Greeted by a great white while diving at 90 feet presents a well-defined problem of getting out of the water intact but without the bends. Understanding the situation is easy. Overcoming the challenge is the problem! 

When negotiating it is essential to define the problem. People often fight over ancillary issues rather than recognize or address the real problem festering between them.

Recognizing the Core or Main Problem

A mediator takes the time to source, identify and quantify all the micro issues or problems that contribute to or have impact on the primary argument. If the ancillary issues can begin to be resolved, the parties will likely be able to be led toward a mutually acceptable resolution. In a heated argument with a friend you may not be inclined to look for a bigger issue, that does not mean it might not be a good idea. If the arguments persist, it is definitely a wise course of action.

Overcoming a core problem between people cannot be accomplished until the problem has been recognized. Often the issue that appears to be the problem overshadows the actual underlying cause or causes of dissension. 

Breaking a Major Problem Down into Small Issues

Assessing an apparently insurmountable problem is hard to do. But if it can be broken down into lesser issues, then these can be attacked individually.

As the apparently less important issues are resolved, the original problem may well become less important to the parties. 

The best way to start to resolve a conflict is to look for additional issues to include in the dialogue. This can be done in the casual conversations as the meeting gets started. You should look for personal, business, and totally unrelated issues that may potentially block open communication. You should also watch for indicators that suggest the other person is for some reason uncomfortable with you. Before starting you want to get as much of the “interference” out of the way as possible. 

For the issues you have uncovered that relate to the matter at hand, separate the “wants” from the “needs”. This is best done through additional dialogue whereby you ask questions like: 

– Why is it that you want to accomplish that. The response may reveal if it is a company mandate, boss’s expectation or personal goal. The nature of the source should reveal whether it is a “want” or “need”. 

– Do others actually agree to this? Often the response will be something like, not all or most. In either case, that casual remark lets you know that it may be a “want” and that there may be other ways to satisfy the underlying issue. 

– If I could find a way to agree to this, what could you do for me in return? The response will indicate how important the issue is as well as give you an insight in to other issues where the other person has flexibility. It may be that those issues are more important to you than the one being discussed. 

Identifying problems does not stop when you start the primary discussion. During any conflict resolution discussion you should be sensitive to ancillary issues that may be brought up or referred to in the other person’s responses. Resolving a conflict involves foraging for nuggets of information that might help you resolve the situation.

Creative problem solving is the meat of dispute resolution. By expanding the issues being addressed, the parties have the opportunity to resolve the dispute by pairing ancillary problem solutions in a fashion that both people emerge feeling a sense of victory. Win/Win negotiating is not so much about appeasing both sides as it is about pairing needs and satisfiers so that both parties think that they have come away with more than what they had to give away to reach the agreement. This is how value can be created through the negotiating process, it is far more than bartering.

In Seven Secrets to WINNING Without Losing a Friend, I discuss the importance of creative problem solving to potentially add value to any conflict solution.

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