Being unconditionally constructive means that in a relationship with you, I should do only those things that are both good for the relationship and good for me, whether or not you reciprocate. Being unconditionally constructive is the basis for a good working relationship whether it is between nations, organizations, or individuals, and whether the relationship is long-term or a one-time negotiation. It does not matter whether they follow my example; I choose how I will work with them.
The concept of “unconditionally constructive” from the Harvard Negotiation Project is developed in detail in Getting Together: Building Relationships as We Negotiate by Roger Fisher and Scott Brown.
A recent mediation got me thinking again about being unconditionally constructive. Complex family situations are one example where having a good working relationship is well worth the effort of applying this approach.
Fisher and Brown caution against two common mistakes: first, forgetting that individuals have different perceptions; and second, expecting them to follow our lead by trying to build a relationship based on reciprocity. Even in families where the individuals know each other well, both of these mistakes are everyday normal and likely to get in the way of resolving the conflict.
Being unconditionally constructive is a strategy for thinking about the problem, not a miraculous way to manipulate people. There is an apparent contradiction. In every relationship at the same time as we need to satisfy our own interests, we also need to improve our joint ability to deal with the conflicting interests between us. In order to be effective in the relationship, those two needs co-exist.
For example, try to understand them, even if they misunderstand us. Balance emotions with reason, even if they are acting only emotionally. Consult them before deciding on matters that affect them, even if they are not listening to our own point of view. Accept them, care about them and be open to learning from them, even if they reject us and our concerns.
Being unconditionally constructive is a concept that can be expanded beyond the arena of conflict resolution. As I reflect, I can see how this strategy could help my relationships with co-workers or managers; with friends; with my fellow members of a volunteer board; and with family.
When are you unconditionally constructive?
What is one relationship you could improve by being unconditionally constructive?
Struggling with conflict?
Want to build your mediation skills?
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