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Career Success Lessons from the Fiscal Cliff Discussions

Have you been following the fiscal cliff discussions?

President Obama presented his plan.  The other side reacted.  Mitch McConnell said he laughed when he saw it.  John Boehner said both sides are “nowhere” when it comes to reaching an agreement.

Most political observers agree that the posturing will go on for a week or two and then both sides will work out an agreement.  I understand that politicians have to play to their constituencies, but it gets a little old watching all of the machinations.

Positional bargaining – what our leaders in Washington are engaged in now – is tiring and leads to unnecessary angst.  There is a simple solution to this.  Both sides should find some point of agreement and build a solution from there.  If they try this approach they’ll be working together to solve a problem – the growing US deficit, not digging in their heels and grudgingly moving away from their original positions.

There is some career success advice in all of this.

No matter how good you are interpersonally, you will inevitably find yourself in conflict with another person.  When this happens, you can try to resolve your differences using positional bargaining, or you can work together to build a solution that meets both of your needs.

Tweet 135 in my career advice book Success Tweets (you can get a free copy at http://budurl.com/STExp) says, “Be a consensus builder.  Focus on where you agree with others.  It will be easier to resolve your differences and reach agreement.”

I know that focusing on where you agree, not where you disagree is counter intuitive.  When you find yourself in conflict with another person, it’s natural to focus on your differences.  However, as we’re seeing in Washington these days, this approach leads to digging in your heels and looking for support for your position.  The more you do this, the less open you are to hearing what the other person has to say.  Conflict resolution becomes a zero sum, win/lose game. On the other hand, if you actively look for and find places where you agree, you can jointly create a solution that satisfies both of your needs.

Here’s an example.

When we bought our house, we had a conflict with the seller over the closing date.  This was happening at the end of the year.  The seller, who was also the builder, wanted to close by December 31.  We were not planning on moving until February 1.  Due to some ambiguous language in the contract, the situation was becoming quite contentious.

Finally, I said to the builder, “John, you want to sell this house.  We want to buy it.  I’m sure we can work out a closing date that suits us both.”  At that point, the tone of our discussions changed.  We were working together to solve a problem – not arguing over December 31 and February 1 dates.  Even though we both ended up giving a little, neither of us felt that we had given up on our position.  We were able to resolve our conflict positively.

There is a simple common sense career success point here.

Successful people build strong relationships.  Poor conflict management can be destructive to relationships and it can kill your career success.  But when you work to resolve conflict positively, you strengthen your relationships.  Strong relationships make it easier for you to resolve future conflicts and build your career success.  Focusing on points of agreement, however small, is the best way to resolve conflict positively.  Focusing on where you agree with the other person puts you in a position to jointly create a mutually satisfying solution to a conflict, as opposed to win/lose negotiation, in which one person wins and the other loses.  Try this.  It works.  And let your congressperson and senators know about it too.

Bud Bilanich, Ed.D., is a contributing blogger for JenningsWire, a blogging community created by Annie Jennings.