This four-part blog series will explain 4 unique and healthy ways to effectively communicate and navigate your way through conflict.

This is the last in our four-part series about how to effectively navigate conflict. Today, we discuss changing conflict into joint problem solving.

When we’re in conflict with someone else, it means that we each have a “strategy” in mind for meeting our needs or interests. For instance, I might want to go out to dinner, but my wife may wish to stay in. Going out to dinner is a “strategy” for meeting a need of mine. Staying in is a “strategy” for meeting a need of hers. But together, the two strategies are in conflict.

Often, conflict is resolved by one person giving in to the other person’s strategy with a sigh or an “oh, whatever,” but without genuine consent. Beware! In some way and at some time, there will be a price to pay.

Rather than have a battle over whose “strategy” is going to prevail, use the suggestions for good communication that we talked about in the first three parts of this series and explore the needs and interests underneath the conflicting strategies.

Take the going-out-to-dinner example. Upon reflection, I might decide that what I’m really needing is some romantic time to connect. This is a need, rather than a strategy for meeting a need. You can tell the difference because a need doesn’t have a specific reference to a person or thing. It’s intangible. Going out to dinner with my wife is a particular strategy for meeting that need. There are clearly other ways to get some romantic time to connect beyond going out to dinner.

If I explore what my wife needs, I might discover that she’s had a hard day and wants rest and relaxation. Getting ready and going out to dinner feels exhausting to her.

Once the needs are understood, then I might begin to generate strategies for meeting my needs that will also work for my wife:

“I would love to have some ‘us’ time. If going to dinner seems too tiring, what if we just have wine and cheese together on the couch in the living room?”

This may or may not work for my wife, but I’ve begun the process of problem solving with her to come up with a strategy for meeting our respective needs that we can both feel okay about.

Recognize that in formulating strategies, whatever option you propose must first of all meet your needs and interests. On the other hand, any strategy you propose is unlikely to be adopted if it fails to meet the needs and interests of the other person. Seek to understand what the other person is saying about their needs and interests to generate options for resolving differences that take into account those needs and interests. You may not get it right the first time, but this type of problem solving is much healthier for the relationship than trying to bend the other person to adopt your strategy, or giving in to the other person’s strategy even if it conflicts with your needs.

We hope you enjoyed this series and learned a few valuable insights to negotiate and resolve conflict to create win-win situations. We’d love to hear your comments.