Expert influencers and negotiators avoid the constraints of an either/or scenario. Instead, they probe deeper, asking, “What is the third way?”
▶ Why does this matter?
When emotions run high and options seem limited, it’s easy to get stuck in a two-dimensional tug-of-war. We can feel compelled to choose between “their way” or “my way”; and a compromise between both can leave a bad taste for all. However, by actively seeking a different path - the third way - we can break free from the same old mediocre game.
▶ 50 years of commercial problem solving
I was reminded of the “third way” during my Father’s 70th birthday celebration. After dedicating nearly five decades to commercial law, he recently hung up his boots. At his birthday, a colleague remarked how often my father approached intransigent situations with the question: "What is the third way?”
This was Dad’s signature approach to the contentious matters that are par for the course in legal practice. He wasn’t merely suggesting compromise; instead, he was delving into the realm of possibility, “What if we could achieve X AND Y?”
By doing so, he was steering away from the combative to explore the collaborative.
Throughout his career, he found this path was worth sticking to. As he put it, “If you spend enough time looking and learning and listening, you will find the third way.”
This approach invites us to step outside positions to consider possibilities. While this may seem risky at times, exploring the third way rarely requires us to give up more than the certainty of a fixed position.
▶ Solve a better problem
The beauty of third way thinking is that it invites us to solve a better problem by asking ourselves a better question, and as Charles Kettering, the inventor, once said, “A problem well stated is a problem half solved”.
By posing any of the questions noted above or even simply asking, “What is the third way?” we grapple with a better problem, a problem that, if solved, is laden with potential.
So, whenever we feel the strain of the two-dimensional tug-of-war, we can ask, “What is the third way?”
After all, why settle for two options when the third could redefine the game?