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Coming off the Fence: When it's Your Call

"It's your decision" sign

In our last blog post we set out the steps that maximise your chances of defusing and resolving a dispute or disagreement. However, even when there is good will on both sides, this process may not be enough. Some decisions are intrinsically “black and white”: for example - should we use our marketing budget to exhibit at show A or show B, which take place on the same weekend? On others, you may find fundamental differences on:

  • The facts

  • The principles to apply to the facts

  • The conclusions that follow from applying those principles

Here you need to target mutual satisfaction not on the outcome but instead on the process, so that any decision is respected by both sides—even if it is not what one side hoped. This applies whenever you are in the role of decision-maker, whether you are part of the conflict or outside it. Here are some tips to avoid common mistakes:

Establish your credentials

To bring any closure to the conflict, your decision needs to be acknowledged as being final. If you are using your seniority, prepare the ground - “I can see that unfortunately we’re not going to be able to agree the way forward, so as the head of department I need to make a decision now.” If you’ve been invited to settle a dispute, don’t proceed until both sides consent - otherwise you are just taking sides.

Answer only the questions that need to be answered

No-one likes being on the losing side of a decision, so you should avoid unnecessarily creating negativity. Find out exactly what is needed to settle this dispute and allow normal relations to resume, and focus on that. Don’t get dragged into peripheral issues. At the same time, don’t shy away from difficult areas that need to be covered - if you try to please everyone, you will end up pleasing no-one.

Make decisions about actions, not people

Avoid making judgements that are personal. It is much easier for someone to reject a negative judgement that they feel is about their nature (which is hard to change) than one about their actions (which could always be different next time).

Have principles, but stand by them

You won’t be able to make every decision based on pure, unassailable logic. Most times you will have to make a judgement call based on your principles and experience. Don’t be afraid to do so - if you avoid saying anything for fear of being wrong, and fall on the defensive, you will quickly lose respect. Don’t lean on any principle that you aren’t prepared to apply consistently - this will lose you respect even faster!

Give explanations, not apologies

Always give reasons for your decision, so that those affected can learn how to avoid problems in future. However, your reasons should be explanations of how you reached the decision, not attempts to persuade. Keep them clear, straightforward and free of rhetoric.

If you’d like to learn some more, including specific techniques for arbitration, then why not look at our short module on the “Three Question Method”, available as part of our Taster Menu?

[Image credit: ljphillips34 on Flickr under a creative commons licence]

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