1.6 Partners, not opponents

While people battle over opposing solutions “Do it my way!”, “No, that’s no good! Do it my way!”, the conflict is a power struggle. What is needed is to change the agenda in the conversation to:

I want to win and I want you to win too.

So how to get there? How to have this happen?

Go Back to needs

The most important win-win manoeuvre you can make is to change course. Back off your fixed position and begin to discuss everyone’s underlying needs, including your own. You take the focus off solutions for a while and look at why people want what they say they do. Work through the layers of the conflict. Explore what is underneath people’s positions.

What are their interests and needs? What do they really want? How important is that? What do they really need? Ask questions such as:

  • “Why does that seem to be the best solution to you?”
  • “What’s your real need here?”
  • “What’s important to consider while working on this issue? Who needs what?”
  • “What values are important to you here?”
  • “What’s the outcome or result you want?”

A win-win approach rests on these strategies:

  • Go back to underlying needs
  • Recognise and respect individual differences
  • Attack the problem, not the people
  • Listen for the needs. Collect the information.
  • Be open to new attitudes and more inclusive solutions.

A win-win approach does not mean that you can always find a win-win solution. Of course, not every problem is capable of being fixed. Often the best we can do is to come up with some better ways to deal with what’s going on, so that some of the issues are side-stepped or some parts of the problem are better addressed. In these cases, we manage conflict rather than resolve it.

Conflict is often necessary and inevitable. We’ll never solve all the problems with our challenging teenager, for example. It’s in the nature of teenagers to fight against parental constrictions. Pushing back seems to be part of the process of growing up.

Competition over scarce resources may have to be managed. The problems involved may not be able to be fully resolved where enough for everyone is not a viable option. The way in which decisions are made, taking everyone’s needs into account, dealing with each other as partners, not opponents, defines it as a win-win approach. Win-win is about the nature of the process, it will not always be about outcomes.

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