Finally! Something We Can All Agree On!

In the conflict resolution profession, there is a saying that “A problem well-defined is a problem half-solved.” This phrase highlights the common problem of rushing into solutions before understanding what must be corrected.

Ironically, a recurring task for mediators and facilitators is to stop participants from settling on solutions too soon. Such premature ideas are often straightforward, obvious, knee-jerk, superficial, etc. We encourage clients instead to slow down, genuinely ponder their situation, and attend to what others say or feel before trying to fix the fuss.

An advanced technique is to begin the resolution process by developing a shared list of the ramifications of the current mess. What can we all agree is wrong with the status quo?

You might think this opens up an excellent opportunity to blame each other at the outset. Perhaps someone says, “It’s obvious! Michael’s team is working way outside their roles!”

But that’s not it. That’s finger-pointing and accusation. We will get to that stuff later. As the facilitator, we clarify that the key component of this technique is the last six words: “[what’s wrong] …that we can all agree to?” This stage is where the power of ramifications enters the room.

Now, the list begins to sound like this:

  • We are missing important deadlines.
  • Several valued employees have resigned.
  • The atmosphere is uncomfortable. People don’t want to come to work.
  • Too much energy is being diverted into the conflict rather than our work.

Such points are likely experienced by all involved. There is an objective quality to such a list. Imagine a reality camera that could record such things. You’d plainly see missed deadlines, people quitting, avoidance, and discomfort.

There are multiple benefits to generating such a list:

  • It defines the problem(s).
  • Everyone begins with something they all agree to. Resolving contentious issues is the opening act that gets them saying “yes” to each other.
  • You’ve developed a checklist at the start that can be used at the end to gauge whether your solutions have addressed the fundamental problems.
  • As Bob Dylan says, “People who suffer together have stronger connections than people that are most content.” So, seeing their collective pain helps humanize each other and their experiences.
  • It underscores the urgency. With such a list staring them down, who can avoid working to change the status quo?

It is refreshing that in a world of people so eager to disagree, you finally have something we can all agree on.