Resolving disputes – Finding Common Ground

Three people sit at a desk. The young woman and man are both wearing glasses and look at a male colleague whose face is in profile.There is an open laptop between them and they are smiling.

Sometimes you will find yourself involved in a dispute or conflict at work. Despite your best efforts to explain your position and be reasonable, the other person will simply refuse to budge. It can make your life, and the life of those around you miserable. What can you do in these sorts of situations?  “Find the Common Ground”.

If you can develop the ability to see the situation from the other person’s perspective and identify what you both want (the common ground), you’ll increase your chances of finding a way through the conflict. By doing this you’ll stop wasting time, reduce stress and feel happier all round.

Finding Common Ground will help you identify opportunities to resolve challenging disputes and reduce tension at work. To find common ground, we need to do two things: identify what we want and then identify what the other person wants. Sounds easy right? But there’s a bit of skill in doing this.

To identify what you want, you need to Self-Reflect. We outline in detail how to do this in The Art of Self-Reflection. You can read an article on it here.

To understand what the other person wants and then identify the common ground, we need to take a deep dive into their heads and try and understand their perspective.

The art of “perspective taking” is putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and trying to look at the situation as if you were them. Now this can be tricky, because you are of course guessing. But five questions help you gain insight into how the other person sees the world:

  1. What’s their sensory data?
  2. What are they thinking? What are the stories they are telling themselves?
  3. What emotions are coming into play for them?
  4. What do they want and need?
  5. What have they done in the past that relevant to the current situation?

Start by spending some time Self-Reflecting about the situation that is causing you concern. Then spend some time Perspective Taking – looking at the situation from the other persons perspective. If you have the opportunity, test your assumptions by asking the other person some great open questions.

Take some time to think about what you each want. Write down your thoughts.

What do I want?

  • What do I want for the business?
  • What do I want the team?
  • What do I want personally?
  • What do I want for our clients?
  • What I want for the other person?
  • What don’t I want?

What do they want?

  • What do they want for the business?
  • What do they want for the team?
  • What do they want personally?
  • What do they want for their clients?
  • What do they want for me?
  • What don’t they want?

Then identify what you both want – The Common Ground. You can then begin to plan how you can use this to resolve the dispute.

At Balanced Curve our goal is to help leaders, managers and their teams to improve their performance.  We’ve helped dozens of Australia’s leading organisations and Government departments through our proven expertise in conflict management, executive and team coaching, mediation and facilitation. We can help you find The Common Ground and help with dispute resolution. Read more about our facilitation and mediation services here


Mark Rosenberg