We have been specifically studying the end game of the conflict resolution process for a number of years and have come to recognize that there is a lot more to it than many conflict professionals think. Some people feel that if you can just get the parties to have effective communication with each other, the problem will be solved. Or if we are able to brainstorm successfully, the solution will emerge. Yet however far we go in helping the parties work effectively together, it’s important not to obscure the fact that this is a negotiation where there will be tension in the distribution issues no matter how creatively we can expand the pie. In this series, we will be offering a number of tips which we think you might find useful at the end of a mediation, negotiation, or collaboration.
Tip #1 – Normalize Differences
Parties often have a tendency in the end game to either exaggerate or minimize differences. When exaggerating the differences, people often feel hopeless. When minimizing the differences, they will often overlook something that will come back to haunt them later and they end up with an agreement that is unworkable or unrealistic or will ultimately be disappointed to learn that they have no agreement at all.
The challenge for the professionals is to help the parties frame the differences in a way that accurately describes exactly where they are and affirms such differences as a normal part of the process. Once we have an accurate grasp of the differences, we not only have a better chance for finding a solution, but a better chance of finding a solution that will actually fit the parties.
Sometimes there is collusion between the professionals and the parties, perhaps for different reasons, to skew their view of what remains to be decided or worked through. This is when identifying the conflict patterns can help us see how those patterns might be interfering with clarity about the problem. Are differences being minimized in order to avoid conflict? Are differences being exaggerated or distorted in a competitive pattern? Understanding the patterns both of the parties and the professionals allows us to approach differences with a fresh viewpoint. One caveat, however, is that identifying conflict patterns too readily and getting stuck seeing people through that lens, can pigeon-hole them and also impede progress.
Our tip is when people disagree, even if they have made great progress, to recognize that this is inevitable and a sign of progress rather than an indication that they won’t be able to solve the problem. By feeling that and indicating your confidence to the parties that those differences represent the moment in time where they are, we can help them to recognize they are not stuck but are actually ready to move forward.