DisputeDisputes are inevitable any time you are working with people to produce significant results. What is not inevitable is dreading or delaying the confrontation required to resolve the conflict. Here’s how to get it over within one conversation.

My 3 Rs of dispute resolution are:

  1. Relationship,
  2. Responsibility, and
  3. Request

RELATIONSHIP: Early in the conversation, state plainly the quality of the relationship you want to have with the person. Invite the other person to declare their intentions, too. A client once said to me, “I hope when we’re through negotiating this and we run into each other at the mall, we’ll be happy to see each other.” To a spouse, you might say, “Whatever I think about this incident, please remember that I love you and trust you completely.” To a project teammate, you might settle for, “We may never see eye-to-eye on the project plan, but I want to make sure we both end up willing to work together on it.” Think about what you are willing to “play for,” then be genuine and direct about what relationship you want.


Avoid criticism


RESPONSIBILITY: To learn how to take more responsibility for what you say, first notice what the opposite looks like. Listen to a typical argument and you’ll notice that very little is said about what physically occurred or what needs to happen next. (Haven’t listened to any arguments lately? Turn on your TV any weekday: soap operas, talk shows, and news programs are filled with arguments.) Most of the “bandwidth” is filled with opinions, complaints, declarations of standards and expectations, personal attacks, and misdirected venting of energy. You probably do all of these. I do, too.

No need to dread confrontation.

It may help if you remember that our word confront comes from two Latin words: con, meaning with, and fron, meaning forehead. Confront can mean butting heads or putting our heads together.

It’s up to you.

The dispute will move toward resolution when you take responsibility for your own opinions and reactions. Instead of saying, “You made me furious because you were so late. You have some nerve expecting me to keep you on the team.” try, “You arrived at 9:20. I expect employees to be working by 8:30. Not only that, but I assume that anyone who arrives so late will do sloppy work. I know that a few minutes is not a big deal and you get all of your assignments done, but I am afraid that if I give you another chance my whole project will be in jeopardy. Is there anything we can do to make me feel confident about continuing to rely on you?” The key to responsibility, in this case, is to remember that the person did not make you angry. Something happened and your reaction was anger. The act was theirs; the reaction was yours. I am not suggesting that you invalidate, conceal, or lie about your reaction. Go ahead and have a reaction; just do not pretend it was forced onto you.


REQUEST: Once all parties to the dispute have gotten clarity on the continuing relationship, taken responsibility for their subjective reactions, and gotten reasonably clear about what happened, the question that naturally emerges is, “What’s next?”


What’s next is always a request or a promise. Make yours explicit: “I promise to contact you immediately if I  will not be here by 8:30 and to complete all assignments before leaving each day. I request that you not yell at me when I am not at my desk the same time as everyone else.” or “Please before you make suggestions for changes, remind me that you still respect my work.”


Dispute Resolution Triangle


Remember, you have not made a complete request until you hear the response. Give the person a chance to accept, decline, or counteroffer. It is only a “Yes” if they could have said “No.”


Next time you notice yourself getting angry, irritated, or upset with someone ask yourself:

  • What RELATIONSHIP do I want to have with this person?
  • Have I taken RESPONSIBILITY for my feelings about the dispute?
  • What REQUESTS and promises could I make to support the outcome I want?





See also, on this blog, step-by-step conversation instructions with video here:
The Conversation Contract.


See also on this blog, Conversations that Make a Difference.