This is the last in the series about conflict and it’s probably a good opportunity to reflect on some of the conclusions or ground rules I have reached in the series before proceeding with this finale:

  1. There is a difference between conflict and argument: conflict is good if handled right – an argument is not! (
  2. Most of what we conflict over is opinion – so don’t argue like it is fact! (
  3. We should proactively seek to make conflict constructive, for example, by developing the touchpoints or only getting mad on purpose (
  4. We should proactively work together, collaborate, and co-create the solution (

Today I thought we would explore one way how we might collaborate and co-create the solution.

We seem to be socialised to my ourselves right and others wrong – that is, we take the win-lose approach where I make myself right and the other person wrong. Naturally, the other person is socialised in the same way and we have an argument. Equally naturally, if a lot (the majority?) of people go for win-lose, there will be some people who submit themselves perhaps over time to lose-win. Ultimately over time, win-lose and lose-win leads to lose-lose in any ongoing relationship. It follows then that in any ongoing relationship, that is where we have an ongoing relationship or want an ongoing relationship, we need a different approach.

As clichéd as it may sound, this approach is win-win. To quote Stephen Covey, “Win-Win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions.” If the solution or agreement is mutually beneficial (as opposed to compromise where it is mutually sacrificial) then both parties feel good about and feel committed to the answer (again, as opposed to compromise where both feel a little peeved about giving up something).

So, at the start of the conflict, or as soon as we notice it arising, or even if we have had the argument(s) and need to come back for a win-win discussion, we need to have a conversation with the other party that sets up the intention to seek a win-win solution – for example, “George, you and I have been bumping our heads on this issue. Would you be prepared to discuss it again but with us both aiming to find a win-win or mutually beneficial outcome that satisfies both of us, even a third alternative that is better than both of our views on the matter?”

Once you have this commitment, it’s important to hear them first, otherwise, the chances are that you will revert to the “A, no B, no A, no B…” approach that may have preceded this discussion and where neither party feels heard. The important point is that both parties need to feel heard, and that is highly unlikely unless you take the lead and say something like: “George, I would really like to understand where you are coming from this time. Won’t you tell me again, and I undertake not to interrupt you this time!” And then listen to George. Curb your tendency to want to respond with “Yes, but B!” Rather say things like, “Let me see if I have understood what you are saying – I am hearing you say P, Q, R, and S. Have I understood you correctly?” After all, it is probably equally important for George to understand that you understand – so don’t just nod your head and say “Okay, my turn!”

When George is finished and you have demonstrated that you understand, ask him if it is okay for you to tell him where you are coming from. Of course, George may not have picked up the no-interruption ground rule, so you may have to remind him that you allowed him to get his views out onto the table (and tap the table – it does wonders in objectifying our respective views), would he mind if you got yours onto the table (tap-tap) before you started discussing them. Your views should be win-win because you (unlike George) have had an opportunity to think about what win-win might look like for each of you.

Then, when you are finished, you may say something like: “Okay, George, we seem to have most of the puzzle pieces on the table (tap-tap), how can we use these to find a third alternative that is better than each of our pieces?”

I know that I have made it sound simple, but if you work at it and stick to the four-step process (and keep your head), it really can lead to incredible outcomes neither of you had considered in your prior blind myopia (if that’s not a contradiction in terms!)

So, what happens if you and George are not able to come up with a synergistic solution, one that was agreeable to both of you? The alternative to win-win in these circumstances is ‘no deal’, which effectively means that if we can’t find a solution that benefits both of us, we agree to disagree agreeably. When you both have ‘no deal’ as an option in your mind, you feel liberated because you don’t need to manipulate people or push your agenda or drive what you want. You can be open. You can really try to understand the deeper issues underlying the positions.

After all, isn’t that precisely what we should always seek to do in ongoing relationships?

(Adapted from Stephen Covey’s  The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People)

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