Resolving conflict by creating win-win solutions
Most of us shy away from conflict because we think it is difficult. However, there is nothing inherently difficult about this conversation in itself – it’s that we’re approaching the conversation in the wrong frame of mind and with the wrong tools.
Typically, we approach the conflict conversation in a defensive way, thinking, ‘I’m right and you're wrong; I’m going to prove to you that you’re wrong.’ Or we may even just think ‘I want to win so I need you to lose’.
But if you approach the situation with this win-lose mindset, you've already lost. Because, whoever “wins”, the other person is going to be resentful; rather than creating a victory, you’re creating a future opponent - a resentful future opponent. A resentful future opponent is not a victory, it's a poor outcome.
Conflict can only exist where there is a need for co-operation
What you need is to go into the conversation with a different perspective: to have an outcome that the other person would agree with. This might sound a bit crazy because you’re in conflict with the other person over this situation. But consider this: every conflict happens in the context of collaboration. If you didn't have a reason to cooperate or collaborate with this person, there would be no need for conflict.
Example: You and your partner have completely different views about your next holiday. You only get one holiday a year and you're at odds. But because you’re in a relationship you both want to go on holiday together, so you need to collaborate and cooperate. If you both value the relationship, then the togetherness is more important than the location or the activity. You need to find an outcome that you both agree with.
So, you could say: “What would be the best holiday we could take together?” When you do this, you approach the situation with a shared purpose. It’s a very different place to start, right?
Example: You and a colleague at work have a bitter disagreement about how to best work with a client you share. You both have a larger shared purpose, which is to achieve the mission of the company; you have different roles and perspectives but it’s a shared goal – you need to collaborate and co-operate.
You could start the conversation with: "How could we manage this client so that they get the best out of both of us?"
Every time you have a conflict with a person, it's relevant to ask yourself: what is the highest purpose or mission objective where we both need to collaborate on this issue? Let that guide you to what you should be trying to achieve.
But even then, it’s easy to want to convince the other person that you’re right isn’t it? And try to get them to do what you want? To try to get in first?
To guard against this, ask the other person to put their point of view first:
- Really try to understand what they’re thinking and how they feel about this.
- Don’t speak while they’re speaking.
- Use your body language to let them know you’re paying attention and use encouraging gestures and nodding.
- When they’ve finished an idea or topic and they pause, check to see if you have really understood by giving a short summary in a few phrases. Try to capture the essence of what they said, so they know you really got what’s important to them and you respect them.
- Ask if you got it right; if they say ‘no’ then ask for them to tell you more so you can really get it right.
- Check again. If they’re happy you’ve got it, acknowledge that it makes sense.
Now it’s your turn to put your side – but not to prove you’re right and they’re wrong! Perhaps you say: ‘This is what I think so far, and I'd like to explain it to you, so if I'm wrong you can correct me - and if I'm not wrong, then maybe it will modify your view.’
The structure is more:
- "This is what I think."
- "This is why I think what I think."
- "This is what I propose to do about what I think."
Turn it back to the other person and ask them what they think about what you’ve said. Give them a chance to reflect back to you about it.
Hopefully you now both understand each other... although you may still disagree.
This is where the win-win comes in.
What you’re going to try to come up with together is a solution that is better than what either of you could have come up with on your own. Critically, you’re also trying to get THEM a solution that is better than they could have come up with on their own.
What can you create together that is a great result for both of you?
It’s a bit like going to the supermarket and buying a bunch of ingredients and then getting home and one of you saying they want to make roast dinner and the other saying they want to make soup. And then you collaborate to use the ingredients to make something different from anything you’ve ever cooked before. You might find your new favourite dish!
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