The Basic Course

Lesson 1: Introduction

In a typical social or political conflict, people argue and debate over their positions on an issue. They try to convince each other (and people who may be listening) of the correctness of their positions . This tends to lead to an endless back and forth debate. One person makes a claim, the other person seeks to counter the claim. One person attacks, the other person defends. One person makes a point; the other person makes a counter-point. A debate is a like a battle or a competition. The goal is not to solve problems -- the goal is to win. As a result, there tend to be only a few outcomes to political debates: either you win and I lose; I win and you lose; we have a stalemate; or we compromise - in which case no one really gets what they want.

Needs-based problem solving occurs when parties to a conflict look past the positions that they take on an interpersonal, social or political issue in order to identify the unmet needs, interests, fears and concerns that motivate people to take those positions. Partners then seek to develop new, shared ways of meeting their core needs and concerns. Needs-based problem solving is effective way to manage interpersonal, social and political conflict alike.

The key to effective social and political conflict is to stop thinking of conflict as a battle or competition and start thinking of conflict as an opportunity for collaborative problem-solving. In collaborative problem solving, instead of debating their positions on given issue, parties seek to look beyond their respective positions. Instead, they seek to engage each other as people -- human beings with needs, interests, fears, and concerns.

A Conflict. People enter a conflict by arguing over their positions on an issue

Look beyond the position. A person's position is an attempt to meet a need.

Find the hidden needs. Both your own and the other's. Ignore the positions.

A Joint Solution. Create a way to meet both sets of needs at the same time.

Why We Need to "Collaborate with the Enemy". Yes, you read that right. How to collaborate with the enemy. We are so often told that we are not supposed to collaborate with the enemy. Well, if you don't want to solve problems, then don't collaborate. Go ahead and debate your opponent. Try to convince your opponent that you are right and he is wrong. When was the last time you changed your position in a debate about a contentious political issue? What's that? Never? I thought so. Instead of engaging with a battle with the other in order to see who wins and who loses, it is better to engage in a problem-solving conversation. This article shows some of the dangers of our everyday political debates, and how to turn conflicts into an opportunity for collaborative problem-solving.