There are times in my life when I’m so certain I’m right, that it’s hard for me to entertain that there might be a different way to see the situation.
And the times that stand out the most? When I’m facing someone who’s equally certain about their position on the situation.
The only possible outcome besides a stalemate? Someone wins, and someone loses.
Any of us can fall into this this “win/lose” trap. And when we do, it often leads to sub-optimal solutions and harms working relationships. Relationships that are critical to organizational success. So, what can be done?
I’d like to share a concept I learned a few years ago that’s been helpful in keeping potential allies away from unproductive conflict. It requires both self-awareness and situational mindfulness to commit to taking a different approach…but the payoff can be huge.
An example scenario
Let’s say that Tom’s convinced that Project Beta should be the team’s top priority and should be implemented in advance of Project Omega. And Alice believes the opposite. As tensions rise and egos enter the scene, it starts to feel like their personal worth as human beings is on the line. No agreement is reached. Or if it is, it’s only because one party “wins” due to their superior data, alliances, debating style or tenacity.
“Alignment before agreement”
When we’re stuck in trying to reach agreement from conflicting positions, it can be helpful to shift the focus to where we’re aligned around a common goal.
When we shift the focus to where we’re aligned, we are now standing together on the same side of the table, working together to resolve our common issue. We can still each hold our points of view, but we’re no longer battling it out from opposite sides of the table.
This unlocks our creativity, allowing us to work together to come up with an effective solution to meet our common goal.
Let’s return to the scenario above. Once Tom or Alice notices the conversation is becoming unproductive, one of them might suggest taking a step back to determine what it is they do agree on. This may have them realize they’re aligned around a common goal of finding a way to grow results in a way that empowers the whole team. That alignment may well lead to Tom and Alice better appreciating how the others’ solution meets the common goal. And ideally, it will open them up to exploring other creative ways to meet the goal.
So what can we do?
When we notice that we are stuck in disagreement with others, we can shift the conversation toward alignment.
We might say: “Let’s take a step back and look at the common goal we’re both trying to accomplish here – figuring out what we do agree on.”
And this exploration can lead to us working together creatively to meet the greater goal in a way that honours everyone’s ideas.