Common Ground

The Secret to Conflict Resolution -- Stop Compromising

We hear the word “compromise” anytime we turn on the TV or read a newspaper article about how the U.S. Congress should fix our fiscal woes.  Talking heads and Joe Public alike beg for more compromise to fix the situation.  Is it possible that compromise is what is putting us in such a predicament?  Compromise is based on giving up something you want, thus it is based on “losing”.  As that term suggests, I give a little, you give a little, and we meet somewhere in the middle at an agreement.  While compromise sounds like the best way to get unstuck, it actually leaves both parties feeling unsatisfied, almost as if they gave up too much.

To truly resolve conflict we suggest another “C” word -- “Collaboration”.  To collaborate, two or more parties must brainstorm ideas to fix a problem.  The goal, in the end, is to walk away with a solution that is more likely to truly “fix” the situation over which the parties were at odds to begin with.  The process is really pretty easy.  First, the two parties must come to an agreement on a goal that they both want to achieve.  Once that goal is agreed on, they brainstorm ways to get them to their shared goal.  No giving up one’s beliefs or buying into the other guy’s beliefs, simply agreed upon strategies that can get both parties what they have agreed that they both want.  The task then is to choose one solution that both parties have already agreed will achieve the common goal.

Let’s look at an actual conflict that shows how this works.  There was a state in the Southern U.S. that was having violent clashes between Pro-Choice and Pro-Life groups.  The state’s governor knew he must do something before more violence led to somebody’s death.  He told his assistant that he wanted the leadership of both groups to meet with him so they could come to some sort of agreement to stop the violence.  His assistant, thinking the governor had lost his mind, questioned if getting these two groups together in the same room was wise, but the governor insisted.

When the meeting did occur, both sides were at each other’s throats from the moment they arrived in the meeting room.  The governor eventually created calm so that he could address the restless crowd.  What he told them was surprising even to is staff.  He said, “As you all know, we have a significant teen pregnancy problem in our state.  We rank 49th out of the 50 states in teen pregnancies and 50th in the number of teenaged abortions.  What I need from you is to help me solve this problem.  I need your ideas for cutting back the rate of teen pregnancy so that we can cut the number of abortions in the state.”  Both sides instantly changed their demeanor.  After all, the vast majority of abortions are performed on teenaged mothers.  If they could solve that problem, their debate would become moot.

For the next few weeks both sides met and came up with a strategy to lower the pregnancy rate of girls in their state.  They worked together, civilly to reach a common goal, and in the end, they lowered the teen aged pregnancy rate over 50% in their state.

How about you, how does this work in your world?  Can you find a common goal to work towards rather than trying to determine what you are willing to give up, and therefore feeling unsatisfied?  Stop compromising when you are at odds with your co-worker, spouse, or neighbor and find a way to create an action plan that gets you both to a mutual goal.  If only they understood this in Washington.

Trust: 3 Keys to Establishing Shared Purpose

“Purpose” is the reason for which something is done, so “shared purpose” means a “common” reason for which something is done.  When people strive to “win” by beating the other  person, they may share the purpose of winning, but they are actually at “cross-purpose” because both cannot achieve their desired outcome.  So how do you establish shared purpose?

1.  Define the purpose of each person.  Many times you and the other person already have the same or similar purpose in mind, but don’t know it.  Intentionally and candidly talking about purpose should bring to light both differences and commonalities.  For example, in a coaching relationship both parties need to desire the improvement of the person being coached and the feeling of appreciation for their contributions.  Bringing this to light can lead to increased awareness and trust on both sides.

2.  Determine where you have common purpose.  Once you understand each other's purpose you can now determine what you share and what you don’t.  Sometimes you may have both common- and cross-purpose, so you have to determine how you can capitalize on what you share and minimize what you don’t.  My wife and I recently went on a vacation and both shared the purpose of enjoying each other's company, getting some rest and engaging in personal interests.  Hers was touring gardens; mine was playing golf.  We had a lot of time to pursue the first two commonalities and we found opportunities for each of us to individually pursue our own personal interests by setting times for her to tour a garden while I was playing golf.

3.  Create common ground when necessary.  Sometimes shared purpose is either not present or not very obvious, so you have to create it.  This is where the term “creative” comes into play.  Many times you can find a higher order purpose if you look for it and other times you can combine purposes into a shared purpose. One afternoon on our vacation I wanted to play golf and my wife wanted to visit a garden.  Because we only had one car and the two facilities were too far apart, we had to find common ground.  We both decided that we really wanted to do something together (common, higher order purpose) and that was more important than either golf or touring a garden.  We looked around and found a golf course on our route that also was known for its natural beauty, so she rode with me in my golf cart and checked out the local flora while I chased around a little white ball that on more than one occasion ended up in the same flora she was observing.

Trust starts with knowing that you and the other person have the same purpose in mind and that both will be striving for the same end.