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Taking Sides

Reaching Acceptable Outcomes

You need your colleagues. You have to continue working with them. Therefore, it is important that you do not let conflict become so aggressive that it destroys your working relationship with your colleagues.

What you should be aiming for is an outcome that is satisfactory to both of you, but which does not surrender too many of your interests for the sake of the relationship.

The way to achieve this is to use an integrative bargaining style instead of a distributive bargaining style.

  • Integrative bargaining style — this is based upon the assumption that through compromise, both sides can achieve some outcome, and the intention is to maximize both outcomes.
  • Distributive bargaining style — this is based upon the assumption that the outcome is fixed, so that if you gain, someone else must lose. It is often also referred to as competitive bargaining.

The integrative approach is based upon the attitude that the best outcome of any conflict is when everybody gains something. An approach that yields solutions that are acceptable to all will feature three elements:

1. Planning — you need to distinguish between what you want and what you will accept (the bottom line). There is often a difference, which gives you flexibility. The other person will have their own range of wants. Try to identify their interests and establish what lies behind the position that they take. Then decide what you are willing to trade to help them get some satisfaction too.

2. Adopt a rational approach — in the actual negotiation, you need to adopt a rational approach and focus on the issues. Conflict is inevitably emotional, but personalizing it tends to be counter-productive — hurt feelings only serve to deepen conflict. State clearly what you want, explain why you want it, and show that you are willing to make compromises. Apply rational problem-solving techniques to safely move from argument to counter argument.

3. Establish tangible outcomes — you must work on outcomes that are not just platitudes. It is easy to agree to something, but then do nothing. Make sure that whatever you agree has direct benefits for both parties, is measurable, and includes a deadline. This gives you objective tools for monitoring the implementation of the resolution.

If you want to be successful in handling conflict with others, then do not forget how to plan the discussion, and conduct yourself rationally to produce an outcome that gives tangible benefits to all.

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