Whether it’s a labor-management committee or any other type of a group, it’s easy to respond to disagreements in an adversarial manner. When we do, the likelihood of reaching an agreement drops. Instead, we need to try to change the nature of the discussion.
Traditional, adversarial behaviors come naturally to most people. When they respond in this way they often stop listening, instead focusing on their positions and how to be certain their positions prevail. This creates a win-lose atmosphere, and any chance to really solve the problem is lost.
While we encourage labor-management groups to deal with problems using a win-win approach, this method works in other situations. It is effective when trying to mediate a dispute between other parties or determining what actually happened. Even if the parties are not familiar with the process, it is still possible and beneficial to use this method.
We suggest you use the following steps:
- Do not allow the parties to make demands or threats as you begin. If you do, it will destroy the win-win process. Do not permit the participants to interrupt each other.
- Ask one party to explain their view of the problem and what has happened. If one party feels they have been wronged, let them go first, as this shows you have an interest in their views and helps create a feeling of empathy.
- Actively listen to what they say. This will demonstrate you are interested in their views of what has happened and help you learn more about them and the problem. During this step you should ask any clarifying questions (do not offer arguments with their statement) to show your interest in understanding the situation.
- Restate what you believe you have heard and ask them to confirm what you have said. This will also demonstrate you have listened and helps build as atmosphere conducive to problem solving.
- Repeat these steps with the other party. Active listening is still essential.
- Encourage the parties to cite specific facts that support their positions and use these facts in the rest of the process. Do not rely on the assumptions of either side about what may have happened.
- Next, explore the interests of both sides. Interests explain why solving the problem is important to each party. They tell their hopes, fears, and concerns that underlie the situation. As you start with one party, is helpful to record them on a flip chart or whiteboard for later reference. Acknowledge their interests, then repeat the process for the other party and identify the interests both share. In most situations, the parties will have mutual interests, which will become the basis of finding solutions.
By taking these steps, you will create an atmosphere where you begin to explore possible solutions. Help create multiple possible options based on the shared interests of the parties and look for ways to meet some of the non-shared interests. Rather than taking s a single position try to find ways to solve the problem that will have wins for all parties.
Problem solving in labor-management or other settings is best achieved by using a win-win approach. Potential outcomes that satisfy the needs of all parties are easier to find, and stronger solutions can result.