Work Wars: What’s Our Role When Groups Fight?

Management Respect


Do you know what the 3rd side concept is?

I’ve emphasized in previous blogs the benefit and value of constructive disagreement in organizations. Last week I outlined some basic skills for being able to conduct what some people describe as crucial conversations. But what happens when people or departments go to “war” with each other? We would like to think that this doesn’t happen but it does. So how should we react?

William Ury, the renowned mediator has some powerful insight for us. Lately he has been emphasizing the concept of the “third side.”

The following is Ury’s brief explanation to the third side idea. In any conflict there are two sides. But Ury emphasizes that there is also a third side. The third side is the rest of us who have a stake in the conflict, you and me.

“The third side has respect for both sides and respect for the whole. The third side is a container for contention — for creative contention. The third side is a container within which the conflict, the real issues… can be actively engaged and transformed. In other words, the form can be transformed from the destructive behavior into dialogue, negotiation, and democracy. The aim of the third side isn’t so much resolution, as the transformation of the conflict. Let’s stand for a peaceful transformation of this conflict.”

  • ACTION:  In practical terms in our daily work life, the first thing we can do is recognize that the third side, of which we are part, has a serious say and stake in the resolution. We can facilitate a resolution. Part of this is getting both sides to respect and understand each other and help define a better state beyond the conflict. 

The tools introduced in the crucial conversation blog would be useful to facilitate the dialogue. The other thing is to do what Ury describes metaphorically and literally as “taking a walk.”  This simply is getting out of our chairs to make the effort and get know other people and departments. That gesture, if we made a serious effort to do so, builds a lot bridges. People who walk together tend to see each other side by side and in concert.

We are the third side. We can and have an obligation to make the first and second sides better and more peaceful. Watching passively is not acceptable.

Live in the triangle and take a walk,


PS.  When you can, please take 20 minutes to watch Ury’s video.