
that I have done my share of the test setting”; “I am right
in saying that the contractor overcharged me”.
The problem is that difficult conversations are almost never
about getting the facts right. They are about conflicting perceptions,
interpretations and values. They are not about what a contract
states, they are about what a contract means. They
are not about what is true, but about what is important.
What should we do then? Moving away from the truth
assumption frees us to shift our focus from proving we are right
to understanding the perceptions, interpretations and values
of both sides. We can try to understand the other person’s
story and adopt the “And” stance, i.e., my story makes sense,
and so does yours.
Did you shout at me to hurt my feelings or merely to emphasise
your point? We often assume we know other people’s intentions
when we don’t. The point is: intentions are invisible. We assume
them from other people’s behaviour, i.e. we subconsciously make
Because our view of others’ intentions and their view of ours
are so important, jumping to unfounded assumptions can be a
Don’t assume they meant to hurt. Just because you were hurt
by my words does not mean that I intended to hurt you. But knowing
my good intentions cannot negate the hurt I caused you, so I
need to move beyond just self-defence and address your feelings
It is really difficult to see how we’ve contributed to the problems
in which we ourselves are involved. And it is almost always
true that what happened is the result of what both
parties did –- or failed to do!
Talking about blame distracts us from exploring why things went
wrong and how we might correct them to go forward. Instead of
assigning blame to others, ask yourself how you have contributed
to the current situation.
Whether you’re talking about your contrasting points of view,
intentions or contributions, the goal isn’t to get an admission
from the other party. The goal is to understand better what’s
happening between both of you, so that you can start talking
constructively about where to go next.
In the next article, we will explore the Feelings Conversation.
Stone, D., Patton, B. and S. Heen. (1999) Difficult Conversations:
How to Discuss What Matters Most. Penguin Books