the Aim of Discussion

The aim of an argument or discussion should not be victory, but progress.
Joseph Joubert 1754-1824

I’ve been helping a client deal with a problem off and on for about ten years now. It seems like every time we come up with a potential solution, the opposing party gets legal advice to demand ridiculous amounts of monies to settle a dubious dispute and then, predictably, settlement discussions crumble.  This failure is then followed by years of the opposing party grumbling and simmering in frustration – just waiting to flare up again. He has been looking for victory.

Today marked a change that left me very happy: the opposing party got a new, young attorney who gave him realistic and creative advice. So, rather than hit a train wreck when we came across some longstanding disagreements, the attorney started looking for creative solutions … and we found some. Less trained in the cunning arts of legal word smithery that his predecessors so valued, this new attorney understood a very simple principle about settling a dispute: the aim in some disputes is progress, not victory.

Sounds strange?  Some battles don’t result in any clear cut victory.  Some battles leave both sides suffering terrible casualties, immeasurable losses, and mental numbness.  Typically, both sides suffer their losses before they learn anything from the battle.  While victory is often lauded and nearly universally sought after in sports and other forms of competition, cooperative endeavors often require compromises that may not leave a huge “V” on our record but they lead to some true progress that allows us to learn from our mistakes and move on.  In our culture, we rarely even see games that require cooperation up for sale – especially for teenagers (LCG Lord of the Rings is a fine exception).

As a trained mediator, I’ve learned the value of looking for progress (or resolution) instead of victory on many occasions. While my client’s problem has not been fully resolved, today we made some real progress and ultimately, I expect that we will reach a resolution that will allow both parties to move on with their lives … instead of beating their heads against the victory-less wall for years to come.

The image is from Full Throttle Fitness.

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