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How to Reach Agreement When Neither Party Will Budge

by Todd R. Nordstrom

It’s frustrating. It’s ultimately confusing. And, I haven’t even introduced you to the real problem yet. Huh? What am I referring to? I’m talking about the conflicting messages we’ve all received in life about when we should fight tirelessly to defend our beliefs, or when we should be more flexible.

Think about how conflicting these messages can be. Your parents and mentors may have told you, “Draw your line in the sand. Be firm when it comes to fighting for what you believe.” These are all great pieces of advice. However, they also may have also told you to, “Choose your battles wisely. Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. Being stubborn is the first proof of stupidity.” These are also great pieces of advice.

So, here’s the question: in which situations in life do we apply these conflicting pieces of advice? That’s an extremely difficult question to answer. If a friend is asking you to do something that conflicts with your morality and character, the answer might be easy. If you and a coworker are at odds about the direction of a project, the way in which you respond becomes a little less clear. Do you draw a line in the sand and refuse to budge? Or, do you learn to bend a little?

Obviously, with any situation, numerous factors need to be considered, like:  

  • How much do you benefit if you get your way, and what do they lose?
  • What do you lose if you bend a little, and how valuable is the thing you lose?
  • How might your decision impact the future—your relationship with the other person, your relationships with others, and/or anyone’s reputation?
  • How much do you truly care about the outcome, or are you just bothered that someone else is getting their way?

All of these questions are important to answer. And, they’re important to answer with great detail, because until you truly understand what you’re fighting for, it’s not worth fighting at all. Nevertheless, if you still find yourself at an impasse—a situation where neither party is willing to budge, here are a few things to consider if you want to reach agreement before you engage in a battle.   

  1. Everyone must win, which means everyone must lose. Reaching an agreement doesn’t always mean that everyone values the same things. And, if you want to clear up a disagreement, it’s important to find out where you agree and where you disagree. Look at the situation with a different mindset. Analyze the variables in small pieces. Consider which variables are most important to you. Ask the other party to communicate the variables most important to them. Within all of these variables look for places where each party bends a little. Agreement will only be reached when everyone wins a little, and everyone loses a little.
  2. Focus on being successful rather than being right. Let’s say you totally disagree with the other person. You think the way they view a situation is completely wrong. In fact, the way they think about it makes you outright angry. We’ve all been in these situations. And, emotions can run high. But, pause for a second, and ask yourself—by fighting with them, are you trying to be right? Or, are you trying to be successful? Arguing with someone for the simple sake of proving them wrong doesn’t actually benefit you at all. In fact, if the only result you want to achieve from arguing with someone is to prove them wrong, you’re not winning anything except a cheap, temporary boost to your own ego, while earning the other person’s resentment. Focus on what success looks like. If you still believe that your argument will legitimately lead to a better result, then it’s worth fighting for.
  3. Separate the situational details from the emotions about those details. Sometimes disagreements aren’t actually disagreements at all—they’re leftover emotional baggage from quarrels of  the past. What does that mean? Let’s say you disagree with a coworker about the direction of a project. Okay, that’s fair. But, let’s also consider your past with the person you may be disagreeing with. Is there a past? What are your emotions about that past? Or, does the current situation resemble someone or something from your past? These are important aspects to consider. And, it’s why it’s so important to learn how to separate emotion from a current situation. Judge the details for what they are today, and today only.
  4. Gain fresh perspective by asking open-ended questions. Okay, so this is something we’ve all heard a million times. However, how often do we truly step back and honestly try to imagine someone else’s perspective? How would they benefit? What might they lose? And, what other aspects of life might be leading them to perceive the situation as they do? This is ALL important. We all like to think we’re supportive of others, until they disagree with us. Learn to see the world through their eyes. Empathize. Sympathize. Comprehend. And, then, and only then, they might be able to see the world through your eyes.
  5. Recruit a third party for mediation. Alright, this might sound a bit legalistic and over the top for your current situation. And, although mediators are often used in legal battles, consider using them for smaller issues as well. Mediators don’t need to be professional. They can simply be someone both parties trust—to hear both viewpoints, and help everyone explain their side of the story. Mediators for any conversation or disagreements help find resolution. In fact, here’s an amazing course to get you started.

Do you fight tooth and nail to defend your position? Do you bend and give in? While these questions can only be answered by you, the biggest question you might need to ask yourself is this: how do you want to spend your time?

If your answer to that question is to fight, then maybe you’re dealing with something worth fighting for. But, if you simply wish you could stop fighting, then your answer is simple—just stop. Learn more here.

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