Before you try the No-Lose Method, all persons involved in the conflict should understand the differences between Methods I and II and Method III (the No-Lose Method). They should know what the six steps are and why they are critical to effective problem-solving. You may need to remind them that the goal of the No-Lose Method is to arrive at a solution acceptable to everyone, so nobody feels a loser. Use Active Listening to show understanding of any possible negative feelings such as anger, distrust, blame or skepticism. Only those people directly involved in the conflict should be included in the problem-solving. And don’t start the process unless you and the others have set aside a sizable block of time for it. A white board or chart pad is most useful, though not essential; pen and pencil may suffice.
It is also important that you go into the meeting with some awareness of your underlying needs as opposed to having one fixed, preconceived solution (although obviously you may have any number of alternative solutions in mind). The important thing is that you remain open to other solutions.
Finally, of greatest importance is your commitment to the No-Lose Method and your unwillingness to revert to Method I or give in with Method II. While the following guidelines apply for a conflict between you and one other person, they are equally appropriate for conflicts involving several persons. For convenience I will use “O” to stand for the other person.
Step I. Identifying and Defining the Problem.
This is a critical step in problem-solving. First, work for an understanding of O’s point of view, his concerns and his underlying needs. Active Listen to ensure that you understand. Avoid any of the Communication Roadblocks. Secondly, express your statement of the problem in a way that does not communicate blame or judgment. Sending I-Messages is always the most effective way of stating a problem. Frequently, it will take a while to get the problem or conflict defined accurately. O may need some time to get feelings out. O may initially get angry or defensive. This is the time to use Active Listening. O must have a chance to ventilate feelings; else he will not be ready for the remaining steps. Don’t be in a hurry to get to Step II. Be sure you understand O’s point of view, and be sure you state yours accurately and congruently. Don’t understate your own feelings. If you do, O may not feel very motivated to enter into problem-solving.
Frequently, a problem will get redefined as it is discussed—the initial statement of the problem may turn out to be superficial. O’s statement of feelings may cause you to see the problem in a new light.
Before moving to Step II, be sure both of you accept the definition of the problem. Test this out—ask if O accepts that this is the problem you both are going to try to solve. Are both sets of needs accurately stated? Don’t define the problem as a conflict between competing solutions. Define it in terms of conflicting needs and then generate your solutions. Lastly, make certain O understands clearly that you both are looking for a solution that will meet both sets of needs, one that will be acceptable to both—nobody is to lose.
Step II. Generating Alternate Solutions.
This is the creative part of problem-solving. It is frequently hard to come up with a good solution right away. Initial solutions are seldom adequate, but they may stimulate better ones. Ask O first for possible solutions—you’ll have plenty of time to offer yours. At all costs, avoid being evaluative and critical of O’s solutions. Use Active Listening. Treat O’s ideas with respect. Try to get a number of possible solutions before evaluating or discussing any particular one. Discourage evaluation until a number of possible solutions are proposed. Remember you are trying to generate good solutions, not just any solution. If things bog down, state the problem again. Sometimes this will start the wheels turning. Generally, it will become apparent when to move into Step III—after you have come up with a number of reasonably feasible solutions or when one solution appears to be far superior to the others.
Step III. Evaluating the Alternate Solutions.
This is the stage of problem-solving where you must take special care to be honest; and of course you want O to be honest, too. Both of you will want to do a lot of critical thinking. Are there flaws in any of the possible solutions? Any reason why a solution might not work? Will it be too hard to implement or carry out? Is it fair to both? Use Active Listening. In evaluating the solutions already generated, one of you may think of a brand-new one, better than any of the others. Or you’ll hit on a modification that improves an earlier idea. If you fail to test solutions at this stage, you’ll increase the chance of ending up with a poor solution, or one that will not be carried out earnestly.
Step IV. Decision-making.
A mutual commitment to one solution is essential. Usually when all the facts get exposed, one clearly superior solution stands out. Don’t make the mistake of trying to persuade or push a solution on O. If O doesn’t freely choose a solution acceptable to him, chances are it will not be carried out. When it appears that perhaps you are close to a decision, state the solution to make certain you both understand what you are about to decide.
Step V. Implementing the Solution.
It is, of course, one thing to arrive at a creative solution, another to carry it out. Immediately after a solution has been agreed upon, it is generally necessary to talk about implementation.
WHO does WHAT by WHEN? The most constructive attitude is one of complete trust that O will faithfully carry out the decision, rather than to raise the question of what is to be done if O doesn’t. So it is not wise to talk about penalties for failure to implement a solution at this time. However, if O fails to carry out his end of the agreement, confront with I-Messages. You also may be able to offer suggestions to help O remember what is to be done. Don’t fall into the trap of constantly reminding O to carry out tasks—O would then grow dependent on your reminders rather than assume full responsibility for his own behavior. Persons unaccustomed to Method III problem-solving in the past may at first be lax in carrying out the solution, especially if they have been used to Method II. Be prepared to do a lot of confronting until they get the idea that you are not going to permit them to “get by.” Don’t delay too long before confronting them.
Step VI. Follow-up Evaluation of the Solution.
Not all solutions from Method III problem-solving turn out to be the best. Sometimes you or O will discover weaknesses in the solution, in which case the problem should be returned for more problem-solving. Sometimes it is important to ask how O feels now about the solution. Both of you should have an understanding that decisions are always open for revision, but that neither of you can unilaterally modify a decision. Modifications have to be mutually agreed upon, as was the initial decision.
Sometimes those new to Method III will discover that they overcommitted themselves—in their enthusiasm they agreed to do too much or to do the impossible. Be sure to keep the door open for revision should this happen.
• Your best tools for effective problem-solving will always be:
• Active Listening
• Clear and honest I-Messages
• Respect for the needs of the other
• Being open to new data
• Firmness in your unwillingness to have it fail
• Refusal to revert to Method I or Method II