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Think “And,” Not “Or”

Two Minute Training by Maria Simpson

A new series of ads shows a happy couple shopping for a new car. The dealer takes pride in telling them that the car has “this AND that” feature, and they agree that AND is soooo much better then OR.

Cut to images of the happy couple having to choose between desirable options because they have to settle for “OR:” Bed OR Breakfast? Sweet OR sour soup? Yuck.

It reminded me, as so many things do, that AND is a great solution to a disagreement. Why does the solution have to be one or the other of the proposals? Why can’t it be both? Or at least include elements of both?

To answer my own question, because people are too often set on winning the disagreement, not resolving it. If you want to win, then the opponent has to lose. You can’t combine this team’s TDs with that team’s field goals and come to a resolution. That’s not the goal of the game.

How do you persuade people that they don’t need to win to come out ahead?
change the definition of the process;
define what “coming out ahead” means to them;
help them find a way to get there and incorporate the definitions into an agreement.
If the definition of what’s happening is changed from a fight to a disagreement or to sorting out what’s happened, then winning is no longer the goal. A resolution to discussing other perspectives or finding a good way to proceed doesn’t require winning, and the personal stakes involved are lowered, making a resolution easier.

After some thoughtful discussion, and yes, even some heated argument, "coming out ahead” may not mean anything near what the winning goal was. “Ahead” can mean something completely different, and those broad or unexpected definitions are what make an agreement so much easier to achieve than a win.

Getting there requires listening carefully, asking insightful questions, being open to another idea, not dismissing the original goal and maintaining respect for the parties (no matter how frustrated you are with them). Finding that definition is one of the most satisfying and creative parts of conflict resolution, and it is up to you as the mediator, manager, HR executive, coach or other expert to steer the participants through that process.

Finally, incorporate these new meanings of “ahead” into the agreement. They will each see their “win” in the agreement and focus on that gain, especially if they “win” on what is most important to them. That’s why, in legal cases that receive a lot of press coverage, both sides claim a “win” no matter what the outcome. For homeowners the primary issue may be property values or privacy or noise, but the original complaint might be about a sloppy yard. For managers, the original complaint may be about lack of responsibility from staff members, when the real issue is the management time it takes to explain a project or the pressure from management to “do more with less” or the pressure from home because a family member is ill and needs care.

No, you won’t find this needed, additional information unless you listen thoughtfully in a low-key conversation, and Yes, this takes time, but sometimes all it takes is listening to help people take that first, scary step toward resolution. It’s important to find the AND in the complaints, or as we say, the shared value or goal that is the basis of the resolution. That’s the creative and most satisfying part of the process, and you can take great pleasure in doing that.


Maria Simpson

Maria Simpson, Ph.D. is an executive coach, consultant, trainer and mediator who has worked extensively with the corporate, non-profit and conflict resolution communities to promote incorporating conflict resolution into organizational systems and training people in the skills and approaches of mediation. MORE >

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