Life and conflict go together, like Winter and the flu. You know the flu happens, but you hope it won’t happen to you. It could be nasty. It could be easy. It could miss you this year, only to hit you hard the next. As long as you live, conflict and the flu will happen to you. While some contentions situations get resolved with as little as clarifying your statements, intentions, and plans, admitting fault or a mistake, others linger and eat you up for weeks, months, and even years. So, what should you do?
“If you don’t want to fight, learn to compromise,” you’ve heard it a million times. I consider this a recipe for stewing in resentment and suggest a more successful alternative – a win-win approach. Here’s why.
Compromise, or “distributive bargaining,” as a common approach to resolving conflicts works in some situations like when you and your friends need to split the bill at the pizza shop. You all ate a different amount of pizza. Count the slices. Determine your portion of the bill. Easy, pizzy, right?
When using distributive bargaining, in business, in court, in your neighborhood, home, and office to settle disputes over assets, space, business interests, children, and finances, where everyone wants to walk away with the better deal, approaching the issue at hand as a pizza pie with a finite number of slices to be distributed fairly, inevitably, fails the subjective fairness test, leaving people bitter at each other, and keeping score. For one to win, the other loses.
Furthermore, not everything divides like a pizza pie. Values, beliefs, human needs and rights do not subject themselves to this strategy. If you believe that abortion is murder, you won’t be willing to decide in which trimester abortion should be legal. On the flip side, if you believe that a woman has the right to choose what to do with her body, you won’t compromise about limiting this right to only some circumstances.
Commitment to win-win solutions, as an alternative, can save your relationships, your business, your integrity and commitment to your beliefs, and help you avoid resentment towards your opponent, feeling cheated, and keeping score. While compromises address the short-term personal positions and the current situation only, win-win solutions consider the big picture. To achieve a win-win solution, the parties involved must look for long-term mutual gain, common goals, and underlying interests and motivations. Instead of “taking” as much as you can, consider “adding value” to show that you care. Instead of bargaining for pizza slices from a single pie, consider ways to make more pies, add more and better quality items to the menu, explore life beyond the dinner table.
I read about a case where a teenager graffitied the garage door of a house in his neighborhood. When caught, he met with the elderly lady who owns the house. She told him that her husband had passed away recently. One of the last things he managed doing just before was to pain the house to leave his wife with one less thing to worry about. The graffiti was not only a crime but vandalism on her husband’s memory. Instead of calling the police, she and the teenager agreed that he would repaint the garage door for her. Upon hearing the story, he felt sympathetic to the elderly lady and asked if he could visit her regularly, thus starting an unlikely friendship that brought companionship to her and mentorship to him. Had she called the police, things would have turned out much differently for both.
Thinking up win-win solutions requires creativity and a willingness to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. The extra work pays off in terms of better relationships, more subjectively perceived fairness, and even unexpected benefits for all involved. If this topic intrigues you, join me at Cuesta College for my How To Get What You Want, an Effective Communication and Conflict Transformation Course on October 15 and 22. Sing up online.
Valentina Petrova has been helping people with life, health, relationships, financial, career, professional, and business challenges since 2015. She has a Master’s in Psychology and is a certified Life Coach. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org (805)909-1401