If you are driving through the city and you don’t know whether your next turn is to the left or to the right, the best advice is to be in the middle lane, because it gives you more room for manoeuvre.
In the game of squash, the same rule applies and good players will always try to be positioned in the centre of the court – or ‘holding the ‘T’, as it is called. Likewise in hurling or football the foundation for success is to be strong down the middle, which is controlling the middle ground.
Life is like traffic-lanes, football pitches and squash courts – the best place to aim for is the middle ground, because it gives you the scope to move a bit either way.
There is no greater example anywhere in the world of what can be achieved through striving for the middle ground, than the success of the Peace Process in Northern Ireland. Conflict is an inevitable part of human nature, which in its extreme form leads to brutality and war and then, sooner or later, a resolution has to be found.
Conflict resolution is essentially the same, whatever the dispute; you simply search for the middle ground. Naturally there are exceptions to every rule and the biblical judgement of Solomon, who confronted with two women who each claimed the baby to be their own, ruled that the baby be cut in half, is an extreme example of one time where the middle ground was not the place to be: Of course Solomon’s judgement worked in determining the true mother, but it shows us that sometimes we have to hold the line and not concede the middle ground, if the result is to be something entirely unreasonable.
Most personal conflicts in our lives are with people we know or had some previous relationship with. This can be family, friend, lover, or someone we had business dealings with. No matter what the difference is about, the solution is almost always compromise on both sides.
90% of court proceedings are settled on the steps of the court, which make lawyers rich by going that far to find the middle ground.
In searching for the middle ground, never back your opponent into a corner without giving them something. Calm yourself first of all and maybe even take a period of time to cool down.
Another question to ask yourself is how much is at stake and is this battle worth fighting – especially from a long term perspective. Ask yourself why is it so important? If the only option is that you win and the other person loses, chances are that you will both hang together in the search for a small victory.
Very often the word ‘principle’ is used to defend a stubborn stand. ‘I don’t care about the money – it’s the principal of the thing …etc ..etc.’ You see, if you use the word ‘principal’ you are letting it be known that you are not searching for the middle ground, because principals cannot be negotiated. Always start your search for compromise by stating a point from the opposing argument that you agree with, even if it’s only; “this can’t be easy for you”, or “If I were you, I might feel the same”.
This means nothing more than showing a willingness to try to understand the other point of view.
Mirroring what someone else says does not mean you agree with it – it just shows you understand what they are saying. Most often, as you give a little, you get a little. Whatever bit of ground you concede as you edge towards the middle bit, don’t do it grudgingly and try not to attack the other person’s perspective.
If you criticize their point of view, all they are going to do is reinforce their position and maybe walk away even more convinced that you are wrong. Never fight anger with anger; resist becoming defensive and show that you are listening. This will help to disarm them and facilitate the search for the middle ground.
Try to see the problem outside the two of you rather than a problem between you. Whatever the compromise, take pride in making it; identify yourself with being a compromiser rather than someone who always has to have your own way.
There is a world of difference between holding the middle ground and “sitting on the fence” Sitting on the fence means you are doing nothing other than waiting to see what will happen, whilst searching for the middle ground indicates a willingness to find solutions through work and compromise.
As with the judgement of Solomon, there are times when the middle ground is not always correct. Very occasionally only X or Y is acceptable with no middle ground possible. Like “sitting on the fence”, middle ground should not be sought in a sloppy, lazy manner to temporarily pacify an aggressor who will have to be dealt with further down the line.
But all things considered, the middle ground is still the most fertile piece of land around.
A compromise is the art of dividing a cake in such a way that everybody believes he got the biggest piece.