Negotiating from Why- Essential for Conflict Resolution

A large part of successful negotiation and conflict resolution is about perspective and motivations. What does the other person want, and why? What things are they willing to give up, and what are they determined to hold on to? The answers to these questions go a long way in conflict resolution by giving insight into what the other person may be feeling, and what they’re really after when they negotiate towards a certain solution.

Perhaps a friend wants to go to an event and would like you to come along. However, it is not a subject that you have the least amount of interest in. Turning down the offer might cause them to feel betrayed or that you don’t care that much about the friendship. They may lash out or withdraw, at times appearing entirely unreasonable. Behavior is a language all on its own. In your mind, your friend may be overreacting. In reality, however, the reaction is a message sent directly to you. And an opportunity opens up for conflict resolution, if you know how to handle it skillfully.

Why is it that you want me to go with you?” is a question that may yield a surprising response and help you decipher their reactions. In asking you to accompany them, they may be only seeking some quality time with you; thus, your rejection of the occasion feels like a personal rejection of their value to you as a friend. If your friend is inviting you to the event as a strategy to do something enjoyable together, but you wouldn’t actually enjoy that particular event in the slightest, it is hardly meeting either of your objectives for you to go and feel resentful and bored all night.

But neither of you will know what’s going on in the other person’s head until you ask. Maybe once you know what is going on, you can come up with lots of ways to have a good time and enjoy each others’ company at other events or times. Maybe no one has to feel resentful, disappointed, or devalued as a friend.This kind of honesty can free you from doing things out of guilt and obligation, and allow you to negotiate towards conflict resolution that  actually works for everyone.

Very similar dynamics can occur any time two people are negotiating- in a business contract where one party wants the other to give a concession, in a family decision about how to spend time or money on something… There is potential for both tragic miscommunication as well as skillful conflict resolution in all of these cases.

If you never ask the question of why someone wants the thing they’re after, the real reasons remain obscured below the surface. It might be that no one ends up getting their needs met when you compromise without investigating the essential why. Try taking a step back to ask the why. Especially when you are immediately  set off and angered by what someone has said, although it takes discipline to do. It can help diffuse the situation by giving the other person the sense that their needs are heard and respected.  Calming the situation and negotiating from the why uncovers essential missing information that may lead to better conflict resolution.

Why Should You Learn Better Conflict Resolution Skills?

If you already understood conflict resolution perfectly, you wouldn’t need to learn a different way to engage; you’d be able to face into the fire without any stress or tension. But most of us aren’t there yet, and conflict resolution isn’t about perfection anyhow. Conflict itself is often messier than many people are comfortable with; in order to work through a conflict, you have to get powerful feelings such as fear and anger out in the open and resolve them. Through reading the posts  on this blog, you’ll not only learn tools to help you resolve conflicts but also learn to trust that conflicts are resolvable and that powerful feelings don’t need to control you.

You’ll find these tools invaluable in every area of your life. Whether you want to get a raise and are afraid your boss will deny your request, need to settle a lawsuit or just want your kids to do what they’re asked without disrespecting you, conflict resolution techniques can help you to handle the situation with confidence, grace and compassion. Best of all, you’ll no longer feel  so  stuck in unresolvable conflicts with yourself over how you behaved or how you wish you could remember to behave in the future. The more you intentionally practice conflict resolution techniques , the more empowered choices you’ll have in responding to stressful situations and the better you’ll feel about your life.

Conflicts are inevitable because people are different; they have different memories, experiences and  ways of getting what they need in life, and sooner or later those strategies are going to conflict with one another. It’s natural to want to run away from conflict if your stomach feels tight at the thought of engaging in it or if you’ve lost friends or loved ones because of conflicts in the past. However, you can only run away for so long before a conflict finds you anyway, and in addition on some level you probably feel you are not being your best self when you refuse to engage in conflicts.

The tools on this website are designed to help you untangle yourself from all the fear and anger that keep you stuck so that you can access your best self again, even under the most challenging circumstances. By learning to shift your focus to the deeper needs that are present for both people, you empower yourself to be who you want to be and to get what you most need. Learning conflict resolution techniques is the best gift you can give yourself because you’ll need these tools again and again if you hope to live life on your own terms.

Learning Better Conflict Resolution Skills

How can you get what you really want without forcing the other person to put give up on what he or she wants? Effective conflict resolution is based on exploring what each of you needs and wants and finding a way to work together to get everybody’s needs met. Although this may sound very personal and intimate, it’s as important when dealing with workplace conflicts or conflicts with people you don’t know well as it is when dealing with conflicts with loved ones.

