between our steps 01 29 20 double
One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was, "If you are faced with a no-win situation, don't try to win."

This sounds logical. However, when we are faced with a situation where neither choice is good, we push back. If it is in a relationship, we press the other to change their position so that we have an option that feels good to us. If it is an organizational situation where neither direction gets us where we hope to go, we push back to re-arrange the dynamics.

Although I have a couple instances in mind, I'm not telling specific stories in this piece. To help ground these rather abstract comments, you may want to stop and think of a no-win situation you've been in or watched unfold.

When we face this kind of situation, we feel like someone is being unreasonable. They are defining things in a way that boxes us in and prevents us from achieving the outcome we hope for. We try to reason with them and reset the options.

What we sometimes forget is that they are being what we deem unreasonable for reasons that make sense to them.

If we have hay to bale and the sun never comes out, we don't try to bale hay. We wait it out. We complain about the weather, but we know we can't change it. We find a way to cope.

But with another person, we feel we should be able to change them. They should sympathize with our dilemma and our hopes. We should be able to convince them that our perspective needs to be taken into account.

However, if we think that our version of the options is better than theirs, we are not going to make much progress. We are in effect asking them to agree that we are right, and they are wrong. When we insist that our perspective is better, we are trying to win.

Sometimes the person framing the issue manages to push until their desired outcome is achieved. That can be distressing when a hoped-for outcome is lost. The fear that the other may achieve a goal we find difficult or wrong may motivate us to fight them.

When we fight, however, when we try to win, the discussion goes sideways quickly. The other person fights back. It becomes a power struggle. It may escalate until someone is hurt. The relationship may be permanently damaged.

In an organization, entering a power struggle with someone increases their power, gives their position more credibility. If they are beaten--if we "win"--they garner sympathy and allies. A power struggle may in the short term achieve the outcome we want, but winning creates other complications.

Sometimes when we meet a no-win situation, all parties recognize this. In that situation, we negotiate conflicting goals, discuss different perspectives, co-operate to achieve an outcome all can live with.

But what do we do when another person will not negotiate, holds on to their unreasonable position?

First, I think we have to acknowledge that they are being unreasonable from our perspective. From where they are, their stance makes sense. When we listen to them, we may acknowledge that their position has merit. At least, we can understand why they are acting the way they are.

Sometimes we seek understanding of the other so that we can then find a lever to shift them. We are still trying to win.

Understanding why a person sets up the situation with no good option for us can help us to have compassion for them. Compassion can help us to avoid getting into a power struggle.

Once we stop fighting the way the situation is laid out, we then cope with it like we cope with the weather. We act with the best integrity and wisdom we can manage within the situation.

Why do this? By avoiding a power struggle, we de-escalate the situation. We open ourselves to finding creative ways to work within the situation and with the other person. By not defeating the other person, we show them respect, and we may be able to build capacity so that the next situation is easier to resolve. And by acting with compassion rather than seeking power, we are ourselves behaving in a way we can honour.

Cathy Hird lives on the shore of Georgian Bay.




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