Annette Nay, Ph.D.
Copyright © 2003
People in conflict usually feel strongly about their positions. Part of the "magic" of collaborative problem solving is that it helps people move from a commitment to what they believe is in their own best interest, to a concern about "the big picture." The Big Picture, in this case, involves the needs of the individuals and the needs of the organization or family.
Brainstorming is a common technique. You may have used it in meetings or planning sessions. It is also a useful part of the collaborative problem solving process. When the collaborative problem solver stands up at a flip chart or board and asks that everyone think of as many creative alternatives as possible, as quickly as possible, a new energy enters the room. This is the fun part!
Encourage everyone to say what comes to mind, no matter how outrageous. Facilitators can think of options too. Just say "Do you mind if I write this down?" Some ideas may be funny. So much the better! There is enough serious business in resolving a conflict. Don't let anyone stop to talk about whether something will work or not. That comes later on. For now, working quickly will bring out more creative possibilities. Maybe something will come out that no one had ever thought of before.
Once you have a good long list and everyone has run out of steam, then the various ideas can be examined. But according to what? You need some criteria . . . some way to measure the worth of each option. Now remember what was said during the venting stage.
Help the people decide what will determine an acceptable solution. Establish criteria can be done either before or after you generate options, but it must be done before you can reasonably evaluate them.
Brainstorming isn't the only way alternatives can be created. It is a good way to get people "unstuck" from the concrete they sometimes have their brains stuck in. Brainstorming lightens the mood, gives people hope, and encourages creativity. Like reflective listening, it's a simple technique, frequently taught and it takes a bit of practice to get good at it!
Options Unlimited (1990) Mediation.
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