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How to Talk Things Out

"Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he shall hear thee, thou has gained thy brother." (Matt. 18:15)
"Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath." (James 1:19)
Most disputes are the result of honest differences of understanding. The parties have seen only part of the problem and have not communicated their views effectively. They worry that the other side may be trying to take advantage. In most cases, the people on both sides of a dispute have good intentions and want to be fair. What is needed is better communication.
According to one professional negotiator, you don't have to be intimidating, disagreeable, or devious to reach an agreement with another person. "True negotiating is not adversarial; it is working together to come to an agreement." (Bob Woolf, "Ways to Win," Reader's Digest, May 1991, p. 23.)

Brigham Young said, "I have no fellowship for men who are guilty of . . . contending with each other, and going to law before Gentile or bishop's courts to settle their difficulties. There is a better way of settling difficulties than either of these . . . . When a difference of judgment exists between two parties, let them come together and lay their difficulties at each other's feet, laying themselves down in the cradle of humility, and say 'Brother, (or sister,) I want to do right; yea, I will even wrong myself to make you right . . . .' After taking this course, if you cannot come together, then call in a third person and settle it." (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 6:319 quoted in Dallin H. Oaks, The Lord's Way, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991, p. 176.)
Here are some suggestions to help you prepare to talk with the other person in a dispute: 
1.   Get Ready to Talk:
  • Are you partly to blame? Try to figure out if you are part of the problem by thinking about what really happened. Look for ways that you may have intentionally or unintentionally contributed to the problem. Sometimes we let our emotions and pride block us from getting a true picture. Be concerned about what is right, not who is right.
  • Think about the different actions you might take to resolve the dispute and their possible consequences. What is your best alternative? What is your worst alternative? What is the most likely alternative?
  • Think about your feelings. Feelings are very important. They will guide your reactions and direct how you handle things. You may want to express your feelings to the other person.
2.   Agree to Talk:
  • Contact the other person and make an offer to try to settle things. Be calm and keep an open mind. Keep your conversation polite and do not attack the person. Write a letter if you cannot talk to the person directly.
  • If the other person does not accept your invitation to talk, your may contact the BYU Center for Conflict Resolution for assistance.
  • If your offer to talk is accepted, set a time and place to talk things out. You need to be in a private place and not be interrupted. Set aside a specific amount of time--at least one hour.
  • You may want to agree to establish some guidelines when you talk, such as no name-calling, no threats, no personal attacks, listening without interrupting, who will talk first, etc. And you may want to suggest the method of discussion listed in paragraph three as follows.
3.   An Orderly Method to Talk:
  • The first person to talk should give his or her version of what happened without attacking the other person, and the other person should listen without interrupting. Talk about yourself and your feelings, not about the other person. Don't criticize the other person. Don't react to emotional outbursts.
  • The second person to talk should then retell the first person's version of the story to show that he or she listened and understood.
  • The second person then relates his or her version of the story in the same manner as the first person. The first person listens without interrupting.
  • To show that the first person was listening, he or she repeats the second person's point of view.
  • Both persons can then search for solutions. Focus the conversation on the problem and the interests of both sides, not the people in the problem. Brainstorm without criticizing the ideas put forth.
  • Agree to a solution. The solution should be something both parties can do. It should not be harmful to you or others. Be clear and specific. Write it down and sign it.
When the other person is not willing to talk to you in the manner suggested above, a mediator might be able to help. Mediation involves a similar procedure as that described above except that a neutral third party will help you talk things out with the other person. (See Mediation) You still maintain the power to reach your own settlement. Maintaining the power to make your own decisions is best, because you know your own interests better than anyone else.