Conflict Resolution Training:

Give Other’s What They Need


If you’re ever in a conflict and you’re arguing and not arriving at an agreement, it’s a good bet you’re in the world of wants. People argue over wants because this world is one of limited resources, typically such things as people, money and/or time. In this world, there is a winner and a loser because there’s a limit to how much money, time and people are available. In this world, the person who has the “power” (usually due to authority) will get what he/she wants and the others will be left with whatever is left over. It’s a prescription for dissatisfaction, sabotage of agreements and a failure to resolve the conflict.

The world of needs, on the other hand, is a world of almost unlimited possibilities. While people will argue in the world of wants, they will negotiate in the world of needs because they perceive that there are multiple ways to get their needs met, so they won’t have be attached to only one way to feel satisfied.

If you’re arguing and not getting anywhere, ask the question, “Why is that important to you?” to get at the underlying need.

For example, if you’re arguing at work over which department gets to add an extra person, ask, “Why is the extra person important to you?” A possible answer might be, “To service customers more effectively.”

Can you see that “servicing customers more effectively” may or may not require adding more people? The negotiation becomes over how to “service customers more effectively” (which can be resolved in multiple ways) versus arguing over who gets the extra person.

Or suppose you’re arguing with your spouse over who should get use of the family car that day. Ask your spouse, “Why is having the car important to you?” Suppose the answer is, “I have to get to an important meeting.” The negotiation has now shifted from who gets the car to how to get a meeting. There may be only one car, but there are multiple ways to get to a meeting.

Once you determine the need(s), the resolution of the conflict is always based on “If X...Then Y” (if I do this, will you do that?” For example, “If I show you a way to service customers more effectively (“If X”), will you forego adding people?” (“Then Y”).

Or, “If I let you have the car (“If X”), will you drive me to my appointment and pick me up?” (“Then Y”).

By shifting the conversation from wants to needs, you can move the conflict towards an “If X...Then Y” resolution.