The expression thinking ‘outside of the box’ typically relates to being creative about ideas – like stepping outside of enclosed lines that constrain thinking. When the concept comes up in the conflict management context, it occurs when people in dispute are contemplating the options available to them regarding their opposing views. The ‘out of the box’ notion is meant to help disputants get away from steadfastly held positions and consider what other solutions may be mutually acceptable.


Undoubtedly, in the middle of a dispute, many of us experience emotional reactions and are limited in our ability to think creatively and in new and different ways. Giving ourselves time to think out the options about what to do and how to proceed is an important consideration for any type of problem-solving and decision-making. It is most likely that conflict mastery when it comes to ‘out of the box’ thinking then, requires readiness, clear headedness and willingness to consider alternatives that are mutually satisfactory. Here are some questions to answer in your efforts to think out of the box:

  • Considering a recent dispute, how do you describe what the issue(s) in dispute are for you?
  • What makes it/them so important for you?
  • What issue(s) seems to be important for the other person and why?
  • If you want to resolve matters, what is or are the possible options for doing so?
  • What do you guess is or are the other person’s ideas for options for resolving matters that are the same and different from yours?
  • What part or parts of your ideas for optional solutions would you be willing to let go of and be comfortable doing so to resolve matters?
  • What is important to you in this situation that is worth considering in your efforts to come up with even more possibilities for settling matters?
  • What may a respected mentor, friend, colleague suggest as other solutions that are more ‘out of the box’ and that may also be mutually satisfactory?
  • What would you suggest to a close friend in a similar situation about other possibilities?
  • If you removed any barriers keeping you from thinking broader and deeper, what other options would appear?


Please add any other comments about this topic or other ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions) may facilitate ‘outside of the box’ thinking.

Originally posted on

Views: 95

Comment by John C. Turley on January 24, 2012 at 8:29pm

One of the techniques that I use at the beginning of a mediation session is to compliment the disputants on their innate ability to bring forth their own creative solutions. I focus on their skills and abilities as I extend my arms to create the visual and mental image of a circle to include myself and the disputants.  This action surprises people but I notice that they listen carefully and become more receptive and engaged as I introduce the 5 stage mediation process that we use at the Wayne Dispute Center in Dearborn, Michigan.  It works!

Comment by Cinnie Noble on January 24, 2012 at 8:34pm

That sounds like such a great technique for mediation John. I especially like the visual of you extending your arms-like a big hug.


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