This is a continuation of our last post, Manage Conflict Effectively and the conclusion in our series Improving Your Influence. We’ll use the example we started in the last post (link here) to illustrate the next strategy: focusing on interests, rather than positions.
To summarize our example, Jim tells you he’s unhappy that Mike, his supervisor, routinely returns his work for revisions. He claims Mike is unreasonable. You help reframe the problem so that it focuses less on Mike, but more on what Jim can do to minimize the need for revisions by discussing it with Mike. Jim is skeptical, but open to talking to Mike. Reading the following example, think of positions as the “what” and the interests as the “why”.
Jim: Mike, I’ve come to tell you that I’m frustrated with the number of edits you’re making to my write-ups. Your edits seem trivial and unnecessary. I would prefer that you only send me edits that are related to grammar.
Mike: The edits are necessary and my prerogative as the supervisor of the unit. The edits will continue until the write-ups reflect my style.
Clearly the conversion didn’t go anywhere. What are the positions (the “what) expressed by Jim and Mike? Jim wants less edits. Mike will continue to make edits. What are their interests (the “why”)? In this case, we know Jim’s interest is not having to do more work on the write-ups after he submits them to Mike. We aren’t sure of Mike’s interests, because Jim hasn’t probed to find out.
Jim reports back to you on the conversation, and you decide he needs a little bit of coaching on how to focus on the interests, not positions. You suggest that he approach Mike again, but his time focus on the need for (the “why) the edits/revisions rather than the fact Mike sends the work back. Here is what that conversation may look like:
Jim: Mike, I’d like to talk a little more about the revisions. I’m pretty frustrated with the number of revisions, and I was hoping we could discuss why you are making so many. I’ve brought my last submission with your notes. Maybe you can help me understand them a little better so I can give you what you want the first time.
Mike: That’s a great idea. My overall philosophy is to state things succinctly in the most direct way possible. Your writing tends to be well-crafted, but I’m looking for it to be more concise. These too sentences are examples of what I’m talking about… discussion ensues.
Jim: I think I get why I’ve been missing the mark. I think you’ll be happy with my next write-up.
Mike: Thanks Jim. I don’t like having to send the work back. It delays the whole process, so I’m hopeful I’ll have no edits on your next submission.
This example demonstrates how moving beyond the position (edits) to the interest (a write-up that is more concise) moved the entire conversation forward. Generally, in any conflict there will be both similar and conflicting interests. In this case, both Mike and Jim didn’t like having to ask for/do edits. That is a good place to start. Once Jim understood why Mike was sending back the work, he was able to see that Mike was looking for a specific style, and Jim can then focus on that with his next assignment.
By employing these 2 strategies (separating people from the problem and focusing on interests), you will help your co-workers, peers, or managers more effectively manage conflict. Ultimately, your advice will do a great deal to improving your influence in the organization.