As Thomas Gordon (1975) emphasizes, referring to parents in
conflict with children, it is better to view the situation as "two equals
trying together to solve our problems" than to think "you will do it my
way because I say so." Being in conflict doesn't necessarily mean
being mad at each other. It can mean an opportunity to show your
wisdom, to create a better situation, to help both of you be winners.
Having a negative, distrustful attitude is detrimental to this process;
believing you must "win" the argument or otherwise you lose face is a
bad attitude; feeling superior or being "hard-nosed" and feeling
inferior or being a "soft-touch" are both problems. Start by seeing your
opponent as a decent, reasonable person who wants to arrive at a fair
solution (until proven otherwise). Deal with him/her with respect. Just
as you would separate the person from his/her behavior, separate the
person from the conflict the two of you are having.
In this fair and cooperative spirit, invite the other person to sit
down and talk it over with you. Even with warring spouses, marriage
mediation has proven to be far superior to settling disputes in divorce
courts. Lawyers in court do not take a cooperative, integrative
problem-solving approach; they take an adversarial, get all you can,
let's-prove-who's-wrong approach. If we can control our emotions just
a little, however, we can usually work out good solutions.
The cooperative, integrative solution approach is not appropriate in
all cases (you are not going to invite the used car salesperson over for
coffee). In these cases, go to Table 13.1.
STEP TWO: Have a discussion to understand both sides'
problems, conflicts, needs, and preferred outcomes (separating
"positions" from "interests"). Be empathic.
It is important to make this first meeting as cordial as possible
while being honest and open. Persuading the other person to take the
"win-win" approach may take time (see method #16), especially if the
other person is angry. Admit there is a conflict; acknowledge that both
of you have legitimate needs and goals. Be respectful and, as much as
possible, empathize with each other. Indicate that you are willing to be
flexible and open-minded; ask them to be. See if both of you are
willing to make a sincere effort to work out an optimal solution,
recognizing that neither can have everything he/she wants. If so,
arrange to take the time necessary to understand both sides.
Start by clarifying to each other exactly what the conflict or
problem involves. Find out what they want. Get all the information the
other person has to offer. Ask for all the additional information you
need. Don't try to offer solutions now. First, just listen to their side,
get all the facts, and give the situation some thought (solutions come
next time). Don't try to assess blame but point out anything that
seems unfair. Be honest and cordial. Keep on maintaining a good
relationship, talk over coffee or take a walk together. Be as
understanding, empathic, and sympathetic as you can be (considering
that you may be viewed as the villain).