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Clear Water Lake

Think “And,” Not “Or”


A new series of ads shows a happy couple shopping for a new car. The dealer takes pride in telling them that they have “this AND that” feature, and they agree that AND is soooo much better then OR.


Cut to images of the happy couple having to choose between desirable options because they have to settle for “OR:” Bed OR Breakfast? Sweet OR sour soup? Yuck.


It reminded me, as so many things do, that AND is a great solution to a disagreement. Why does the solution have to be one or the other of the proposals? Why can’t it be both? Or at least include elements of both?


To answer my own question, because people are too often set on winning the disagreement, not resolving it. If you want to win, then the opponent has to be vanquished. You can’t combine this team’s TDs with that team’s field goals and come to a resolution. That’s not the goal of the game, but it is the goal of resolution.


How do you persuade people that they don’t need to win to come out ahead?


  • change the definition of the process;

  • define what “ahead” means to them;

  • help them find a way to get there.


Take care, though. “Ahead” may not mean anything near what the winning goal is. “Ahead” can mean something completely different, and those broad or unexpected definitions are what make an agreement so much easier to achieve than a win.


Listening carefully, asking insightful questions, getting the right information, not dismissing the original goal and maintaining respect for the parties (no matter how frustrated you are with them) are keys to finding the different meanings of “ahead.” Finding that definition is one of the most satisfying and creative parts of conflict resolution.


Then, incorporate these new meanings of “ahead” into the agreement. They will each see their “win” in the agreement and focus on that gain, especially if they “win” on what is most important to them. That’s why, in legal cases that receive a lot of press coverage, both sides claim a “win” no matter what the outcome. For homeowners the primary issue may be property values or privacy or noise, but the original complaint might be about a sloppy yard. For managers, the original complaint may be about lack of responsibility from staff members, when the real issue is the management time it takes to explain a project or the pressure from management to “do more with less” or the pressure at home because a family member is ill and needs care.


No, you won’t find this additional information unless you listen thoughtfully in a conversation, and Yes, this takes time, but sometimes all it takes is listening to help people take that first, scary step toward resolution. It’s important to find the AND in the complaints, or as we say, the shared value or goal that is the basis of the resolution. It’s important to find the AND in the complaints, or as we say, the shared value or goal that is the basis of the resolution.

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