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The 3rd Alternative

“The 3rd Alternative” is a management technique used for resolving conflicting situations. This is derived from understanding to use the age old American proverb, “There are three sides to every story — your side, my side, and the right side!”

Exactly who said the above is not very clear in the texts of history. History shows that way back from 1802, John Adams, the 2nd President of the United States of America popularized the use of this adage. The concept however, is sound even to today’s individual and organizational conflict situations and scenarios.

The most common reason why conflicts occur anywhere is ‘individual differences’. This could mean a difference of opinion between two people on how to perform a certain task, or a difference in the understanding or desire of goals to achieve, or in differences due to different cultural habits, or a difference in common interests, etc.

‘The 3rd Alternative’ is a powerful technique to use when there are individual differences that lead to a conflict. The process is as follows:

1. Find an individual, a 3rd person other than the 2 individuals involved in the conflict. Ensure that this person has the capacity and the intent to remain neutral and unbiased towards both the parties involved. This person serves as a mediator.
2. The 1st party submits their case to the mediator, from his/her perspective, with facts and emotions, with no interruptions, except from the mediator in case of an clarifications
3. The 2nd party submits their case to the mediator, from his/her perspective, with facts and emotions, with no interruptions, except from the mediator in case of an clarifications
4. The mediator steps away from the 2 parties and ponders over the situation at hand considering both the facts and feelings from both perspectives.
5. The mediator then comes up with a neutral and unbiased solution which would be as fair as it can be, and presents the solution to the 2 parties
6. The thoughts of the 2 parties on the proposed solution are listened to by the mediator
7. The mediator rethinks on his/her solution, alters it if need be, and presents it back to the 2 parties.

Though, this technique can also be done with one of the two individuals involved in the conflict taking on the role of the 3rd party, it is however not suggested so because it could later lead to assumptions of bias on part of the individual.

One of the examples of the ‘The 3rd Alternative’ can be found in the story of 2 brothers in a village who were left with a large plot of land and no will after their father’s untimely demise. They are at a loss as to how to divide the land equally between them such that it would not result in any unpleasant situations either then or later. So, under the assumption that he would be the best person to approach the situation from a neutral unbiased perspective, they go to the village head and ask for his help. “We love each other a lot”, they said to the village head, “and do not wish to fight now nor ever. We are confused how to resolve this situation without creating any unpleasantness. Please help us!” The village head comes up with a solution which, on first instance seems utterly ridiculous to the brothers. He says, “Toss a coin. Decide who says ‘heads’ and who ‘tails’. The winner of the coin toss would get the opportunity to divide the land into 2 parts, in whichever way he wishes to do so.” The brothers were aghast! How could the village head say this, they wondered? Wouldn’t it be awfully unfair to the other brother, they questioned? The village head smiled and then gave the remaining part of his solution. “The brother who wins the toss would get the opportunity to divide the land into 2 parts in whichever way he wishes to do so, but, the other brother would have the privilege of choosing which of the 2 parts he wishes to own!” The brothers walked away, happy, and marvelling the wisdom of the village head to look for the 3rd alternative!

Attempt to perceive the 3rd alternative! Resolve your conflicts…
You have the power!

Published in ‘The Hans India’ on 8th Sept 2011

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September 20, 2011 - Posted by | The Hans India Newspaper | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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