Collaborative Solutions

From the office to legal proceedings, the problem solving process can be a major cause of conflict. When emotions are running high and involved parties are hoping for different outcomes, problem solving can quickly turn contentious. Fortunately, by using collaborative problem solving, parties can work together to develop a conflict-free and mutually beneficial solution.

Collaborative vs. Positional Problem Solving

The collaborative problem solving process is a win-win situation, and it understands the fact that the goals of all parties involved are not mutually exclusive. Collaborative problem solving believes that with successful negotiation, both sides can achieve their objectives, leading to a mutually satisfying result.

There are a variety of benefits to choosing a collaborative approach to problem solving. Working in a joint effort often identifies more possible solutions than were originally considered. Additionally, this strategy will create greater satisfaction for all parties involved while promoting a foundation for future problem solving that is energizing and respectful rather than negative and depleting.

In positional problem solving, the goals of one party are usually in direct conflict with the goals of another party. There is a perception of limited resources, and each party will want to maximize its portion of those resources. Therefore, each party will negotiate to maximize their share and will prevent the other party from obtaining its goals. This will result in a win-lose situation with a primary goal of maximizing personal gain.

Positional problem solving fails to maximize the satisfaction of either party because the agreements are based primarily on one person’s proposal rather than the product of a collaborative effort to find a mutually beneficial solution. This can be hard on the relationship between the parties and can lead to an inefficient solution. Those involved in a divorce can benefit from collaborative efforts in what is known as a collaborative divorce.

Collaborative Divorces – Information for effective problem-solving in a collaborative divorce.
Collaborative Problem Solving – How the Environmental Protection Agency is using collaborative problem solving.
Collaborative Problem Solving Approach – How to use collaborative problem solving when dealing with kids.
Conflict Negotiation Styles (PDF) – Examining positional, collaborative, and other types of conflict negotiation styles.
Using Collaborative Problem Solving at Home – Tips for making collaborative problem solving work at home.

Understanding Your Interests vs. Their Interests

Figuring out the interests of both involved parties is an essential task in the collaborative problems solving process. Interests are defined as the underlying need, desire, or want that we are trying to satisfy with our solution, so before you enter the problem-solving process, identify your interests by asking yourself:

Why is this important to me?
How will I benefit from this?
What changes would this solution make?
What will this satisfy?

It is common that you will have more than one interest, so make a list and take some time to prioritize them. Determine which are the most important, which are less important, and which you could easily fore go.

Also remember that the collaborative problem solving process is about trying to satisfy the needs and interests of all the involved parties, so you should take some time to consider what the needs of the other side might be. Try to see the situation from the other party’s perspective, and consider how they might view the situation and why. Ask yourself what needs you would be trying to satisfy if you were the other party in order to better understand what they really want.

Active Listening and Problem Solving (PDF) – Information from the State University of New York at Geneseo on how active listening skills help with problem solving.
Communication and Problem Solving – How good communication can help with problem solving.
Gaining Perspective – How to look at things from someone else’s point of view.
Positional vs. Collaborative Negotiation – Exploring the differences between the two styles.
Structuring and Identifying Problems – How to better understand a problem from various points of view.

Steps in the Collaborative Process

There are several steps involved in collaborative problem solving, but it is important to understand that this is not a linear process. You won’t be able to simply go through a checklist of steps and magically come up with a result that benefits everyone. To identify the issues of all involved parties, it may be necessary to jump around within the first few steps of the process, and there may be steps that you are required to visit more than once in order to develop a solid picture of the competing interests.

Share Perspectives: Use your communication skills to explain your perspective to the other party, and practice active listening to try and understand the other’s perception of the situation, their desires, and their needs. Ask follow-up questions for clarification if necessary.
Define the Issues: Clarify which topics are up for discussion and which issues need to be resolved.
Identify Competing Interests: Move beyond the stated perspectives or solutions to determine what all parties need in order to reach an agreement, and try to find common ground between parties.
Create Options: Brainstorm to generate potential ideas while examining the problem from multiple angles.
Develop an Objective Criteria or Fair Standard for Coming to a Decision: Use predetermined criteria to combine and reduce your options, and work to create an agreement that will lead to mutual gain.
Evaluate the Options and Reach an Agreement: Run through the potential solutions and decide on one that will best meet the needs of all parties.

Collaborative Approach to Problem Solving – Tips from the University of Minnesota.
Effective Problem Solving – Tips for effective problem solving in the workplace.
Interest-based Problem Solving – Information from Washington State University about using interest-based problem solving.
Stages of Collaborative Problem Solving – Looking at the steps of the collaborative problem solving process.
Understanding Competing Interests – A definition and description of competing interests.

The Collaborative Process in Divorce Proceedings

The collaborative problem solving process is especially helpful in divorce law and proceedings. In a collaborative divorce, spouses will work to come up with a settlement agreement that will address the interests, needs, and goals of both spouses. These arrangements also work to address the best interests of any children involved while maintaining an atmosphere of cooperation and respect.

There are a variety of benefits to using the collaborative process for divorce proceedings. Respect is the guiding principle, and this encourages parties to show compassion, cooperation, and understanding within the process to come up with a mutually beneficial agreement. This reduced hostility minimizes the negative effects of divorce on children, and the proceedings are generally less expensive than the costs of traditional litigation. As a party in a collaborative divorce in a family law case, you will also have greater control of the outcome of your case rather than relying on a judge to determine your fate.

Alternatives to Divorce – Exploring collaboration, mediation, and other divorce alternatives.
Collaborative Divorce – Understanding a collaborative divorce and how it works.
Collaborative vs. Traditional Divorce – Information on the benefits of collaborative divorce.
Financial Benefits of a Collaborative Divorce – Why a collaborative divorce makes the most sense financially.
Kids and Divorce – How to help your children through a divorce.

Collaborative problem solving is a tool that anyone can use to work with others to address a particular concern or issue. It involves visionary, strategic, and proactive processes that bring multiple parties together to discuss options on how to work through problems. When used appropriately, this tool can be essential in creating solutions that will benefit all parties involved.