Why Negotiation & Conflict Resolution Can Elude Us


When embroiled in a problem – there is usually something at stake – maybe something intangible like ego/pride, justice/fairness or something more evident like financial or material gain. ‘Having a stake’ in the outcome causes bias, limiting perceptions and therefore possibilities in the way options for solutions can be generated, considered, discussed and agreed upon.

An emotional attachment to the problem and outcome inhibits activity in the pre-frontal cortex (or problem solving region) of our brains leading to protracted negotiations, heated discussions and non optimal outcomes.

Win-win outcomes

 A willingness to find win-win outcomes is driven by a logical, empathetic and what I call ‘a detached’ approach to problem solving – skills we can teach our executives and leaders – skills which underpin the concept of ‘Strategic Thinking Leadership’.

Being ‘detached’ means we can ‘step back’ from the problem and be free from our bias and set views to more openly consider and constructively debate other people’s perspectives and ideas.

‘Finding the eighteenth camel’ highlights how the use of a third person in negotiation and conflict resolution can provide the ‘third side’ (a phrase used by William Ury to describe the person or entity who opens up perspective for the parties in conflict, allowing each of them to speak and be heard and to reconnect with what is really at stake).

The story of the eighteenth camel

In an old Middle Eastern story, a man willed to his three sons 17 camels. To the first son he left 1/2 of his camels. To the second son he left 1/3 of his camels and to the last son, he left 1/9. Conflict arose when the father died and the sons could not agree on how many camels each son received. In desperation they turned to a wise elder for assistance. After pondering, she offered the sons one of her camels.

Can you work out how the addition of an extra camel solved the conflict?

‘Finding the eighteenth camel’ is essentially a maths based problem. If you’re partial to solving problems using fractions and mathematical logic, you may wish to see the worked solution by following the link at the end of this article.

The ‘third side’ & the workplace

In our workplaces, we don’t always need mathematical logic to resolve conflict; we just need to be willing to offer a ‘third side’ either from within ourselves or by inviting the presence of a skilled third person.

The third person can be an impartial colleague or HR professional, but sometimes matters require the services of an external consultant skilled in negotiation and conflict resolution.  Contact Workplace Conflict Resolution for more information about how we can help your business.

The Herd of Camels solution

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About the Author

Catherine Gillespie brings a wealth of skill to her clients. With particular expertise in teaching communication and workplace conflict resolution skills, Catherine has made a marked difference to the organisations she has worked with. She empowers teams and managers to adopt constructive styles that support harmony, productivity and progress in the workplace.