Monday, 2 May 2011

Problem Resolving

As a leader, do you have a process for resolving problems? 

Change the game.  At the Harvard Negotiation Project we have been developing an alternative to positional bargaining: a method of negotiation explicitly designed to produce wise outcomes efficiently and amicably.  This method, called principled negotiation or negotiation on the merits, can be boiled down to four basic points. 

These four points define a straightforward method of negotiation that can be used under almost any circumstance.  Each point deals with a basic element of negotiation, and suggests what you should do about it.

People:  Separate the people from the problem.
Interests:  Focus on interests, not positions.
Options:  Generate a variety of possibilities before deciding what to do.
Criteria:  Insist that the result be based on some objective standard.

From:  Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher, William Ury, & Bruce Patton
Published by: Penguin Books


  1. I really like the four points of this process. Keeping these points in mind would certainly provide clarity for resolving issues. Keeping the focus off the people and on the issue is very helpful. Focusing on the interests (e.g. the best interests of a student) helps us remember that priorities must lie with the important people - not about 'winning' at the cost of the other person. Options - I like the idea of developing a wide variety of options before settling on one. Criteria - to me, this needs to come before determining the options. It would be best to determine the criteria for the options and then create options that meet the criteria.

    Of course, this assumes that this process is used when there is a difference of opinion on a subject and not when emotions run high. I'm not sure someone highly emotional would work well through these steps.

  2. Janice Perera3 May 2011 at 10:47

    Considering the four points mentioned, I think that the second point, focus on interests not positions, should be used as the starting point, on which all else should be based. If the starting point or focus for all discussion is "student achievement and or well being", then we can immediately eliminate focusing on the individuals involved in the dispute and turn our attention toward the position (the well-being of students). It is also easier to come up with options and criteria that promote/support the goal or focus of the conversation.
    As school leaders, we will at some point or another be involved in negotiations or conversations with staff memebers that do not see eye-to-eye (sometimes more often than we'd like). Ensuring that we are working toward the same shared goal of student well-being, we can work together toward an amicable solution.