What is win/win anyway?

You’ve heard that taking a ‘win/win’ approach to resolving conflict is a good idea. But what, exactly, does ‘win/win’ mean? And how do you build collaborative conversations when tempers flare? Which conflict resolutions strategies work best, even when you’re dealing with difficult people?

Taking a win/win approach to resolving conflict involves co-operating with people you may previously have viewed as your opponents. It means solving problems in ways which benefit everyone. There are five simple steps you can use to bring the win/win mindset to life when resolving conflict at work.

Gang up on the problem physically

Use physical space to get people working together instead of fighting. Sit everyone in a semicircle, facing a whiteboard. Explain that this is a conflict resolution session, which will focus on finding fair ways to sort out issues. Write a brief description of the problem in the middle of the board. This focuses attention on the problem. It also reduces the risk that individuals will see themselves as competing with each other.

Take turns to listen

When handling conflict, you need to ensure that everyone feels heard. Make sure everyone gets a chance to speak without being interrupted. Explain that you’d like each person to describe their thoughts and feelings on the issue, one by one. Request that each person remains silent as someone else takes their turn. Encourage note-taking, as this minimises the risk that more talkative group members will interrupt. It will also maximise the positive results you gain from your conflict resolution session.

Talk in the plural

There is a huge difference between the following two questions:
1. What is the solution to this problem?
2. How many ways can we address this issue?

Question one encourages a narrow range of thought, because is suggests there is only one way to sort out the issue. The second question, on the other hand, implies that people will think of many solutions together. When you’re handling conflict at work, keep your language optimistic and solution focussed. You can find out more about solution focussed language in my book Difficult People Made Easy.

Use an option generator to spark creativity

An option generator is a tool for shifting stuck thinking patterns. It’s used to help groups find innovative ways to sort out their differences. It works by helping people find ways to align seemingly disparate needs.

Don’t edit and create at the same time

Finding new solutions to problems involves using the creative part of your brain. This part of your mind works best when it gets into flow. Criticising ideas as soon as they’re generated shuts down the flow state. So agree to solve your problem in two stages. Start by coming up with as many ideas as possible. Then take a short break before reviewing and critiquing each idea.

Have YOU got a conflict to sort out at work? Do you need help planning your approach? Communication coaching can help. Contact Eleanor Shakiba for details.

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