For example, if your neighbor wants you to pay for damage he says your child did to his garden and you don’t agree that you or your child was responsible for the damage, you can still engage in productive conflict resolution based on fulfilling both of your needs. Your neighbor may need some sense of reassurance that his property is respected, and you may need respect and trust that you are a responsible parent. This type of conflict can easily turn into a feud, with neighbors taking sides against one another, your child being shunned by the neighbor’s kids and your neighbor suing you for the damage.

However, if you intentionally use conflict resolution tools you and your neighbor can become partners in solving the problem instead of lifelong enemies. If you really deal with the root cause of the issues you can prevent future miscommunication problems from escalating into big conflicts. Resolving a conflict in this way may even help shift your relationships with your neighbors and start to replace feuding alliances with stronger problem-solving rapport in the neighborhood.

Of course, like anything else, conflict resolution takes time. You need to begin at the beginning, using simple tools that can help defuse a conflict before you get too wrapped up in your own emotions and escalate the argument into a full-on fight. Although it can take a while to completely learn new methods of conflict resolution, you will see improvement in your life right away as you use start engaging with conflict resolution in a different way.

You’ll find that as you learn about conflict resolution, you’ll begin to feel happier and more empowered to get what you want out of life. Most ineffective conflict resolution behaviors come from fear and limited thinking. When you’re afraid that you can’t get what you really want, you get fixated on getting it using whatever means possible.

Just as young children throw tantrums in an attempt to make themselves feel powerful, adults sometimes lash out in anger against one another, trying to get something in order to make themselves feel stronger and more capable, more in control. Effective conflict resolution techniques help you shift your focus. Instead of being singularly focused on getting what you want at the moment, you’ll learn to move through fear of not getting it and discover the underlying needs that are driving the conflict in the first place.  You’ll also learn to assert yourself without being aggressive and to treat both yourself and the other person involved in the conflict with the respect and dignity that you both deserve. Have patience with yourself. Practice often with small issues as they come up so that when the arguments get escalated and really push your buttons, you have built up the capacity to handle them better.

Avoiding Conflict Resolution- Are You Successfully Avoiding Your Own Needs?

Many people go out of their way to avoid conflict of any sort because they have had such bad experiences in the past. You might have found yourself in a shouting match in the past every time you said what you really thought to your boss, your parents or your spouse. For people who don’t know how to handle conflicts well, engaging in it can be exhausting. Anger escalates between you and the other person, and even if you finally come to a solution, you end up getting worn out, embarrassed by how you behaved, or you remain angry and resentful with the other person.

Avoiding conflict isn’t any healthier, however, because conflicts are part of life. You’re just not going to agree with everybody about everything all the time, and if you did you would be bored. In addition, when you swallow your thoughts, feelings and opinions in order to avoid conflicts, you end up stewing in the frustration and resentment of being unable to meet your needs in any kind of satisfying way.

This makes you miserable and full of stress, and eventually the anger will explode, often causing a major conflict with someone who had nothing to do with what you are upset about. For example, many parents come home from a hard day at work and all the anger they’ve stored up against their bosses all day comes out at their children for leaving his toys out or not doing her homework. This just makes everybody feel bad, especially the person who began the unnecessary conflict, and perpetuates a cycle of unhealthy behavior.

Just as bad is being able to freely voice your opinions and advice, but having constant conflict and friction with the people around you. Coercive communication full of demands or criticism drives others away, and can leave you feeling isolated and frustrated that you don’t seem to be achieving your goals anyways, or able to connect with people in the way you want to. Effective conflict resolution is a balance, a constant dance between honest assertion of your needs and receptive listening to the other person’s experience.

The good news is that there is another way to deal with conflict besides getting into another long or non-productive argument. Conflict resolution tools and techniques can help you handle conflicts in a mature, calm manner that will leave you feeling great about yourself and about the other person. If the thought of engaging in conflict scares you, learning new conflict resolution tools can help put your mind at ease so that you can move confidently through your life rather than continually modifying your behavior in order to avoid conflicts.

Many conflict resolution problems come from avoiding one powerful question: what do you really want? During a conflict, you might think you know what you want, but you need to look a little bit more deeply to be able to really bring conflict resolution within reach. For example- you want to be given leadership over a project at work and your boss assigns the project to someone else on your team.  You might think that what you  have to have to solve your problem is the role in the project that was already given to someone else. However, that is only your surface want. Underneath that, you may be angry  or frustrated because you don’t think your boss trusts you or because you feel undervalued at your company in general. These feelings tell you that what you really want is to be visible, respected, appreciated or trusted.

Because we have learned to avoid conflict as a way to keep the peace, it can be  hard to access your real feelings and figure out what you want. Understanding yourself is the key to conflict resolution because if you attempt to resolve the conflict by acting to get only your surface wants, you can actually sabotage your chances of getting what you really want in conflict resolution. For example, if what you want is to feel loved by your husband but you scream at him about how rarely he helps with the dishes, you create barriers to the intimacy that you seek. Your surface wants and needs are important as well, but if you understand what is really motivating you, you are more likely to find a peaceful conflict resolution.

