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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.