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Shay McConnon

McConnon International Ltd

Author, Speaker, Creator of 'An Even Better Place to Work'

Read more about Shay McConnon

How can we solve problems so everyone wins?


The first stage is about identifying needs. If the listening phase does not lead to a resolution, it will be necessary to negotiate and problem solve. The listening is likely to identify a variety of unmet needs. List these and decide on one to work with, as it is unwise to work with several issues at once. If people don’t take time to explore needs they may deal with wants or symptoms instead of with the root cause. This is a form of patching things up and leads to continued frustration and the re-emergence of the conflict in the future.

Brainstorm solutions

List several ways to meet both sets of needs on the issue. Aim to get 5 to 10 alternatives. At this stage it is best not to criticise, judge or evaluate the suggestions … so no ‘yes, buts’. Encourage wacky or way out ideas, anything to keep the creativity flowing. Evaluation of these ideas will come in the decision making phase.

Decide a way forward

Look for what you have in common. Talk about what you agree about. Create ‘yeses’ rather than ‘yes buts’. Go through the list and mark anything that both people are open to.   This will narrow the options. Discuss the plusses and the minuses of each remaining option. As you talk you are likely to have more choices than was originally thought.

Use currencies in which you both can trade i.e. a win for both of you. You may, in your give and take approach, offer things which are easy for you to give and easy for the other person. An ‘elegant’ currency is one which is low cost for one person and is of high value to another. Aim for minimal cost and maximum gain.

Agree a plan of action

It is best if this plan is written down and check whether both people understand and agree to it. who will do what … how and by when. Set a review date to see how it is working out. Being specific prevents confusion.

More choices

Beware of the tit for tat scenario which only leads to stalemate and lose-lose. If you want the other to listen to you, to look for areas of agreement and to meet your needs, first listen to them, look for agreement and seek to meet their needs. While their behaviour is likely to follow on yours, there are no guarantees when it comes to people. But generally behaviour breeds behaviour.

How to agree

If you agree with the other person, confirm it by saying what you liked and why you like it or you may appear patronising.

How to disagree

If you just counter with a different viewpoint without first validating what the other person has said, you may lose rapport and create a you versus me situation. Although some people like the directness and don’t have an issue with counter arguing, you are more likely to maintain rapport if you:

  • validate the idea
  • express your reservations
  • seek alternatives and problem solve 

Here are some examples:

  • What I like about your idea is that the report will be shorter (validate)
  • What concerns me is that the key sales figures will not be emphasised (reservations)
  • What can we do so the key sales information is there without making the report longer? (problem-solve)


‘Yes buts’ often indicate argument mode. Arguing is more likely to polarize than to persuade … people digging their heels in and defending their own positions. People are getting locked into their own view and are less open to persuasion. If you ‘win’ the argument, you are likely to have lost the mind and heart and there is no sense of collaboration or understanding. Arguing is win-lose, problem solving is win-win. 

Arguing is a poor persuasion technique as you will be arguing from your own logic and value system. People move for what is important to them, not what is important to you.  Make the links to the other person’s values, if you want to influence and persuade.

Respond rather than react

Here are some examples of responding positively to concerns and objections. These open questions allow you to reframe the resistance and keep rapport.

  • It will never work: What do you dislike about it?
  • My way is better: What makes that seem the best option?
  • It’s impossible: What would it take to make it possible?
  • I can’t: What difference would it make if you could?
  • You can’t do that: What would happen if we did?

Rules for constructive controversy

Not getting what you want can be a wonderful stroke of luck

Here are some guidelines for keeping the discussion free of blame, accusation and judgement. 

  • Be critical of ideas but not the person.
  • Listen to understand, not to win.
  • Recognise all viewpoints as valid.
  • Be open to new perspectives.  

It may be useful to put yourself into the shoes of an observer, someone with no stake in the issue, someone who understands that both sides have valid concerns and can give an objective perspective on moving forward. As this person, what would you say to each of the individuals. How would you comment on their negotiating style? What would be your suggestions for moving the situation forward?


Listen actively

  • Accept and show you understand. 

Look for what you can give to the other person

  • Meet real needs
  • Listen to objections and concerns and incorporate these into the agreement
  • Look for ways to save face 

Ask for what you need from the other:

  • Express your concerns and needs
  • Be prepared to give and take. 

Make it a fair deal

  • Ensure there is maximum win for both people
Author Profile Picture
Shay McConnon

Author, Speaker, Creator of 'An Even Better Place to Work'

Read more from Shay McConnon

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