Be Firm But Fair in Conflict Resolution

Published: Dec 02 , 2014

There are over 7 billion people on the planet, each with his or her own opinion, set of values and principles. Now that’s a lot of differences to accommodate! Although it may seem difficult at times to come up with a resolution that makes all parties happy, it certainly isn’t impossible – as long as you make a commitment to the two commandments of conflict resolution:

 Thou shalt be firm in negotiating with thy brethren.

 Thou shalt always be fair in negotiating lest thou perpetuate conflict.


Forget about the religious language here for a second. Being firm – yet fair – when negotiating yourself out of a tricky situation is absolutely vital if a real and lasting settlement is something you truly desire. Let’s take a closer look and examine how being firm and fair in conflict resolution is necessary for ultimate success.


It’s important that you stick to your guns and never compromise on your non-negotiable differences. Ignoring your own needs and requirements for the sake of appeasing the other party (although tempting at times) will eventually undermine any progress made. How so? Because coming out of a settlement with the short end of the stick will inevitably lead to bitterness and dissatisfaction. You also set a bad precedent to the other party that if they apply pressure you will give in.


Unfortunately many negotiators spend far too much time trying to come up with solutions than actually listening to what the other party has to say. And this often results in unfair and ineffective proposals. Indeed: how can an effective and fair solution be offered when the reality of the situation hasn’t yet been truly grasped? How can you ensure that the other parties’ needs are met when you don’t even know what they are? Whatever settlement is proposed, it is unlikely to last or even get accepted.


Instead of spending the bulk of his or her time coming up with possible solutions, the wise negotiator commits to truly understanding the other party. This will lead to agreements that should be of mutual gain.


As David Bohm once said, effective dialogue and a “free exchange of ideas” is fundamental “so that creativity can be liberated”.  It is only after each party is truly understood that a fair proposal can be put forward and real progress made.


Consider this old fable. There once was a man walking in the desert who, to his relief, came across a Bedouin. “How far is the nearest oasis?” the man asked him. But the Bedouin didn’t say a word. “I said, how far is the nearest oasis?” shouted the man, thinking the Bedouin simply didn’t hear him. Again, no answer. Shaking his head in frustration and feeling hard done by, the man began to walk away from the Bedouin. Then, suddenly, from behind his back the Bedouin called out, “For you it will take three hours.” The man turned around and faced the Bedouin. “Couldn’t you have told me that before?” asked the man. “No”, replied the Bedouin, “I couldn’t answer until I saw how fast you walked.”


Next time you sit down to settle a conflict situation, keep the above in mind. Always be firm on that which you hold to be non-negotiable, and spend more of your time truly understanding the other party to create outcomes that have staying power.


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