Business Conflict Resolution

Six Thinking Hats
Knowledge Center


Gary Wong
Consultant, Canada

Business Conflict Resolution

Under an earlier forum topic entitled "Resolving a Business Argument", there was a great discussion using Six Thinking Hats. This posting is a more advanced version and describes how Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People can be combined and integrated with Six Thinking Hats to accomplish a resolution for a (business) conflict.
The suggested 'hat sequence' for such situation is: Blue ⇒ White ⇒ Green, Yellow, Black, Red ⇒ Blue:

Step 1: BLUE HAT
The Blue Hat involves thinking about the process we will use, clarifying what is the end goal, and validating that everyone is willing and in the right frame of mind to resolve the conflict.
Habit 4 is Think Win-Win.
It is a level a maturity that requires a person to be open-minded and humble. By humble we mean not letting one's selfishness and ego get in the way. It also says be aware of people not interested in Win-Win and bringing a Win-Lose, Lose-Win, or Lose-Lose attitude.
As a Blue Hat facilitator, attempt to feel the initial tension in the room. If you sense someone is only present to argue and defend a position, then it is your role to declare and get it out onto the table. If an individual confirms what you sense, then simply state there isn't a level of maturity in the room to make forward. This is the essence of Think Win-Win. People must believe a comforting level of trust exists. It's a Go or No Go decision everyone must make together. I will even go around the room and ask each individual for their commitment. If everyone agrees, "Practice Habit 4" becomes their first Ground Rule posted on the wall.
Not all conflict, of course, is negative. Constructive conflict may be the end goal as the group purposely desires to do some disruptive "out of the box" thinking. But the first Ground Rule still applies.

The White Hat involves collecting information, data, facts.
Habit 5 is Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood.
Habit 5 says you have 2 ears and 1 mouth; use them in that proportion. Listen more, talk less. Listening with empathy opens up the mind and the heart. Talking focuses on what you are saying and hence closes the mind and perhaps the heart as well.
Let's consider a conflict where two sides disagree and hold opposing positions on an issue. As the facilitator, I will ask for brief position statements. Then I quickly move to listening in order to understand.
A position held is usually a manifestation of past experiences and therefore contains a story that can be told. A story might be about failure, fear, punishment, being physically or mentally hurt. The key is to listen empathically to the stories and emotionally feel the underlying interests and needs (there are Narrative Inquiry methods to collect stories but that's another topic). Once stories have been shared and their content and context understood, collectively discover what's common. What is it that both sides want? Move away from positions to be defended to interests and needs shared by both.

Habit 6 is Synergize.
Synergize is the verb; Synergy is the result. This means finding a Third Alternative - an entirely new position that is better than what either side was arguing for and defending in the beginning.
Focus the creative GYBR hat sequence on the common interests and needs. In what ways might we satisfy or achieve them?
Note this is different than compromising. Compromising is a form of Lose-Lose where neither side gets want they want, so they grudgingly move a bit from their original position and settle for something in between. However, neither side is really happy, because they recognize they will be back into the conflict later since it hasn't been fully resolved.
I am reluctant to accept compromise as a conflict resolution solution. Instead, I will state they have to reach "Win-Win or No Deal". At this level of interaction, both sides can leave the table feeling good and knowing they can come back later in a trusting relationship. It also acknowledges that external uncontrollable forces may alter the environment and serendipitously unveil an extremely attractive third alternative.

Step 4: BLUE HAT
H7 is Sharpen the Saw
Habit 7 says you renew your skills through learning and continue to build the level of trust in relationships.
Besides summarizing the conflict session outcomes, as a Blue Hat facilitator you also lay out next steps for the group - what worked well, what can we do to improve. I collect them under the 4 basic humans needs (physiological, emotional, mental, and spiritual) - Live, Love, Learn, Leave a legacy.

What are your thoughts, comments, experiences? What has worked well for you?


joseph, Morocco

Business Conflict Resolution

Hi, I found your analysis interesting, especially the approach for the third step refusing compromis... Sign up

Koffi Ganke, Ghana

Business Conflict Resolution

I am of the same opinion as Joseph. I can't remember having ''synergized'' in the past. Compromising... Sign up


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Gary Wong

Six Thinking Hats
Knowledge Center

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