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The Key Principle of Conflict Resolution & The Power of Storytelling

Conflict Resolution
By Scott McConnell

I recently let myself become the prisoner of a negotiating conflict I just didn’t have the knowledge or experience to solve to get the outcome I wanted. If I’d only seen this recent post by Rick Gilmore the Remain Relevant Guy On How to Break Deadlocks & Avoid Solution Obsession Syndrome, I would have been much better equipped to deal with conflict resolution and the impasse I suffered.

Following is another version of the insightful classic story Rick tells in his video, followed by its explicit lesson:

The Dilemma of the Orange!


Two business partners are in a deep and protracted conflict over an orange. They argue, they bicker and are near to falling out as friends and partners as each argues to the death for his solution to their big problem: How to share the orange.

The partners eventually resolve to go to a mutual trusted friend, who we shall call Solomon, to ask for his learned advice. Stroking his dark beard, Solomon listens patiently to the partners arguing for their solutions. After a moment of reflection, Solomon raises his hand and intones: “My friends, the answer is simple, split the orange. Half each.” The two partners jump up and exit screaming, “Never! That’s not what I want!”

After table banging threats to split their partnership and to change their wills, the two partners as a last-ditch effort decide that they will seek one more chance at settlement before going to court. They will throw their problem before the most experienced businessman in their town. Let’s call this worldly man Michael.

Michael listens patiently to the wild exclamations spewing from both partners then calmly asks Partner Two to leave the office so he can talk freely with Partner One. When alone with the first partner, Michael asks him: “What exactly do you want with the orange?” Partner One answers then leaves the room. Michael brings in Partner Two to be seated alone before him and asks him the same question, “What exactly do you want with the orange?”

Partner One re-enters the office and both partners sit hopefully before the assured Michael. The aged businessman stares firmly at them and says, “In a negotiation the first premise is that each person should get what they want. Do not ever start a negotiation with a compromise, doing the easy thing that you have always done. Instead, step back and ask yourself: ‘What is it exactly that I need?’ After listening to you, I understand that you both can have exactly what you need.” As Michael leans back, the two partners lean forward.

Michael continues, “Partner One, you can have all the skin of the orange to make rind zest for your cake, while you, Partner Two, can have all the liquid and pulp of the orange to make your juice.”

Both partners leap up and shake hands. They exit beaming, arm in arm, their business and personal relationship to continue productively for many years to come. End of story.

The Lessons


Not all conflicts of course can be resolved so easily, as I found in my own situation, but the principles in this story were new to me and instructive of how to try to resolve a conflict during a negotiation. So, let me state explicitly the lessons I learned from this story of the orange:

Never start a negotiation by arguing about solutions, and nor like Solomon, by compromising, where you seek a middle ground by giving up something. Instead, step back and consider your needs and not your solutions. This change in thinking and focus will lessen conflicts over clashing solutions and open up more options for you to consider, and so increase the odds of you getting what you need. As with everything in life, always know specifically what you want and communicate that benevolently but confidently. You may just get it. Win-win works.

Thanks Rick Gilmore the Remain Relevant Guy for the instructive video and ideas — yet more proof of the power of storytelling!

See Scott’s LinkedIn Profile

Also by Scott:

How to Make it as a Writer: Tips from A Pro

Writing your Story: Find the Best Dramatic Ideas

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