Valchemy Collaboration Protocol

Values-based conflict resolution reveals higher-quality solutions to any conflict

It can be helpful to conceptualize conflict as ‘incompatible expressions’ of needs — rather than an incompatibility between the needs themselves.

While this may seem like a trivial distinction, it offers a profound implication; if needs themselves cannot be incompatible, then conflict resolution can be infinitely easier than we make it, and more of our apparent dilemmas, stalemates, and ideological deadlocks can be overcome to the mutual satisfaction of all parties. We need only to be patient enough to find the answers that meet the collective criteria.

The benefits of this approach extend far beyond resolving the conflict at hand; it pays massive dividends to the organizational culture and to your personal relationships when you earn the reputation of a values-focused collaborator — a source of mutual success rather than an enemy to be avoided or defeated. In order to resolve conflict in this way, we must start from the origin of all conflict — values.

The miracle of collaboration

We are a problem-solving species. When faced with a problem, we almost cannot help but to immediately start thinking about solutions. Unfortunately, a single individual's perspective is inherently incomplete; we never know more than a fraction of the total relevant information, and the criteria we use to evaluate potential solutions is usually based primarily on our own needs and values. Without input from others, the solutions we generate will tend to fall short.

Human civilization appears to be on a trajectory of increasing specialization. As individuals become increasingly specialized, the already-small fraction of the total relevant information each of us possesses will become even smaller, leaving us even more dependent on other specialists to fill in the gaps. And as we become more interdependent, relationships and rapport grows increasingly important along with the requirement to satisfy a greater number of stakeholders when generating solutions to a given problem. All this to say, as our species becomes an increasingly complex network of specialists, values-focused collaboration will only become more essential to success.

As our species becomes an increasingly complex network of specialists, values-focused collaboration will only become more essential to success.

The valchemy protocol organizes the diverse perspectives of each member of the group so as to reveal the complete criteria so that we can arrive at the solution that leverages the unique insights, and satisfies the unique needs of each member of the collective.

The cost of this protocol is that it challenges us to resist the urge to become attached to any solution prior understanding the needs of the interdependent group and considering a larger fraction of all possible solutions. The reward is that and we are often happier with the final outcome than had we implemented a solution based on one person's thinking alone. We can only choose from the options available to us, and being that we are not omniscient creatures, until we speak to someone else and are exposed to their collection, the only options available will be the collection of solutions we can think up ourselves, thus our options will remain limited, and we may fall for the illusion that when we look at our solutions, we are seeing all possible solutions. Given that no human is all-knowing, this simply cannot be true.

Therefor, we must start any conflict resolution process with the most important step; we must identify what values are in play, so that we do not unnecessarily narrow the pool of potential solutions to just the handful that are on the table. We must always remember to establish everyone's values — therein lies the miracle of real collaboration.

Establish everyone's values — therein lies the miracle of real collaboration.

Conflict is born

Imagine you own a small coffee shop downtown; space is at a premium and the shop always feels crowded. You've done your best to provide a break area — some chairs, a table, a mini-fridge and a microwave — but it's hardly a quiet or relaxing place, and two of your employees have just come to you expressing their preference for a larger, nicer break area where they can take their breaks more comfortably. Unfortunately, you don't see how more space can be freed-up without negatively impacting the operation of your shop. A conflict is born.

Now, as the owner, you have the authority to explain that you wish you could give them a nicer break area, but there just isn't any space that can be given up without causing issues; every nook and cranny is already used for business-critical storage or equipment. While this may not be an unreasonable position to take, this solution is low-quality in that it fails to satisfy the needs of everyone involved; the staff leaves without any improvement in their rest area, and you leave feeling guilty about disappointing your staff, or perhaps you feel unappreciated for the break area you have already worked hard to provide for them.

To illustrate how such conflict is better handled using the valchemy collaboration protocol, we must start by identifying the values in play. What are the needs that aren't being met?

  • #Homework: We might discover that some of the staff have a lot of college coursework and would like to work on assignments during their break.
  • #Fridge: We might discover that others don't really care about the space being bigger as much as they want a bigger fridge where they can store the food they bring from home — there is a restaurant nearby, but its a little too expensive to eat there on every shift.
  • #Podcasts: We might discover that some staff don't care about doing homework or storing food, but want to listen to podcasts without being interrupted by other staff members passing by.

Now that we have a clearer picture of the true criteria, new possibilities and ideas naturally emerge. It makes sense that the staff would suggest increasing the size of the break room; after all that solution solves all three of their needs. Unfortunately, that particular solution doesn't work for you as the owner, so here are some other possibilities:

  • You could offer your staff the option to sit at an open table in your shop during their break. Taking off their apron can be the signal to other employees not to interrupt them, and customers won't think to bother them. Because the staff will be sitting elsewhere, the chairs and table dedicated to the break area could even be removed, creating more space for a second mini-fridge, with room left over for the Owner to use for operational needs. This would be an example of a solution that not only satisfies the needs everyone involved, it may do so better than any of the initial solutions that were proposed prior to everyone's values being known. The owner may actually end up with more space as a result of the staff asking for a bigger break room.
  • You could also attempt to negotiate a staff discount at the nearby restaurant so that your staff can more easily afford eating out. This would eliminate the pressure on you to create a space for breaks, because your staff could use the restaurant as their break area, where they can be away from interruptions, have plenty of table space to study, and where they can afford to eat out more often. Again, the owner might be able to remove the table and chairs, keep the one mini-fridge, and be even better off than before.

These are the kinds of creative solutions that become possible when we build from the values up. And remember those aforementioned cultural and interpersonal dividends? Imagine the kind of impression you leave when you say "Sorry, I just don't think that will work" compared to the impression you leave when you negotiate a staff discount at the nearby restaurant. There are implications beyond just solving the immediate problem; the approach you use represents the kind of leader and person you are for your team. Which kind of impression would you rather leave? Which kind of leader would you prefer to work for?

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