I give a LOT of presentations about conflict resolution and negotiation, and I’ve learned that the best way to teach some of the most important principles is by telling a good story.
THE LAST ORANGE – A STORY OF CONFLICT RESOLUTION
Here’s one of the best ones that I use.
My two daughters come running up to me in a panic. “Dad, this is the last orange in the fridge and I NEED it,” the older one starts. “No, I need it!” the younger responds, predictably.
Before the older one can start the never-ending debate about who needs the orange more, you interrupt. You check the fridge, and in fact there is only one orange in the house. And the neighbors don’t have any. And the stores are closed. Really, there is only one orange, and they both need it.
I do what any good dad would do: I get a knife, split the orange in half, and have them share it. Problem solved! I should win the Dad of the Year Award–teaching the kids a valuable lesson about equity, sharing, and being fair, right?
WRONG. They both take their half of the orange and run away crying to their rooms. My elegant solution is a complete failure.
You see, it turns out that the older daughter was baking a cake, and the recipe called very specifically for “the peel of one orange.” When I gave her half the orange peel, she realized the cake would be ruined.
The younger daughter, on the other hand, was very hungry. She knows herself well, and she knew a whole orange would tide her over until dinner. A half would leave her frustrated. She didn’t get what she needed either.
There never really was a conflict
You can see, of course, there never really was a conflict here. We had one orange peel, and we had one orange fruit. Both could have had their needs met fully. When conflict emerges, we tend to try to rush to solutions based only on the information presented to us. Whether it is conflict at home, conflict at the office, or conflict internationally (there is a similar story about this same issue from the Camp David Peace Accords), we keep our discussion at the level of what is the best solution, without taking time to ask questions about what the problem really is.
So here’s the lesson: Ask questions. If people are unhappy about a particular situation, ask them why. What is it about the current situation that does not work? Get past their immediate answer to the problem (their position) and get at the underlying source of the problem (their interests).
It takes a bit more time. And the added time of getting to the root cause makes problem-solving and conflict resolution much, much easier.
Jamie Notter is the person whom I credit the start of my public speaking career. I will always be grateful.
Jamie is a successful author four times over. From his website, Jamie is an “accomplished speaker, author, and consultant—with deep expertise in workplace culture, generations, and growth.”
READ ALL OF JAMIE’S ARTICLES
- The Story of Change, Guest – Jamie Notter