A few days ago I met with a small group of professional women I know. All of us had had successful corporate careers, though our lives are taking different turns at the moment. As in many group meetings these days, at some point the conversation turned to a discussion of politics. I am probably the most conservative member of this group. Others are moderate, and a couple are quite liberal, though we all are within what I would call the “mainstream,” or center, of our political spectrum today.
We started discussing when our political system got off track—when the Republican and Democrat parties quit compromising to get things done. Some blamed Republicans for their “never say yes” attitude during the Obama Administration. These women argued, “Well, of course, the Democrats have to behave the same way now.”
Others blamed past Democratic actions, going all the way back to Senator Ted Kennedy’s scorched-earth approach to stop the Robert Bork nomination to the Supreme Court—a legal scholar who was clearly as qualified as any candidate since for the Supreme Court. “Well, of course, the Republicans have to retaliate.”
And there are many other events we could point to that might have started—or escalated—the current impasse in our political system.
Impasse, I thought to myself. We are at impasse. What has my mediation training taught me about breaking impasse?
I’ve mentioned before a mediation training presentation I attended with Ken Cloke, of the Center for Dispute Resolution. One point Mr. Cloke made during the program was that when we are in conflict with others, we have choices to make. Some of the choices we must make are
- Whether to engage in the conflict and behave badly, or calm down and try to discuss it.
- Whether to acknowledge the other person’s truth or deny it, remain rooted in one’s own story, and slip into biased or delusional thinking.
- Whether to experience intense negative emotions and feelings, or to repress and sublimate them.
- Whether to experience one’s opponent as an equal human being entitled to respect, or to demonize him or her and victimize oneself.
- Whether to aggressively assert and hold tight to one’s position, or to search for solutions that satisfy both sets of interests.
- Whether to forgive, reconcile and re-integrate with one’s opponent, or remain isolated and wounded deep inside.
Now, I can hear most of us saying, “Yeah, but . . . “
Yeah, but she started it.
Yeah, but he is engaging in alternative facts; there is no truth on his side.
Yeah, but I cannot repress how I feel on this issue.
Yeah, but there is no way to reconcile our two positions.
Yeah, but . . . .
Yeah, but . . . What if you did?
What if you did calm down? What if you did at least ask why the other side feels the way they do? What if you did search for solutions with an open mind? What if you did try to reconcile or compromise?
What’s the worst that could happen if you did seek compromise? It’s unlikely to be worse than the status quo.
While I started this post describing the political differences we face in our nation today, I hope readers see that the questions I’ve asked apply to most situations where we need to negotiate with others. In the corporate world. In consumer and family situations. Wherever we are obliged to work with others, we should ask
What if we tried to understand the other party’s position?
What if we tried to compromise?
Would we be any worse off than if we did nothing?