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Quick and Dirty Tips for Conflict Resolution

Updated: Jul 15, 2019

​When facilitating conflict resolution, I like to use William Ury's work -- he is the author of many cutting edge books on this topic including​:

Getting Past No

Getting to Yes

Getting Past No: Negotiating with Difficult People

​Conflict can be positive, constructive, and developmental, but it can also get in the way of businesses or families working together healthily and productively.

I do a lot of work with negotiation, mediation, and conflict resolution -- both business and family, and I am certified in both. I may be able to help you, but you also might be able to help yourselves if the parties to the conflict agree to these ground rules:

Separate the People from the Problem

Fisher and Ury suggest that we are all people first ﷓﷓ that there are always substantive and relational issues in negotiation and mediation. The authors describe means of dealing with relational issues, including considering each party's perception (for example by reversing roles); seeking to make negotiation proposals consistent with the other party's interests; making emotions explicit and legitimate; and through active listening.

Focus on Interests, Not Positions

Positions may be thought of as one dimensional points in a space of infinite possible solutions. Positions are symbolic representations of a participant's underlying interests. To find out interests, you may ask questions like: "What is motivating you here?" "What are you trying to satisfy" or "What would you like to accomplish?" You may also ask: "If you had what you are asking for (your position), what would that experientially get you - what interests would that satisfy?" "How would that help?"

Seek common ground

In negotiation, there are multiple, shared, compatible, and conflicting interests. Identifying shared and compatible interests as "common ground" or "points of agreement" is helpful in establishing a foundation for additional negotiation discussions. Principles can often be extrapolated from "points of agreement" to resolve other issues. Also note that focusing on interests tends to direct the discussion to the present and future, and away from the difficulties of the past. If we have learned anything about the past, it is that "we can not change it." The past may help us to identify problems needing solution, but, other than that, it does not tend to yield the best solutions for the future.

Invent Options for Mutual Gain

Develop multiple options -- don't fall in love with the first one.

Before seeking to reach agreement on solutions for the future, Fisher and Ury suggest that multiple solution options be developed prior to evaluation of those options. The typical way of doing this is called brainstorming. In brainstorming, the parties, with or without the mediator's participation, generate many possible solution before deciding which of those best fulfill the parties' joint interests. In developing options, parties look for mutual gains.

Consider selecting from Options by Using Objective Criteria

Using objective criteria (standards independent of the will of any party) is where the label "principled negotiation" comes from. Fisher and Ury suggest that solution selection be done according to concepts, standards or principles that the parties believe in and are not under the control of any single party. Fisher and Ury recommend that selections be based upon such objective criteria as precedent, tradition, a course of dealing, outside recommendations, or the flip of a coin. Not every difference can be solved this way, but if it doesn't have to be personal, why make it so?

If parties are mismatched in terms of power - Developing a BATNA

In the event that the other party has some negotiating advantage, Fisher and Ury suggest that the answer is to improve the quality of your "best alternative to a negotiated agreement" (your BATNA). For example, if you are negotiating for a job and want to make a case for a higher wage, you improve your negotiating power by having another job offer available, or at least as a possibility.

Here is a University of Colorado site you might find helpful when working with conflict:


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