Tuesday, January 22, 2013

1. Raise the issue with the other person in a way that invites cooperation.
2. Listen to each other to discover your interests.
3. Create options – possible ways to solve the problem.
4. Develop an agreement that meets as many as possible of both of your interests.

When conflicts arise, we often fall automatically into adversarial, “you or me” ways of thinking and acting that lead to win-lose decisions and damaged relationships. Here are some tips to remember when you want to turn a conflict into a mutual agreement as well as a good relationship:

1. Accept that conflicts are normal: In fact, they are inevitable. There are seven billion people on this planet. We will never all agree. But with the right tools, we can learn how to manage many conflicts as partners so that everyone is satisfied.

2. Treat conflicts as natural resources: Conflict is neither positive nor negative in itself. It is the way you deal with the issue and with the other person that is the key. If you know how to handle conflicts well, this can lead to good agreements and improved relationships.

3. Treat the other person as a partner: When in conflict, you can either try to be the sole winner or ask: “How can we work this out together?”

4. Listen: If you don’t listen, the other person probably won’t listen to you. So before trying to solve the problem, listen – ask questions and really listen – until you understand your partner’s point of view. We all want to be heard and understood.

5. Discover interests: We tend to have disagreements over our positions – the way we want to do things. But we seldom talk about our interests – the reasons why our positions are important to us. Express your interests honestly, and ask about your partner’s interests. Often you will find some overlap between their interests and yours. It is in that common ground that you are likely to find solutions.

6. “Understand the differences; act on the commonalities”: There is an old saying that “there are at least seven solutions to every problem.” So once you have discovered interests, work together to find as many answers as you can to the question: “What are some possible ways for us to meet our interests?” You don’t have to come up with a solution by yourself – work it out together.

7. Respect people; attack problems: If emotions flare, don’t give in to anger or personal attacks. Emotions just mean that this is an important matter. Whatever happens, respect your partner’s dignity as well as your own. Stay away from questioning the other person’s motivation or character. Focus on the problem.

8. Choose your approach: You have choices when it comes to managing conflicts. Some conflicts are just not worth dealing with. At other times, it may be appropriate to resolve a conflict by just saying “no”. Other possibilities include going to court, going to the police, or having someone else decide. But for those times when your goal is solving the problem and improving the relationship, a cooperative approach will serve you best. What is important is to realize that you have choices.

9. Know how to do it: Like any other process, there are some fundamental steps in cooperative problem solving. Use them as guides:
Describe your point of view briefly and without judging the other person.
Discover interests through two-way conversation. 
Generate options – possible ways to meet everyone’s interests. 
Develop mutual agreements.

10. Be a constant learner: Cooperative problem solving is a learning experience for all involved. It requires that we temper our instincts for flight or fight. And it requires that we change our assumptions that conflict is a bad thing rather than an opportunity for problem solving. But like any other skill, you can get better at it with practice. It is rarely the easy route, but ultimately it is the most rewarding. And when you treat someone with whom you disagree as a partner rather than an enemy, you have at least increased the practice of civility in society.

For the entire Guide to Cooperative Problem Solving, visit here.

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