Written by: Stephen Adams

The Orange Scenario by Stephen Adams

9 Mar 2022

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Stephen Adams
HEAD OF RESOLUTION AND LEADERSHIP PROGRAMMES at the TCM group
If you would like to discuss Stephen's post in more detail, please contact Stephen at [email protected]

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When we use mediation as a versatile tool to resolve employee conflicts, one of the main aims is to uncover the underlying needs that are driving the parties’ behaviours and beliefs. Far too often, when involved in a dispute; we focus heavily on what we want, and these wants very often compete with those of the other individual(s). The following story has been written to help us understand the difference between Needs and Wants when people are in conflict.

The Story

Two people: Bob and Seema are in the last opening supermarket and it’s late on a Friday night. Bob and Seema both head to the fruit and veg section. And they both lay their hands on the last orange in the supermarket at the same time! They are both adamant that they want that orange and they both start to become agitated. After a few seconds of Bob and Seema trying to take the orange from the other person, they start to suggest what they could do to resolve the situation. Seema: “It could be split in half.” Bob replies “This could be very Messy”! [This solution carries the potential for both parties to lose, or both parties to win] Bob: “Seema you could take the orange.” [Seema wins/ Bob loses] Seema: “Bob, what about if neither of us takes the orange?” [Both lose] Bob: “Seema what about if we each take a lemon instead?” [Could be lose/lose or win/lose].

A 3rd Party Intervenes

A supermarket assistant overhears the conversation and approaches Seema and Bob. The supermarket assistant listens to Seema and Bob argue about both of them both wanting the orange. The supermarket assistant replies to Seema and Bob, “What do you both need the orange for? Seema: “I need the rind to make a cake for my Mum. I’m visiting her on the weekend.” Bob: “I need the juice to make myself a drink. I’m coming down with a cold.”

Generating Empathy & Understanding

Bob: ‘Wow a cake for your Mum – I can’t remember the last time we visited my Mum. It’s so difficult with the kids at this age and work is crazy busy. I don’t really see any of my family or friends as much as I should do. I’m not really getting this work/life balance thing right.” Seema: “I am not feeling that good either actually. I never really got over that cold I had before Christmas. Work has been so busy and with this birthday Mum has coming up, all the organising has been such a stress.” The supermarket assistant took the orange and unpeeled the rind. She put the rind in a bag for Seema and the remaining fruit in a bag for Bob. Seema and Bob both paid half for the orange.

Uncovering the impact

After exploring both people’s needs It would seem that Bob and Seema have more in common than they thought and can get to a suitable outcome as one only needed the rind and the other one needed the juice. When any conflict arises, we should take that further step to try to understand the needs of our colleagues because “needs” are likely to be much more important than “wants” and as such are less likely to be negotiable. Not meeting our needs is likely to be a lot more detrimental to our wellbeing than not fulfilling our wants.