Start with areas of agreement to resolve a dispute

by Edward Henkler on December 23, 2014

The 30-Nov-14 Philadelphia Inquirer included an article about how Pope Francis is focused on dialogue and outreach, wanting to start every conversation with points of agreement. As the Catholic church wrestles with traditional teachings vs. evolving societal views, this approach can establish a meaningful dialogue which propels the discussion forward. At a point in America’s history where the two political parties and two of the three branches of government seem unable to pass any bipartisan legislation, perhaps starting with areas of agreement would have a positive effect. Although the most radical on both sides of the political fence might disagree, I think most people believe that our elected officials have the best interests of the country in mind. They just disagree about the best approach and priorities.

 Pope Francis - start with areas of agreement (Philadelphia Inquirer; 30-Nov-14)

Next time you are faced with a contentious meeting, get both parties to start by identifying areas of agreement. You will often find that you’re in agreement on most of the major points. Then, you can focus on resolving the subset of items which are actually disputed, a more manageable task. You should also assume positive intent. Rather than getting frustrated with a colleague, assume they have the same goal as you but may approach it differently.

A similar approach is recommended by Jane Dolente, of The Skilled Negotiator. Rather than negotiating item-by-item, look at the overall set of goals or objectives. Seek agreement on the broad aspects, then work through the details in dispute. When you start with just one item, the whole process can break down if the two parties don’t agree or even if they’re just trying to establish a dominant position. The discussion is much simpler when you’ve already agreed the major points. It helps you realize that the minor points really just are details.

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