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By this point in the Conflict Resolution process, you will have accomplished a great deal. You've identified the issues, created an atmosphere of trust and possibility, asked diagnostic questions to discover your own and your partner's interest, and you've brainstormed all kinds of potential solutions. You have one more step, and that's getting to agreement, Resolution. If you've done your brainstorming well, you have several ideas or proposals to consider. The best outcome from all your mutual effort is for you and your conflict partner to walk away feeling heard, accommodated, clear about next steps, and maybe even happy.
To get that kind of resolution, you want to focus on consensus, not compromise. We often collapse the two words and treat them as synonyms, but there is a critical distinction. Consensus is considering proposals and choosing solutions that will meet your highest number of mutual needs and interests. Compromise is usually associated with giving up something, often grudgingly. So, rather than win-win, you get sort of win-sort of win. This isn't to say there won't be a give and a take.
As you wind your way through different proposals, you'll undoubtedly be making concessions and asking for things in return. But your guiding intention has to be consensus, or you run the risk of spiraling into the same argument because your true needs weren't really met. So here's a simple strategy to test for consensus. Throughout the agreement process, ask a couple of stock questions: Does this proposal meet our mutual interests, or are we both completely happy with this idea? Because conflict resolution can be nerve-racking, it's easy to walk out of the room and forget important details.
But the durability of your agreement depends on specificity, so you want to be sure to capture the details of your agreement in writing. Here is what you want to include. What processes, actions, or deliverables are you committing to? What's the timeline for completing those actions or deliverables? If it's an ongoing process like a check-in or a new meeting, when will it happen? Determine how you will communicate your progress? In other words, establish a process for closing a loop on all the elements of your agreement.
Finally, confirm your understanding by reading back your agreement to your conflict partner and follow up with an email with the same information afterwards. One final thing, before you walk away from the table, don't forget to thank your partner and acknowledge their persistence, cooperation, and commitment. Whether you've just solved a family squabble or a disagreement with your business partner, you've both done something uncommon and remarkable.
It's not every day that people set aside their egos and their fears to work out a problem. So truly, your effort has not only made your world a little better, it's also opened the door for others to do the same.
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