Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Settling Conflict with the KISS Principle in 5 Simple Steps

There is a design principle in engineering that was made popular by the U.S. Navy in the sixties called "Keep It Simple, Stupid" or KISS for short.  The KISS principle is about valuing simplicity in design in order to make things less likely to break and easier to fix when they do break.  As a fan of this principle, I was very impressed with Rackham Karlsson's recent blog post: Collaborative Divorce in the Simplest Terms Possible in which he does just that, explains Collaborative Divorce as simply as possible.

Rackham's post has inspired me to try and explain the work I do in the simplest terms possible using the KISS principle and the Up-Goer Five Text Editor, a site that forces you to explain an idea using only the 1000 most used words in the English language.

Here is a typical explanation of what I do:
In my work I encourage clients to settle disputes outside of court, whether through collaborative law, mediation, or other other out-of-court processes, by using interest-based negotiation techniques to resolve conflict. 
See the problem?  What the heck is interest-based negotiation?  I have over-lawyered the description of my own job without even realizing it!

So here is my new description trying to keep it simple:
There are many situations where people find themselves in a fight.  That fight could be about their work or their home life, but either way it makes their life worse.  Many people need help to end the fight.  In my work, I help people explain what they are fighting about, by learning what they want and why they want it.  When they can understand the other person's "why" we can usually end the fight with both people getting "what" they need. 
I do this using five important steps:
Step 1: Decide on how to talk (and with how many people helping).
Step 2: Share what each side knows.
Step 3: Share what each side wants and why.
Step 4: Come up with many ideas
Step 5: Decide on the best idea for both people.
If even one step is missed, the fight usually continues, but when people think through all of these steps they are usually happy with the end of the fight.
Can you explain what you do using only the 1,000 most common words?  I dare you to try it here, and post your answer in the comments section!


  1. This would be a great idea if exs worked with one another. Unfortunately for many (my husband included) there are exs that refuse to be reasonable or communicate at all. We were taken back to court 3 times in 6 months because of her selfishness and greedy ways. These children are adults (22, 19) yet MA is the only state that requires they stay infintile until way after they become adults. Plus the courts are so bias towards the women . They never even looked at our records with cashed payments, house payments and all their debt payments from us. This would have cleared my husband. Instead they relied solely on her word. Freaking amazing!

    1. Valorie,

      Thank you for sharing your unfortunate experience. What is truly saddening is that many people believe that going back to court is the only way to resolve conflicts, especially if court is where they started. Certainly when one side makes that choice the other side is forced to litigate as well, but many people end up dissatisfied with the court process. Exs don't need to be able to work with each other on all issues, they simply have to recognize that it might be possible to reach agreement if they would just try. The 5 steps I've outlined really do work when both sides give it a chance.


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