Is there a best way for people to deal with their differences?

Tips from the book “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In” can help you get through your groups differences and avoid a stressful situation for everyone.

It was 4:30 am and once Sam started thinking about tomorrow’s meeting, he couldn’t fall back asleep.  

He really didn’t want to experience another uncomfortable episode with this assigned work group. His heart began pounding as he thought about how to protect himself and not feel threatened. Every time he participated with this particular group he felt critiqued or that he didn’t understand some unnamed group norms. Now he was wide awake!

Sam is a leader in his company and enjoys being part of a project-based work team. He participates in a number of different groups that have and continue to produce many successful projects. But, the group he is meeting with tomorrow has never seemed to click like the other teams.

Just then a thought popped into his head! He jumped out of bed, ran down the hallway and began searching the bookshelf for that book! The one he still attributes to helping him negotiate a good starting salary in a job he loves, almost 20 years ago.

The book Sam pulled off his shelf, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In, was written in 1981. He wondered if the advice offered by Fisher and Ury would still be applicable today. The more he read, the more he realized just how applicable it was. What a great resource!

Sam began to take notes that might be useful for his upcoming meeting:

  • There may be more than one valid explanation or concept.
  • Put yourself in their shoes.
  • Speak about yourself, not them…use “I” not “you”.
  • Face the problem, not the people and separate the people from the problem.
  • When an option arises, ask yourself why…..and then ask ‘why not’?
  • Be both firm and open.
  • Talk about where you’d like to go, not where you’ve been – expect the same from others.
  • Recast an attack on you as an attack on the problem. The book provides this example, “When you said that a strike shows we don’t care about the children, I hear your concern about the children’s education. I want you to know that we share this concern. They are our children and our students. We want this strike to end so we can go back to educating them. What can we both do now to reach an agreement as quickly as possible?”

Although Sam’s work group meeting was not perfect and a few times he could feel his heart rate begin to increase, progress was made. Whenever the conversation began to focus on what people had done or not done, he remembered to bring their attention back to the problem or situation. He noticed the rest of the group started to do the same. He was both firm and open with his contributions. All voices were heard, collective interests identified and everyone’s dignity was maintained. As a result of this experience, Sam decided to keep the book on his desk, where it would be more easily accessible in the future. Sam is a fictional character, but there are many people who experience the situation that Sam was in. They can benefit from this same resource. The next time you are feeling like Sam remember to implement the tips from this book.

Michigan State University Extension offers a variety of conflict resolution and facilitation workshops.