requires two people of good will, or equally committed to a mutu-
ally satisfying outcome, is not helpful and is ultimately incorrect.
It is not helpful because it allows you to blame the other for the
breakdown of the negotiation, saying, “That other person is
unreasonable (or didn’t come to play, or is insulting or nasty,
etc.). Therefore, I get to return to my competitive nature and
ignore what they want.” Or perhaps worse, to give up before
the negotiation starts, “I know the other won’t collaborate, so
there can’t be a collaboration. Therefore, I have to compete
Believing two collaborators are required for collaboration is
also not helpful because it suggests a need to compromise or
accommodate. The two- collaborator model is usually inter-
preted to mean that each is likely to agree to something less
than satisfying. But this is to confuse collaboration with coop-
eration. True, being polite and striving to get along enhances the
possibility of making progress, but only because those actions
diminish interference with the process of communication.
Confusion between cooperation and collaboration exists
in conflict theory when the discussion is rooted in the competitive worldview. In the one-pie world, the possibility of
a collaborative result doesn’t exist. How can we both end up
satisfied if we both want more than half a pie? We can either
compromise and each take half, even though we each want
more (compromise), or we can fight it out for a larger share so
the dominant one gets more (compete), or one party can give
up part of their share to satisfy the other (accommodate). It
is conceptually impossible to slice the pie so each party gets
what they want. And, if the resolution is not satisfying, it won’t
stay resolved. There will eventually be retaliation, or re-emer-gence of the conflict from the unsatisfied.
Perhaps the best way to highlight the power of the collaborative state of mind is to consider what would happen if a
competitor and collaborator sat across the negotiation table
and tried to negotiate. The competitor’s approach will be to
take advantage of the collaborator’s good will. By taking every
advantage given up by the collaborator, the competitor will
trounce the collaborator. Because the aggressive competitor
believes it is fair game to use manipulation and dirty tricks to
gain every advantage, the collaborator will succumb to these
strategies. Such approaches are well known and pervade the
literature on positional bargaining. Facing an opponent into the
sunshine or adjusting chair heights so that the opponent is sitting much lower are two classic examples of these extreme
measures. In a competition, that’s fair game.
However, from the collaborator’s point of view, those
manipulative attempts are harmless wastes of time. While the
competitor tries desperately to outdo the other and win the
competition, the collaborator is waiting to be satisfied. The col-
laborator cannot be manipulated. The collaborator can only be
either satisfied or unsatisfied.
In addition, the competitor faces a situation in which compromise is the only route to a settlement. A competitive model
of negotiations requires movement along a line, a series of
concessions mapped along one strand. But, the world is not
a one-strand, one-line, one-pie place. Human goals are multiple, and vary in priority. Even if considering multiple goals, the
competitive model cannot account for the dynamic changes in
priorities that take place during negotiations. And that doesn’t
get near the unspoken driver of most conflict – the participants’
The collaborator’s world is one rich with possibilities. There are
many interests to be considered, many options to explore, many
ways to solve a problem, many ways to move forward. Find a
solution that satisfies both, and you have the mutually satisfying agreement that is the hallmark of a collaborative approach.
In the end, consider which is better: a compromise where
everyone walks away equally unhappy, or a collaboration
where everyone is satisfied? Is there a higher standard than
satisfaction? The ideal resolution will be a collaborative one,
not a compromise resulting from a competitive worldview.
Re-conceive the world in which conflict occurs and you re-conceive the path toward resolution. If the world were a simple
one of limited options and resources, it would be natural to
compete. But, in the complex world rich with possibilities, it is
natural to collaborate.
Therefore while the mediation room is full with participants
who believe they are engaged in a competitive process where
they must compromise to settle, the mediator knows there’s a
lot more going on. The mediator knows that resolution will occur
when each participant, given all the circumstances, makes a
satisfying decision about what to do next. And while that decision might be to compromise, there are a world of possibilities
to explore before that decision is made. After the exploration,
whatever the ultimate decision is, will be satisfying.
The collaborator’s world is one rich with
possibilities. There are many interests to
be considered, many options to explore,
many ways to solve a problem, many ways
to move forward.