Getting to Agreement

Getting to Agreement
Getting to Agreement

We live in divided times today. And as much as we want to complain about it, it is nothing new. Abraham Lincoln famously said “a house divided cannot stand.” There are many examples of major disagreements throughout history. We humans can be a disagreeable group of people.

You see it on projects on a daily basis. We disagree about how to implement software and who to hire for a project. Different people disagree in different ways. Some people get mad and start to yell when someone disagrees with them. Others stay calm and try to plead their case.

Can’t we all just get along?

A good consultant is able to work with diverse people with diverse goals and diverse opinions. They figure out how to “herd the cats” in the direction of a successful engagement.

Here are some tips on bringing people together and getting to agreement when warring factions butt heads.

What problem are you trying to solve? When people disagree, sometimes they are simply disagreeing on what the actual problem is. The first step is to make sure they agree with what they are trying to solve. This gives them a common vision and the first step toward agreeing with each other.

What assumptions are you working with? In the U.S., we have Republicans and Democrats. There are two primary differences between them. The first is the role of government. Republicans want a limited role, while Democrats usually advocate more government involvement. The second is taxation. Republicans want lower taxes, particularly for the rich. Democrats want to tax the rich to pay for the increased government programs.

Each group is working on diametrically opposed assumptions. Trying to bring them to agreement is a great challenge because of the vast difference in their assumptions.

What do you agree on? Try to find areas where they agree. Most Republicans and most Democrats agree on world peace. They may disagree on how to get there, but finding their common beliefs and values is a great starting point.

Finding as many points of agreement as possible, not only provides a starting point, it develops trust between the two. When they realize how much they have in common, they realize that they are not that different. They’re likely to approach their differences in a more cooperative light.

Find a middle ground. Once you have identified their areas of agreement, it might be easier to identify opportunities for compromise. Points of agreement are a bridge; a meeting of the minds. With that connection point, you can begin breaking down additional walls to see if there is any point of compromise.

The tricky aspect of compromise is that both sides need to give a little. But it takes one person to start the process. If you can convince one person to give in a little, it sets the example to his counterpart. They will be challenged to give some more. It may take each side to give just a little in multiple alternating sequences to get anywhere.

This is the hardest part. When arbitrating this between two sides, it usually requires creativity. Providing hypothetical situations can force each side to see the other person’s perspective. You might describe scenarios where one person’s approach would fail and their counterpart’s would be successful.

Based on their deeply-held assumptions, they may think your scenario is unlikely or impossible. It is your job to convince them that it may be more realistic than they think. This should be done as equally as possible with both sides of the argument.

The ultimate creative solution may look completely different than what either side proposed. The critical point is to make both of them feel like they own the solution together.

Document any agreement. You probably won’t succeed every time. Some sides are just too stubborn. They may be under too much pressure from their factions to give an inch to compromise. But if you are successful at getting either side to compromise, make sure that it is written down and published. This enforces the agreement and reduces the chance of either team backing out of the agreement.

When documenting the agreement, all credit should go to the warring parties for getting to agreement for the common good.

Conclusion

Whether you live in the political world, the business world, or some other type of community, you will always deal with people who disagree. Some are more willing than others to work towards a solution of compromise. Some simply can’t be budged. But working in a strategic, creative, and methodical approach with two groups that disagree can help in getting to agreement.

Have you ever been successful facilitating two parties to agreement?

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

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