Can we agree to reach an agreement?

Finding a solution to problems—interpersonally or in a group—first requires everyone’s commitment to move forward.

Most of us encounter conflicts with others from time to time, regardless of whether it is with one other person or a group. Since conflict is usually uncomfortable, most of the time we are eager to resolve it as quickly as possible. We tend to jump to solutions immediately in the hope that we can forestall any “fight or flight” reactions from ourselves or others. In our hurry to get potential conflicts resolved, however, we miss a few crucial steps.

When trying to resolve a conflict, there are several steps that can increase the likelihood that a solution will meet everyone’s needs and expectations, and maintain a productive, positive relationship. In the book Crucial Conversations, Patterson et al. (2002) presents the CRIB model:

  • Commit to seek mutual purpose
  • Recognize the purpose behind strategies
  • Invent a mutual purpose
  • Brainstorm new strategies

Commitment at this stage means that, at least to begin, all parties are willing to work toward finding a solution together. This step helps to avoid wasting time on finding solutions when some may not be driven or motivated to work toward resolving the issue.

The first step in securing commitment is to make sure everyone agrees on the problem that needs to be addressed. If different problems surface, or if one problem seems to have multiple layers, it will be important to also agree on what needs to be addressed first. If the conflict involves more than one other person, it is also crucial to make sure everyone has had a chance to define the problem. Only after everyone can agree on the problem can individuals decide to commit to working toward a shared solution. The question can be as simple as, “Are you willing, given what you know now, to engage with each other to try to work out a resolution you can live with?”

Also be aware that disagreement is a natural part of the solution-seeking process as you move through the CRIB steps. Because individuals or groups will likely hit disagreement “speed bumps” along the way, everyone should also commit to shared values and guidelines during the process. These can include assuming good intentions of others, sharing your honest perspective respectfully and listening to understand others’ points of view.

Sometimes it is hard to address the conflicts we are faced with in a productive way. Sometimes it’s hard to let go of the solution we imagine is the best and only way. But in order to preserve interpersonal and team relationships, we must first make sure that everyone has a chance to share how they see the problem. A more creative solution may emerge from the process—something that any one person may not have initially imagined. Also, the Leadership and Community Engagement Team from Michigan State University Extension offers a variety of events and information on working toward resolving conflict. 

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