"You can't always get what you want.
But if you try sometimes, you just might find
You get what you need!"
- Mick Jagger & Keith Richards
Photo By Andrea Sartorati [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) or CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
B: Hi, I’m Barbara Saxberg.
D: And I’m Dan Oldfield.
B: And this is the Occasional Podcast from Syzygy Learning & Facilitation.
D: You’ve probably heard of a band aid solution. Usually meaning a quick but short-term fix to a problem, one that addresses the immediate issue but doesn’t get to the root cause. It’s only when you rip the band aid off and clean out the wound that real healing can begin. Otherwise it may never heal properly and you might be left with a significant scar.
B: Ah, ok Dan. Enough with the wound analogies. I take your point though and it’s our focus for this episode. Getting clean to the core of a problem is key to finding resolution.
B: As long as people interact with each other, there will, from time to time, be conflict. It’s human nature. Sometimes it’s deep and intensely personal; sometimes it’s minor and quickly forgotten. Conflict happens when something that matters to us is threatened. It can be something material. Or it can be a value or belief.
The success of working through any conflict depends on getting to its root cause. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? And yet – it’s not uncommon for people to think they’ve solved a problem only for it to resurface days or weeks later. Only by digging deep into a conflict can you find the seeds for potential resolution.
D: We’ve seen this play out time and again in our work in labour relations. In one particularly contentious round of collective bargaining some years ago, the management side was demanding the right to change the hiring model from one that emphasized permanent jobs to one that envisioned contract and temporary jobs.
Over and over, we asked, “What’s the problem you’re trying to solve? Why do you need this model?”
The answer never came. Until the night the company locked us out. I asked again, “Why do you need this?”
And the answer was, “We just do.”
A lengthy work stoppage followed and when employees finally returned to work, there was a slightly new hiring model but it wasn’t close to the one the company had been seeking.
Now fast forward three years. The relationship between the union and management was at an all-time low. Nothing was getting solved. And the agreement reached a few years earlier wasn’t a solution at all. In fact, it had created new problems. However this time, when the union and management returned to the bargaining table, the issue was treated quite differently.
Questions were being asked and answered. Under what circumstances did the company need contract employees? What job classifications? What duration? After lengthy and collaborative discussions exploring legitimate needs, an agreement was reached that accomplished two things. First, it made sense. And second, it worked.
B: So what changed? Well, both sides agreed that before they started tossing a bunch of demands around, they’d take the time to think about what they actually needed. And why they needed it. Then they’d listen to each other without judgement, asking questions until they had a full appreciation of the needs to be met. That didn’t mean agreement, just understanding. They discovered each other’s legitimate interests.
From there, they were able to explore a variety of possibilities using a collaborative approach to problem-solving. None of it would have happened though without that crucial first step: understanding real needs as opposed to a list of wants.
D: So what does this mean for simpler conflicts of everyday life? Let me give you a quick example.
Young Johnny wants to borrow Mom’s car. Mom says no. Two positions in direct opposition. Now Mom has every right to determine the use of her car. And if this is the end of the discussion, so be it. But there may be some consequences. An angry teenager and a troubled relationship for example.
Another way to approach this might be for Mom to ask Johnny why he wants the car and to share her reasons for saying no. If it’s simply a matter of Mom needing the car for errands when Johnny needs to go somewhere, maybe she can drive him. Or it may be that Johnny needs to maintain his status with his friends and having the car helps him do that. But the last time he had the car, he stayed out longer than agreed and Mom is having trust issues. Or there’s a financial cost to Johnny using the car and Mom wants him to take some responsibility for it.
Once we look below the surface and begin to examine real needs, the possibilities for resolution expand.
B: Uncovering interests is key to solving any problem. But it’s not always as easy as it sounds. It takes time, willingness to engage and being open-minded enough to really consider an idea that might at first seem undesirable rather than dismissing it outright.
The simplest way to uncover interests is to start listening. Ask questions to clarify your understanding of what’s being said. Without debate or judgement. There’s always time for that later if need be.
Once you’ve identified real needs, some of them may be the same or similar to those of the person with whom you’re in conflict. We call those shared interests, a good place to start building a solution.
Other needs may be neutral. Important to you but don’t matter to the other person. Or vice versa. They’re generally pretty easy to meet.
The most difficult needs are the ones that are in direct competition with each other. They’re the ones that will take the most work, the most creativity, the most open-mindedness and willingness to work together to find a solution. The satisfaction though of doing this is significant and has the added benefit of improving the relationship you have with the other person.
D: But what happens though if the other person doesn’t want to work with you? Isn’t uncovering interests a waste of time? We get asked that a lot in our work. And the answer is no, it’s never a waste of time to be clear on your needs and what’s driving them. And to try to uncover the needs of the other person. It helps you to form your own message and develop your own strategy for getting the best solution you can.
Having said that, there will be times when the other person is so locked in, so intransigent, that even your best efforts fail to get you there. The good news is, you’ll know you did everything in your power to resolve the conflict. And if you need to get a third party involved (through the courts or arbitration or mediation), you’ll be well prepared to make your case.
B: That’s it for this episode. Let us know your thoughts about this or any of our podcasts. We’re always ready to listen and ask questions. We hope you will be too.
D: And of course, we welcome feedback on any aspect of our work. You can comment on this page or reach us through the contact information on the website.
B: This has been the Occasional Podcast from Syzygy Learning & Facilitation.
Theme music licenced from beatsuite.com.