Four Pillars: Every Conflict Can Be Removed

For those who practice the Theory of Constraints (TOC), there are Four Pillars which represent a set of mindsets. Each pillar is representative of an attitude which helps individuals overcome challenges and reach breakthroughs. This is the second blog post in this four-part series: ‘Every Conflict Can Be Removed’ – to read about the first pillar ‘Never Say I Know’ click here.  

We have all come across a person, either in our work or personal life, who thinks in the opposite way to us. They approach things completely differently to you; they don’t like your ideas, or you don’t like theirs. If only we didn’t have any customers, colleagues or suppliers… work would be easy! It’s only when we work with other people that conflict arises. One of the fundamental pillars of TOC is how to create harmony when two differing ideas meet. However, this requires some understanding – if it was easy to fix you would have solved your dilemma already and wouldn’t be reading this! 

To begin, let’s attempt to understand why conflicts exist. Often people share a common goal but believe different actions are required to achieve it. This is due to them acting in accordance to their needs. It is rare for people to come into conflict regarding their needs, it is far more common for people to get into conflict over the actions taken to achieve those needs. In order to fully understand how conflict arises we need to define three concepts: goals, needs and actions.  

People have needs because they have goals that they want to achieve, and usually when we are in conflict with an individual, or organisation (this isn’t always personal), it is because there is a common goal we are trying to achieve but disagree on how to go about it. It is the needs and actions which drive the conflict. It is important that we can verbalise the common goal, which is the reason two people or organisations are talking (and arguing!) in the first place. Then, ‘needs’ are what we need to satisfy in order to achieve the goal. Finally, ‘actions’ are what we do/want to do to satisfy the needs and reach the goal.  

Importantly, when in a state of conflict – whether personal or in business – we must recognise that both sides’ needs are equally valid, and often shouldn’t be challenged. Recognising that the needs of the other party are valid is the first step to achieving harmony. By doing this, you are acknowledging their requirements. You are still upset over the action, however, the first step to a win-win solution is to acknowledge and understand why they are doing what they are doing, and which needs they are trying to satisfy. Next, you must understand that there are many actions that could be taken to achieve a need. For example, adrenaline seekers might jump out of planes, play sport, ride rollercoasters… these are all ways in which they can fulfil that need for excitement. So, recognising that there are many options for action enables us to be flexible in the action we take. Usually, our assumptions behind why we believe our action is the best option remain hidden and unsurfaced. It is especially rare that we verbalise our reasoning behind our decision to the other party in the conflict – usually because nobody has asked or checked. So, we seem to be building a process: 

  1. Try to articulate and understand the needs and actions the other side of your conflict is operating with – and verbalise your own. 
  1. Next, attempt to verbalise your assumptions about why you believe your action is needed. 
  1. Then, you can begin to recognise that if this conflict exists it must be because your action is jeopardizing the other need in some way (indicated by the red, dotted line in the diagram below). 

There is always an action, or series of actions, we can take which are different from options one and two; a different way to achieve the goal whilst satisfying both needs – even if it isn’t the action you originally wanted to take. There’s always a way you can make it work.  

It is important to consider how you talk to someone about your conflict. Discussing their need before articulating your own will help to get them on side; this is an important step in creating a good win-win solution. By showing them that you understand their thought process, not only are you acknowledging that their need is valid, but you are generating empathy and harmony with the other individual/organisation. Then, emphasise the common goal. Go on to discuss your need and explain why you feel pressure to take your suggested action which is causing the conflict; but recognise that both proposed actions are jeopardising the other person’s needs. This is your bridge to brainstorm a win-win action which can meet both needs in a different way. This is how you can achieve harmony. Understand what harmony looks like, and bring them with you; start with their situation and move on to your own. 

You’ll both get what you need. 

By Phil Snelgrove, Lauren Wiles