Exiting the either-or trap

How can we collaborate when we have two seemingly opposite strategies in mind?

A subscriber responded to it with this question:

What if the conflict is about wanting to go out vs stay at home?

In this case the needs are specifically tied to being at home —but that isn’t a need I know.

This fortnight’s edition explores this idea: what do we do when two people in a disagreement or conflict have ideas that seem to be at odds with each other?

The difference between needs and strategies

Nonviolent Communication teaches us to make a fundamental distinction: that between needs and strategies.

Needs are life forces that motivate all of our actions. They point to what we require in order to survive and thrive. Needs are universal.

Strategies are ways in which we meet our needs. Strategies are personal preferences.

To understand the situation better, let’s first take a look at what their strategy possibly means to each person involved:

Person A says they want to go out.
Person B says they want to stay home.

Person A, when they want to go out, probably means this:

Person B, when they want to stay at home, probably means this:

Now, both of these are preferences–or a strategy that each person has in mind. At the level of strategy, we have only two options, Either Person A’s strategy, or Person' B’s.

We can find more choice when we explore the needs before we try finding a solution:

What needs may each person be attempting to meet when they propose their strategy?

  • Person A’s needs could be connection and fun.

  • Person B’s needs may be needing connection and rest.

Because A & B both want to spend time with each other, they are likely to share the need for connection; and in this case, they’re likely to have another/other needs due to which they’ve arrived at their strategy.

Tip: A key question to uncover needs

One way to get to the needs is to consider the strategy and check with ourselves:

If they/I had_____, what would it give them/me?
If they/I had ____, what need would be met?

How PLATO can help us arrive at more strategies

We distinguish between needs and strategies using the acronym PLATO. Any expression that contains a mention of any of the following 5 elements is likely to be a strategy, not a need:

  • Person

  • Location

  • Action

  • Time

  • Object

We can use this in the reverse to generate multiple strategies to meet the same need. With any strategy I have in mind, I can change any of these 5 elements (as applicable) to arrive at a new one that would still meet my need.

Person A’s strategy to meet needs for connection and fun looks like this:

This strategy contains an 4 of the PLATO elements: Person, Location, Time, Action.

Any of these, when they’re changed, can give us another strategy to meet the needs we’ve identified.

  • Action: Instead of going out, A&B could stay in, go for a walk

  • Location: Instead of going to a restaurant, A&B could go to a park, watch a movie

  • Person: Instead of going out with B, A could go out with someone else: a family member or friend

  • Time: Instead of going out this evening, A&B could go out for breakfast, lunch or dinner tomorrow.

  • And if A changed more than one element at a time, it would offer even more strategies to them.

Now A’s options for meeting their needs have increased.

What additional options could B have if they changed one or more of these elements?

Similarly with B’s strategy for connection, they can look at the different elements to arrive at different strategies for meeting their needs.

Moving towards a solution

Once both people have a sense of the options available, they can find the one that works best for both of them.

“How about if we both stayed in today and watched a movie, and have dinner ordered in?”

And of course, they could also end up arriving at multiple strategies to meet their needs.

“How about if we did our own thing this evening and spend the day together tomorrow?”

Zooming in, zooming out

We fall into the either-or trap when we focus on the strategy level in a disagreement or conflict. When we do this, it’s likely only one person’s needs will be considered or met.

Instead of doing this, we can zoom in to understand and acknowledge each other’s needs in that particular context

Knowing what both sets of needs are, we can them zoom out into the strategy level: what strategy or strategies can meet these needs we’ve identified?

Did you find this explainer helpful? Do you have ideas about what strategies could effectively meet A&B’s needs?

Reply to this message to let me know!

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This is one of the latest videos in my ongoing series NVC365, where I bring you one NVC video a day in 60 seconds or less.

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