The Secret to Solving Problems: Put Solutions On Pause

I’m tired of the fighting.

I’m tired of watching politicians bicker. I’m tired of watching business people go after each other’s throats. And I’m tired of watching people rehash the same conflicts over and over again in their personal lives.

I’ve been on a 10-year quest to unravel the age-old problem of why we don’t get along and to create a new model for solving our problems.

After a decade of working with CEOs, sales people, managers and individuals, I can promise you there’s no difference between an in-law squabble and the sales vs. accounting turf war.

The subject matter might be different, but the dynamics of the argument are exactly the same. Both sides think they’re right. Your truth (as you perceive it) is on one side of the argument; their truth is on the other, and no one is willing to budge.

The result is a tension-filled stalemate that leaves everyone unhappy while the real problems go unsolved.

We’ve long been told that compromise is the answer. But compromise is never sustainable over the long haul. Because whether it’s in a business setting or a personal one, people are attached to their solutions. When you ask them to compromise, it breeds resentment and contempt.

So how do you reconcile seemingly conflicting goals and agendas?

The secret is to take the solutions off the table.

When you’re arguing about solutions, be it policy or personal preferences, you’re already stuck in conflict.

But if you can put the solutions on pause and focus the conversation on drilling down to the core truths behind them, you’ll find a better answer.

For example: The accounting people may be suggesting that every purchase more than $2 must have three levels of approval. Yet the sales team wants to be able to aggressively pursue new business, so they think they shouldn’t have to get approval for anything less than $10,000.

But if you can put the conflicting solutions aside for a minute and focus on the core truth of each side, you can recast the entire conversation.

The truth for the accounting people is probably something along the lines of: We need firm financial controls so we don’t go broke, while the truth on the sales side is: We need the resources and flexibility to pursue new business.

Very few people would argue with either of those. The solutions may be incompatible, but the core truths are not. Solutions are simply one person’s idea of how to solve a problem. Truths tend to be more conceptual.

Your mother-in-law’s holiday solution may be for you and your family to spend 10 days on her sofa bed. But her core truth might be simply that she wants to feel loved and valued by her family.

Getting the truths on the table enables you to elevate the conversation.

In my new book, “The Triangle of Truth,” I provide seven principles for resolving conflicts large and small.

The first is embrace AND. If you go into an argument convinced that it’s an either/or debate, it will be. But if you embrace that idea that your truth AND my truth can be combined, you’ll come up with more creative options.

Embracing AND means taking solutions off the table and getting comfortable with a little uncertainty.

It only takes one person to recast a conversation. When someone decides to seek the truth of the other side, everything changes.

But someone has to be willing to do it first.I’m kinda thinking that person might be you.

Lisa Earle McLeod is a syndicated columnist, author and keynote speaker.   She is the founder and principal of McLeod & More, Inc. a training and consulting firm that specializes in sales, leadership and conflict management, she lectures internationally.