In this blog I am suggesting that there may be two general pathways to compatibility in dispute resolution. Consciously choosing one or the other can assist you to be more effective at addressing differences. Additionally, since the first pathway is the one that is normally taken, I am going to focus more on the characteristics of the second pathway.
The first and much more common pathway is one of synthesis. It operates through assembling compatible and workable options. Parties notice where they oppose each other, and try to find a way to come together. They may try to impose their views or preconceived outcomes (positions) on each other in order to reach an agreement. Or, they may try to build a new way forward that integrates the interests of others. In both of these cases – as different as they are – the intention is to reach compatibility.
By definition, resolution of a dispute requires compatibility. But, the second path is one that achieves compatibility indirectly. How can this be? If you are feeling tension, a therapist may ask you to consciously increase tightness in your body by clenching and contracting muscles. Through consciously increasing the feeling, you become fully aware of it and then can completely let go of the tension in a manner that you might not have been able to before.
The analogy is not perfect because I am not suggesting that if you increase antagonism you are necessarily on the second pathway to resolution (although you might be). Rather, the second pathway is characterized by acceptance and exploration of difference. For example, it means to be able to speak about why we hate each other and where that hatred comes from, or to explore the forms of manipulation that each of us have employed to gain power over the other. It means revealing under bright light all elephants in the room, and dispensing with face saving. It means laying bare the conflict for all those present to see and accept.
From exploration and acceptance of the conflict, several possible changes (transformations?) may arise.
Firstly, for example, allowing full expression and acknowledgement of negativity may result in the beginning of its diminishment.
Or secondly, full experience of difference may result in a new level of honesty: “It is obvious that this dysfunction will continue unless we start to get along. The question to me is whether we care enough to make the effort required.”
A third possibility is a creative leap to a previously untried solution. “What if at every second meeting we dispensed with the agenda and began by talking about whatever was on our minds. I think we might make more progress on the important issues.”
Here is a takeaway. When you notice yourself trying to achieve compatibility and not making progress, consider further or deeper exploration of difference.