My middle daughter is a senior in high school. She’s been driving a hand-me down car that belonged first to her grandfather, then her parents, then her sister, and now her. It’s getting less and less reliable. We really need to get her a better car before she heads to college.
Let’s imagine that I have a $10,000 budget and I’m looking for just the right car for her. I’d really like to find a Toyota Corolla. I am at a dealer and they are showing me their selection of pre-owned cars. We drive a few, nothing grabs us. Then he says, “I’ve got the perfect thing. We just got this in, and I know you’ll like it.”
He’s right! We love it! A three-year old white Corolla with only 40,000 miles on it. Super clean, only one owner. And, the price is $13,500.
We have a problem. There is a $3,500 gap between what we want to spend and the car of our dreams that we see before us. This is a conflict not unlike a lot of conflicts we deal with every day. As Ken Blanchard famously quoted, “A problem only exists if there’s a difference between what is actually happening and what you desire to be happening.”
Before being able to deal effectively with this gap, I have a very important question to answer. Who’s fault is the gap? Somebody needs to take responsibility for this. Who’s it going to be? Let’s try a mathematical approach:
$10,000 + $3,500 = $13,500
I don’t like this one. It says I’ve got to come up with more money. I feel anxious. Let’s try another option.
$10,000 – $13,500 = – $3,500
This one is even worse. It says will go into debt. I feel afraid. Give me another answer.
$13,500 – $3,500 = $10,000
I like this one! It’s the dealer’s fault for charging more than I want to pay. If they just reduce the price by $3,500, we won’t have this problem. I feel justified.
How do you assign responsibility when gaps arise? Is it their fault for not giving you want you want? Is it your fault for wanting something they aren’t giving you?
Think about this next time you blame someone for how you feel. My daughter’s worry that she may not get the car she wants, and my anxiety about the financial implications are not the dealer’s fault. I am 100 percent responsible for my feelings because I am 100 percent responsible for my budget, my boundaries, and my decisions. If there’s a gap between these things and what I want, that’s on me, as uncomfortable as it feels.
Taking 100 percent responsibility for my end of the gap makes problem-solving and conflict resolution a whole lot easier for both parties. It’s the only end you can control.
Now we can start negotiating!
Nate Regier is CEO and co-founding owner of Next Element Consulting, a global leadership communication advisory and training firm based in Newton. He is the author of a new book, “Conflict Without Casualties: A Leader’s Field Guide to Compassionate Accountability.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 316-772-6174.
Interested in writing for “Business Perspectives”? Contact Marcia Werts at email@example.com or 316-269-6762.