F. Peter Phillips (commercial mediator, former Senior VP of CPR) recently had an interesting post on resolving conflicts. He frames it in from the perspective of a hospital negotiating with a misdiagnosed patient. For the details, go check it out, but I’ll re-produce the basic steps here:
- Taking Responsibility. The first stage is to admit the wrongdoing, acknowledge the full consequences of your action, and express regret. In this stage the party ceases argument or denial and adopts the posture of the complainant.
- Offer to Repair the Damage. Assume not only the responsibility for the harm, but also the moral obligation to acknowledge the consequences and address them to the extent possible. Assure the person harmed that you are prepared to make her whole without hesitation and without concern for yourself.
- Assure No Repetition of the Harm. Take steps to prevent a recurrence of the conduct. Assure the person harmed that you are not in the business of hurting people like this, that you do not regard it s a mere “cost of doing business,” and that you will do your best to prevent it happening to anyone else.
- Ask Forgiveness. This is an odd stage, because its completion is not in the control of the wrongdoer, as the other three are. It contemplates that the person hurt will recognize and accept all of the indicia of resolution set forth above, and will choose a life without remorse and vindictiveless, putting the whole matter in the past.
The four steps listed above should definitely help in an attempt to mediate a situation when you’re at fault. In my experience, I’ve seen the above strategy referred to as “Giving in to Get Your Way.” By “giving in” to an opposing party’s argument or attack it robs them of ammunition to continue to fight. For example:
- Adam (after some perceived slight or harm) to Bob: Bob, you’re an asshole!
Generally speaking, most people in Bob’s shoes respond with one of the usual fight, flight, or freeze responses.
- Fight. Bob: “Oh yeah! Well you’re a double-asshole Adam!”
- Flight. Bob: “Adam, I don’t have time for this now, we can deal with it later.”
- Freeze. Bob can only stammer as Adam continues on his tirade.
“Giving in to Get Your Way” provides another option:
- Bob: “You’re right Adam. Sometimes my behavior can be rude or inconsiderate. I’m not perfect, none of us are y’know? What can I do to make it up to you and how can we make sure we clearly communicate in the future so we can avoid this problem coming up again?”
People tend to deflate after such a response because it doesn’t leave them with anything to attack. By performing a bit of verbal jujitsu you’ve completely accepted their attack and re-directed it away from you and towards resolution. You’ve admitted your failing and are offering to attempt to make them whole and ensure that the activity doesn’t occur again in the future. People who are not responsive to this tactic are probably behaving irrationally and unlikely to open to resolving the conflict in a constructive manner.
Of course, “Giving in to Get Your Way” isn’t the best or viable option for all conflicts, but it is a valuable tool to keep in mind when dealing with a conflicts or crisis management.