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June 26, 2012

Third Alternatives

One of my favorite bloggers is Patty Newbold of Assume Love. Patty's mission is to help people experience more love and satisfaction in their relationships without trying to change their partners. She gives lots of great advice, both about applying an overall philosophy to marriage, and about how to handle specific kinds of situations.

One important problem-solving technique Patty promotes is the Third Alternative, an idea developed in depth by author Stephen R. Covey.

The Third Alternative is not about negotiating a compromise that requires both parties to give up something they want, but rather to find a solution that lets both have what they really need. This sounds difficult, and sometimes it is, but often it is surprisingly easy.

To start, we need to recognize that our goal has nothing to do with winning and losing, because we are not opponents. We are on the same side, looking for a solution to a shared problem. We get stuck in disagreements when we imagine that there are only two possible scenarios: your way or my way. Part of the problem is that what people say (and think) they want is often not the real story. We need to find out why we want what we want. When the underlying desires are revealed, we can see that there is more than one way to get what we want and design a solution that allows both of us to get what is most important. Patty illustrates how this works by describing how she and her husband solved a seemingly irreconcilable disagreement over where to put the laundry room in their new house.

Some disagreements are complicated, potentially expensive, or intensely personal and emotional. Others are less important, yet still annoying when unresolved. But very few truly have only two possible solutions. It just requires some creative brainstorming to see all the possibilities.

In an upcoming post, I'll attempt to apply a Third Alternative to one of those famous ongoing disagreements over a minor but stubborn issue.

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