Negotiate a solution to conflict


Mapping is a useful tool to define the needs and concerns of each person involved in, or affected by, a conflict.

In the centre of a piece of paper define the issue or are of conflict in neutral terms that everyone would agree with, and in a way that doesn't invite a 'yes/no' answer eg 'washing' not 'Should Janet do the washing?'

Around the outside write the names of each person or group affected by the conflict. Ensure you include everyone who has an interest in the outcome, whether they are directly involved or not.

Underneath the names, write down the needs and concerns of each person or group - what motivates them, and their anxieties -- what effects are they worried about?

Be prepared to change the statement of the issue or to map related issues as your understanding evolves through discussion.

The mapping approach is needs based and seeks to meet as many of the needs involved with a conflict as possible - to maximise win-win.'Needs' in this context includes the interests, values, hopes, desires and wants of those involved, and in order to be successful it is vital that these are fully identified.

To uncover needs:

Introduce the approach

Explain that you are seeking a solution to meet as many of the participants' needs as possible

Shift from solutions to needs

When asked what they need many people reply with solutions that they think are needs such as 'I need her to ring me whan he is going to be late' where the real need is to know she is safe. There may be a number of ways to meet the need of which ringing is only one.

Ask 'why?'

In explaining why their solutions are important to them, people usually express the underlying need.


Listen carefully and question to check that you have heard the needs expressed clearly.

Look for signposts

Where a need is intangible, such as 'consideration', identify what would demonstrate it being met - what sorts of things would happen.

Break into its 'ingredients'

A complex need such 'lifestyle' can be divided into simpler parts by asking what is involved and what it means to the person.

Identify concerns and fears

Enquire specifically what would happen if the need wasn't met.

Help people who are 'stuck in the mud'

If people are stuck in their own positions help them to shift by asking them if there are any circumstances in which their solution wouldn't work. Paint a 'what if' picture.

Brainstorm the needs

What are the elements of a successful agreement? Explore what needs would have to be met (including influential people who aren't immediately obvious, such as spouses).

Reading your map

When you have designed your map you need to read it to find a route to resolution. To do this you should ask yourself a number of questions:

  • What are the areas of common ground (similar needs and concerns)?
  • What hadn't you seen before?
  • What is clearer now?
  • Are there any solutions masquerading as needs?
  • If so, what are the underlying needs and concerns they are covering up?
  • Are there any underlying fears you have missed?
  • What are the areas of special difficulty that need attention?
  • What have you noticed that is worth following up?
  • What needs more information?

Once you have answered these questions, pick out the key needs of each party, highlighting them on the map. This defines the issue in terms of needs and points to option development: "What we need to do now is come up with a solution that incorporates and meets the key needs we have highlighted."

Develop Options

Develop a range of options using the tools below:

Clarifying Tools

  • Chunking breaking the problem into smaller parts
  • Researching gathering information
  • Goal-setting defining the desired outcome

Generating Tools

  • The Obvious Solution to which all parties say 'yes
  • Brainstorming no censoring, justifying or debating
  • Consensus build a solution together
  • Think laterally be creative!

Negotiating Tools

  • Currencies what is cheap for me to give and valuable for them to receive?
  • Trial & Error try out solutions
  • Establish alternatives what happens if you can't agree?

Negotiating for win-win

Having created your map you need to use it to reach a solution. Generally this is done through negotiation. You need to take a win-win approach to negotiating solutions, however, if you are to effectively resolve a conflict. In any contest, in order for there to be a winner, there must also be a loser. However, there is no need for a conflict to be a contest. It doesn't have to be "you or me", it can, and should, be "you and me".

Win-win is not necessarily about compromise. It is entirely possible that both parties in a conflict can get all they want. There may be times that compromise is necessary, of course, but it is better to start by looking for ways that both of you can be completely satisfied before you settle on anything less than ideal. If you go look for half a loaf, you certainly won't get any more!

How do you make win-win work?

Find out why they need what they want

It may well turn out that your needs and the other person's are not exclusive. As a simple example: Say you both need to use the same computer - one has a letter to finish by 1pm, one a report by 5pm. It is 11.30 and the report will take 5 hours to finish, while the letter will take half an hour.

Find out where the differences dovetail

If the report writer takes an early lunch, the letter writer can use the computer while she's away.

What are the options?

Sometimes the solution is obvious, like the above. But what if the report writer has a lunch appointment? What are the options? Could you look for someone else in the office who isn't using their computer at the moment? Maybe you could unearth the old typewriter from the store room?


All the above can be done by one individual, but by involving the other person and co-operating you treat them as a partner rather than an opponent and you relationship with them will be maintained, as you have agreed on a solution.

The stages of a negotiation

Not everything can be negotiated. Some demands may be non-negotiable. But where it is possible, the negotiation process follows a pattern:


  • Decide what your starting point (what you would get in an ,ideal] situation), acceptable outcome (what you would be happy with) and your final compromise (the least you will settle for) are.
  • Try to gain an impression of the other person and their needs.
  • Gather the relevant information.


  • Discuss the other person's needs - what they must have.
  • Discuss other person's wants. - what they would like to have
  • Generate options.
  • Discuss areas of difference and similarity.


  • Tell the other person your starting point "What I suggest is ..."
  • Give reasons for your suggestion.
  • Jointly review options.



  • Agree actions - what each of you will do.
  • Develop an action plan - how you will do it.
  • Set timeframes - when it will be done by.
  • Plan a review - check to see it all worked out.

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