Some of the best ways of dealing with conflicts in relationships, whether business or personal, are contained in the books about negotiation written by Roger Fisher and William Ury. In our own lives and in the lives of people we have counseled we have often seen a situation that seemed to be incredibly scary and full of potential catastrophe turn into something much more manageable, often with surprisingly positive agreements between the two people in conflict.
The key elements of a negotiation framework are pretty simple (although we do recommend getting one of the books below to best prepare for a successful negotiation) –
1. Try to figure out exactly what the other person wants and cares about most deeply (this may or may not be what they are asking for – a good example is in a divorce where often what one person wants is to regain a sense of respect, but all they can ask for is money… this may be why some divorces drag on for such a long time).
2. Write down (yes it really helps to do this) exactly what it is that you most care about.
3. Think of possible external standards (legal precedents, ways that mediation settlements usually end up, laws, regulations, standards) that are relevant so that you can get a sense of what others have found to be reasonable.
4. Think long and hard about whether there are potential win-win options – meaning is there something that you can give them that they care about but which doesn’t really cost you very much at all.
5. Really think about your best alternative to a negotiated settlement – if you have to walk away from the negotiation with no agreement what is your best option. (One of the very best ways you can prepare for a negotiation is by working on improving your best alternative – for instance by lining up alternative jobs if you are negotiating for a raise).
If the conflict is really important buy one of these books…