7 Steps to Finding a Better, Third Option

This is a guest post by Jeremy Statton. He is an orthopedic surgeon and a writer. You can download a free copy of his eBook Grace Is. Connect with him on Twitter or his blog, Living Better Stories.

We are a culture that is accustomed to thinking in terms of two options:

  • Republicans versus Democrats
  • Cowboys versus Indians
  • Mac versus PC.
  • Yin versus Yang.
  • Yankees versus Red Sox.

Reaching the Third Floor - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/tc397, Image #8556139

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/tc397

When we view a problem, or the solution to a problem, we typically divide it into two different categories.

You are given a choice of either A or B.

Unfortunately, when we limit ourselves to only two options, we are limiting the possibilities of our solution. The best decisions often come not out of a selection of two choices, but instead out of the discovery of a better, third option.

When two different sides disagree, both are often right. Both have a valid perspective. Both represent possible solutions.

And both are wrong. All at the same time.

If you can find a way to combine the best elements of the seemingly two different solutions into one remedy, then you have found the third option.

This third option is much more than a compromise which gives up something to quickly settle a dispute. The third option represents an elegant solution to a problem. It is the discovery of something better than the first two presented.

Getting there, though, requires skill and work.

When two sides disagree, here are seven steps to help you find the third option:

  1. Be humble. The entire process depends on humility. The only way to find the third option is when two disagreeing sides lay down their egos and work together. Pride always looks for the self-serving solution. Ulterior motives are often in play. The focus has to be solving the problem for the good of everyone involved.
  2. Embrace the tension. Most of us fear conflict. When tension arises we try to quickly solve the problem and make it disappear. Instead of running from it, embrace it. Learn to identify this tension as an opportunity to find a third option.
  3. Learn to listen. If you enter the discussion convinced that you are right, then you have closed the door on any other possible options. The first step in finding a better solution is understanding those that disagree with you. Only through listening can you understand them and what motivates their point of view.
  4. Refuse to compromise. Finding the third option isn’t about caving in to the demands of others. If you are convinced that you are right on a certain aspect of the solution, then don’t give in. Make your point without unwavering. Everyone needs to hear your opinion.
  5. Liberate your team. Freedom to disagree without repercussion is the most important part of finding the third option. As a leader, it is your responsibility to create a culture where everyone feels free to express their opinion.
  6. Sleep on it. When debating a solution, the intensity of the moment may sway your opinion. Don’t feel like you have to discover the answer at once. Give yourself and your team time to digest the arguments. The third option may not be immediately obvious.
  7. Learn through mistakes. The enemy of good is better. Don’t waste too much time searching for the third option. At some point make the best decision you can and then carry it out. Often we find even better solutions to our problems once we put them into practice.

Great leaders understand that the world isn’t best viewed in terms of black and white. When a disagreement arises, they will lead their team beyond the tension and into a better, third option.

Questions: Do you limit yourself to two options? What has worked for you to find a better solution? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://twitter.com/JeremySCook Jeremy Cook

    True, good to think outside of the box.  However, sometimes I do think it comes down to A or B like it or not.  Maybe figuring out if there is a legitimate C is paramount.  On the other hand, I use Linux, so I guess that’s a “C.”

    • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton


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  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    In a presidential election year, my wife and I have discussed votes and problems that need to be addressed. In addition to our passionate disagreements, we’re having a very vocal, politically-active guest in our home in 2 weeks. As I read this post, I recognize the freedom it offers for our future conversations and what we really want to address–workable solutions that incorporate the wisdom of both positions. Doubt Washington will listen but I’m looking forward to further thoughts and discussions. Thanks, Jeremy, for an excellent, practical article.

    • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

      On a related point, elections might be more interesting if we actually had 3 legitimate options like they do in some other countries.

  • D. McWilliams

    This is great…It is my life’s philosophy….WE MUST think outside of the box!  Thanks for sharing.

  • http://PracticeThis.com/ Alik Levin

    I like the framing for third option. Interesting enough I switched roles at work and I am in the position to be the full time third option guy. Your insights would be useful for me when defending my third option or when adopting option 1 or 2.

    • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

      Sounds like a fun role. 

  • http://twitter.com/erintarr Erin Tarr

    I often use this with the next generation, when they back themselves into the “sucker’s game” of only two choices … both of which end up with them “losing.”  So liberating for teenagers to see that they have options … created by the power of their own mind! :)

  • http://www.matthewreedcoaching.com/ Matthew Reed

    Embracing the tension! What a great concept. I know that as I coach people through problem solving exercises, there is a great temptation to throw in the towel and just make the quickest to implement solution. 
    When I can encourage people to ‘Stay in this moment’ even when it is painful, more and better options usually surface.

    • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

      Great analogy.

  • http://www.robsorbo.com/p/welcome-from-disqus.html Rob Sorbo

    I think I instinctively keep looking for another option, but tend to settle on one of the traditional 2.

  • http://sickchurch.wordpress.com/ Brent Dumler

    From a church leadership perspective, and from nearly 20 years in ministry, point #5 (liberate your team) really resonated with me.  With the exception of my current staff position, I can unfortunately say that I’ve never worked with a Lead Pastor who could/would truly offer this kind of freedom to the staff without consequences.  Its simple.  Liberating your staff creates trust…and a staff that trusts each other works well together and is ultimately freed to carry out God’s will without feeling like they are walking on glass.  Great post, Michael.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Great points about trust, Brent! It made me think about Pat Lencioni’s book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. If you haven’t read this yet, it’s a great book to go through as a team.

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  • http://teamaidan.wordpress.com/ Heather Bowie

    Oh I love this. Life really is grey and is so much better that way when we learn from others (except Red Sox, Mac, dessert, ocean are all really better).
    Thanks for sharing.

  • coachamydevries

    Hey Jeremy!  Is there a way to “share” this post on facebook?  I hit “like” but want it to have more visibility by “sharing” it. Do you have it published somewhere else that will share it?  Thanks!

  • John Jolley

    The tallest building in DC could probably have its 535 members take a lesson or two…

    Nice post!