Winning Conversations with ‘POISE NOW’: Step 7 - Options

Posted in : HR Updates ROI on 14 November 2016
Mary Rafferty
Consensus Mediation
Issues covered:

Almost forty years ago, Roger Fisher and William Ury’s seminal textbook ‘Getting to Yes’ (1981) outlined a four-point approach to ‘negotiating an agreement without giving in’.

One of these invites us to ‘Invent options for mutual gain’. Rather than it descending into a choice between your way or my way, they advocate taking time to identify or generate a variety of possibilities that might address each person’s needs (not positions!).

This idea of putting out a number of options on the table and spending time thinking these through gets us past the narrow, win/lose thinking that conflict conversations can bring up.

Our natural tendency is to want to get straight to the point and hopefully get them to accept our solution or point of view. This approach doesn’t mean abandoning this, it’s more about being flexible on the route to get there.

Why this approach works better  

  • Research in the field of neuroscience on brain-rewarding experiences emphasises our need for status recognition, autonomy of choice as well as what feels like fair play. Offering people choices and options reinforces this.
  • Making space to map out and consider options turns a one-way conversation into a two-way collaboration. People will be much more likely to carry through on plans and proposals that they themselves have participated in designing and shaping.
  • Engaging them in finding workable options to resolve the issues is also a way of helping them ‘save face’ by inviting them to come up with ideas to move out of the difficulties that have arisen that may well be of their own making.
  • It forces each side to get clearer on their core needs and interests in the situation. That means time is more usefully spent on seeking solutions rather than trying to win the argument.

Taking an option development approach 

Start by clarifying the common goals and needs that have emerged from the discussion

‘So what we both want here is for our customers to get the best possible service and for you to feel comfortable and supported in providing this…’   

Then invite them to share any ideas/suggestions they have that would meet these needs and goal(s). ‘Let’s have a think now about some ideas about how this could be achieved...what are your thoughts..?’

Be clear about what’s not negotiable: ‘Given that the policy cannot be changed, what could we look at that might help to achieve….’

Where you can be flexible, offer choices and alternatives

Where they are not engaging and co-operating at this point, you may need to go back to an earlier stage in the process.

The stages that need further exploration at this point are usually E – if they are still angry and upset – go back to actively listening and acknowledging and N - using probing and clarifying questions to get to the heart of the issue for them.

‘When you close one door, open another’ William Ury (The Power of a Positive No, 2007)

Where there are things we cannot negotiate on a common error is to miss the opportunity to explore what we can say ‘yes’ to and be flexible on. What need might they have that we can be open to helping with, while still meeting the non-negotiable need?

Option development approach to resolve conflict

What if they aren’t open to any options?

Patterson et al. 2013 point out that the driving force behind all behavioural choices and change are awareness of the consequences of not changing. The challenge for any leader ‘make visible the invisible’, that is to help people become aware of the consequences that will motivate or impact them most effectively.

They can be positive or negative consequences.

Positive consequences could be: benefits for their career, level of influence in the team, finances, levels of stress.

Negative consequences could be impact on customers, peers, their promotional prospects, reputation or stress levels.

‘What do you see as the impact if this lateness continues…?’

‘Look I know it’s important to you that you are seen in a positive light by the customers. How might this be affected if we don’t get the project in on time?’

Watch that you aren’t crossing the line from exploring a consequence to making a threat. Again your tone, body language and intentions are so important here.
Be patient as you might have to try a couple of different consequences to find one that motivates that person.


  • Write down some questions that you can use to brainstorm suggestions and options
  • Where can you be flexible, what are non-negotiables?
  • How might you frame a question around this? 
This article is correct at 14/11/2016

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Mary Rafferty
Consensus Mediation

The main content of this article was provided by Mary Rafferty. Contact telephone number is +00 (353) 71 9651966 or +00 (353) 86 8252423 or email

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