Problem-Solving Phrases for Conflict Resolution


Phrases that don’t work in conflict resolution: let’s look at some typical ways that people miss the mark in conflict resolution.

Mark and his wife, Allyson are arguing over his inability to get anywhere on time. Allyson is always embarrassed to come into social situations late.

Mark: “Well, you’ve got to tell me what’s got you so upset tonight at the wine tasting.”
Allyson: “I’m fine!”

Why it doesn’t work: Claiming to be okay with how the conflict resolution is going when you’re obviously hurt and upset is lying to yourself and the other person. If you start to act in an insincere manner, they start to question you ethics and your motivations.

Stephen, a real estate broker, has shown Deidre almost a hundred homes. She’s hated all of them, so he asks her what she wants in a home. He’s losing other commissions showing her homes she’s rejected, and he’s extremely frustrated. She throws up her hands and sighs “I don’t know!”

Why it doesn’t work: Sometimes you don’t consciously know, but you do have a responsibility to yourself and the other person to find out what you don’t know. If you’ve being coy or deceptive, the other person will almost always know that you are acting in a dishonest manner.

Leslie and her coworker always at odds. Leslie feels Matt is always stealing credit for her ideas. “You always find a way to take credit for just typing up my ideas!”

Why it doesn’t work: The words “always” and “never” stick the other person perpetually in the role of being the villain. And it sticks you in the victim role. Humans are always changing, and the truth is that no one always does the same thing in every similar situation.

“You decided that”

Why it doesn’t work: Remember the mind reading that we discussed earlier. When you tell someone that they made some decision that stepped on your toes, you’re basically accusing them of purposefully violating your rights. And you’re ascribing some pretty underhanded motivations to the other person. Remember, you can never know for certain what the other persons needs, motivations or feelings are unless they clearly state them to you.

Edward and his roommate, Charles are arguing over who buys supplies for the apartment. Charles accuses Edward of not contributing his share. Edward waves his hand and says, “Let’s just drop it and move on.”

Why it doesn’t work: The conflict is something that is obviously keeping both of you stuck. Glossing over something doesn’t make it disappear. It just makes it fester..

Words and phrases you can use for better conflict resolution:

“What is most important thing for that you want solved/that you want me to understand?” In some conflicts, there is one issue that’s being disputed. But in others, one or both parties will have several needs, and some o f them are more important than others. If you can get the other person to name the need that is their first priority, they will be more willing to compromise on lesser needs.

“Well, if you got (this thing you’re asking for), what would that do for you?” This can  be very helpful  when you just cannot comprehend why the other person is acting the way they are.   If you give  the other person space to reflect on their  motivations without criticism or judgement coming at them, they may be more able to name the wants and needs behind the strategies they are so fixated upon. You may be astounded at what comes out when you ask with a curious, open mind.

“What is it about this situation that’s not working for you?” It’s important to get the other person to focus on how the conflict resolution process is working for them, instead of focusing on you. If you can remove the situation from an interpersonal conflict, you can start to diffuse any emotions that are starting to boil over.

“Let me tell you in my words what I think you’re saying so we can make sure we’re on the same page.” Often we’re convinced that the rest of the world sees things exactly the way we do. But each of us sees it differently. In situations of stress and conflict everyone’s ability to communicate clearly is strained. When you repeat the other person’s words in the way that you’re receiving them (and in a completely respectful way, no mocking or mimicking), they can realize that they aren’t delivering the message that they think they are.

“Okay, let’s list what we do agree on.” Even if it’s just the fact that you’re both feeling frustrated, it’s common ground. And you can agree that you both want to come to an agreement that benefits each of you. The trick is to find the tiniest, even what feels like insignificant thing that you agree on, and try to build from there. Maybe you both want to end the conflict as quickly as possible, and you can start to make some compromises from that standpoint.

“What would you like to see happen?” One way to steer yourself towards conflict resolution is to ask the person outright not just what they want, but how they would like to see things end. It gets both of you in a mindset of thinking towards the end. Work your way backwards from the end, and figure out how to get there.

“How can we meet both of our needs?” Compromise is at the heart of conflict resolution. Just face the fact that nine times out of ten you’ll have to give up some things that you want, and so will the other person. But if you’re both actively trying to find a solution that meets both of you most important needs, the negotiations will go much smoother.

It’s a good idea to look at conflict resolution as a method to connect with the other person. If you can use try to understand what the other party wants and needs, you’ll have an good chance to connect with them. Having that connection allows you both to work towards a solution that you’ll both be able to live with.

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