Find some objectivity in order to translate conflict into problem solving.
I have an old and dear friend who I value for her willingness to ask me the hard questions and tell me the truth no matter what. Of course, I appreciate the support of all my friends but I know I can trust this friend not to try to make me feel better and to help me solve the problem.
I think I owe the same service to my clients. Of course, people in conflict often feel outraged by the behavior of the other person. Right versus wrong is a seductive path and the underlying idea under many social phenomenon from team sports to Law and Order. Right versus wrong doesn’t help people solve problems.
When I was a young litigating lawyer I learned a valuable lesson: The courtroom is a bad place to figure out that the other side has a good point. What that means is that there are two sides to every story and from the perspective of the people involved each thinks themselves “right” and the other “wrong” to some extent.
So, as professionals working with people in conflict, how can we help? It’s useful for the professionals (lawyers and mediators) to ask hard questions and give honest answers rather than answers that will just lead people to think about the rightness or wrongness of their position.
If, instead, we can help frame the issue as a problem that need to be solved, and to ask questions that need to be answered versus bolstering a person’s feeling of “rightness” we can refocus on problem solving rather than bashing.
Typically, a spouse might come into the mediation with a third-party financial analysis favoring the most amount of money in their pocket. The other spouse, while not ready to put out a number, may look at the analysis and say, “Well, that’s not right.” It could easily turn straight into a negotiation: “$7,000.” “$5,000.” “$7,000.” “$5,000.”
Splitting the difference wouldn’t make sense for either person if it’s split just to be finished, instead of going back and really looking at what is in each of their cost-of-living analyses and estimated expenses.
I displayed their budgets on a big monitor screen so we could all see and work through the financials together to come up with a support package that made sense.
It’s important to remember that when in an argument or a conflict with someone, it is unlikely to be resolved on one person’s terms without considering the other person’s perspective. A 3-dimensional view needs to be taken where both people are seen inside the frame of the problem. If one person’s perspective is left entirely out, the problem will never be resolved together.
Even when anger, hurt, resentment and pain are present, if the desire to solve the problem is also present then finding a way to consider the other’s person’s view is imperative. Lawyers and mediators can help.