Theodore “Ted” Kheel – Labor Mediator and Arbitrator passed away at 96. Granted that sort of opening line in the New York Times morning podcast does not typically grab my attention, but when I heard a clip of the man being interviewed, I was absolutely hooked. Pure genius. The video is well worth the two minutes, and the obituary is a quick and informative read.
Between the video and the obituary, there are two huge lessons in conflict resolution thanks to Mr. Kheel – want vs. why and bringing parties together…literally.
First, he brought the two parties together, in person, face-to-face. That is a very powerful insight…all possiblility of ambiguity, of misunderstanding, of hiding behind third parties, phones, video conferences or email is gone. Both sides had to tell him, in front of their opponent, exactly what it was they wanted. Simple yet so important.
Secondly, it was not about the why; it was about the what. As he says so pointedly in the video clip – simply tell me what you want. He did not want, or even care about the why. The why involves emotion. The what involves fact. Again, so simple. Take the emotion out of the conflict and a resolution is much easier to find.
Granted Mr. Kheel was known for his ability to resolve massive labor disputes, but his lessons apply to all of us in all facets of our life. In business, with our clients, our superiors, our teammates, or our team members. In life, with our spouse, our children, our families, and even within ourselves. Air the issues openly and honestly, without emotion, and more often than not, a resolution can be reached.