Written by G. Eric Allenbaugh, Ph.D.
Think of a time when you experienced significant conflict with another person – at work or at home. Considering how the situation evolved, to what extent do you and the other party feel satisfied with the result? Following the conflict, did the relationship stay the same, improve, or deteriorate? When you think of that past conflict, do you notice any gain or loss of body energy? What unfinished business, if any, do you have with that person as a result of how that conflict experience was handled?
Conflict comes with the territory of life, and how you handle conflict often determines the quality of your relationships, whether personal or professional. Developing skill in handling difficult or sensitive conflict situations, therefore, is an essential life skill that has far reaching implications.
Virtually every conflict situation has two key elements requiring careful attention: 1) the issue, and 2) the relationship. For example, assume that your next-door-neighbor rescues a dog from the pound. You enjoy a friendly relationship with the neighbor, but are suddenly confronted with their new dog barking all day and night. If you elect
This article explores The 12 Win-Win Conflict Management Strategies that will assist in working through interpersonal conflict issues while preserving or perhaps even enhancing the relation- ship. Applying these pragmatic tools at work and at home will likely make a positive and significant difference in how you travel through life.
Commit to win-win
Granted – not every disagreement will result in a win-win solution. Nevertheless, a significant majority of interpersonal conflicts can be resolved to the mutual satisfaction of both parties – particularly when individuals enter into the discussions with the intent to create a win-win outcome. Even if only one person initially seeks to create a win-win outcome – that approach will likely encourage the other party to join in the effort.
In exploring methods of handling conflict, I observed Dr. Covey challenge individuals to ask this thought-provoking question when confronted with a difficult situation: “Are you willing to engage in dialogue until we are successful in coming up with a win-win solution?” Great question! This approach creates a mindset that encourages both parties to creatively seek a mutually satisfactory outcome. The question also effectively addresses the “barking dog analogy” by setting a stage for dealing with the issue while preserving the relationship.
Focus on interests – not positions
Typically, those engaged in conflict lock on to a position: “…that is the way it is, and this is what I want!” This myopic and fixed position essentially eliminates creative options, complicates resolving the issue, and generally results in relationship tension. There is another way.
In the book titled Getting to Yes, the authors described the difference between a “position” and an “interest.” Imagine twin teenage girls arguing over an orange. Both say they want the orange and neither one is willing to move off her position.
A parent gets involved and ultimately handled the situation by simply dividing the orange and giving half to each sister. Both sisters, however, remained unhappy. The parent, unfortunately, did not listen to why the sisters wanted the orange – the interest behind the position. As it turned out,one of the sisters wanted the orange to eat and the other sister wanted the orange peel to use in a cooking recipe. While both sisters vocalized their positions (wanting the orange), neither articulated her interest.
Interestingly enough, few people understand their interest behind their stated position. What they say they want, typically, is not what they actually want. Even if you ask them their interest, they will likely state their position. Your job as a win-win player, then, is to assist the other person in both discovering and articulating their interest behind their stated position. As you seek to understand their interests, be prepared for the probability that they will state: “It sounds like you are arguing for my position!” “No,” you respond, “I am seeking to understand your interests.”
Once you have a good understanding of their interests and of your own interests, multiple win-win options are more likely to surface.
Start with the facts, not your judgments
Imagine that your teenage daughter comes home late from a date the third time in a row. You might confront her at the door by saying something
like: “You are so irresponsible! I am grounding you for the next 10 years!” At that point, your daughter storms off to her room, slams the door behind her, and doesn’t talk with you for the next three weeks. Instead of reflecting on her broken promises related to returning on time, she fixates on her judgmental parent. Starting the discussion with your conclusions and emotionally charged judgments (“You are so irresponsible.”) will likely escalate and personalize the conflict. The result? The problem behavior remains unaddressed while new stresses are introduced to the parent-child relationship. Once again, there is another way.
Instead, start by sharing your observations:
“I noticed that you have come home late from the last three dates. That is not consistent with our agreement, and we need to talk about that.” Starting with your neutral observations will likely create a mindset for a more rational and reasonable discussion. Likewise, sharing observations encourages both parties to focus on the issue rather than allowing personality conflicts to emerge. This approach also takes into consideration that there may well have been legitimate reasons for her tardiness.
Assume a positive intent
During the Cold War between the former Soviet Union and the United States, low trust levels resulted in both parties assuming a negative intent in several significant situations. Former President Ronald Reagan fueled that lack of trust by referring to the Soviet Union as the “Evil Empire.” In 1983, Korean Air Lines Flight 007 strayed into Soviet airspace. Convinced that the 747 was on a spy mission by the United States to test the Soviet military response capabilities, a Soviet interceptor shot it down with an air-to-air missile, killing all 269 passengers and crew aboard. The Soviets assumed a negative intent and acted accordingly.
Several years later, President Reagan took the bold action of flying to Moscow to personally meet with the then Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbechev. During those meetings, Reagan and Gorbechev became friends – good friends. That action warmed relations and improved trust levels between the two Super Powers.
In 1990, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to participate in the Goodwill Games in Seattle, Washington. Athletes from the Soviet Union boarded planes to fly to the United States for this world class sporting event. Due to a communication glitch, the Soviet planes crossed the International Date Line precisely twenty- four hours early and entered US airspace. US Air Force fighter jets scrambled to intercept the oncoming planes. Because of elevated trust levels with the Soviet Union, our Air Force assumed a positive intent and did not blast them out of the sky. Instead, the armada of Soviet and US planes landed at an Air Force base in Alaska where the Americans and Soviets partied while waiting for official clearance for the Russian planes to continue their journey to Seattle.
Assuming and acting on a positive intent provides opportunities for conflicting parties to achieve results otherwise unattainable. When in a conflict situation, pause to consider that the other party may well have a positive intent – and be prepared to act on that.
To be continued….