An elegant solution is one where a problem gets solved in a simple, but not always obvious, way.

When it comes to a problem that exists between two people (employer/employee, siblings, friends, romantic partners), an elegant solution is one in which both people get their underlying needs met.

When it comes to interpersonal relationships (which includes business ones), a problem exists when someone isn’t getting what they want. The thing is that there are actually two problems because there are two people involved. Each sees “the problem” differently than the other.

If you want a raise, your problem is that your boss won’t give you one. From your boss’s perspective, their problem is that they have an employee who wants a raise, but it doesn’t work with the budget.

In my world, two people can struggle with the same issue between them… but see the problem quite differently.

There is a way to resolve such situations… as you might have guessed, in an elegant way.

Here is how it works.

In a more typical disagreement, both sides state what they want.


Person 1: I want you to do X.
Person 2: I want you to never ask me to do X.

X can be anything. It can be to take out the trash, to handle that client account that I don’t want to handle, to work on that “go nowhere” project.

On the surface, the perceived problem is X.

Here’s where the elegance comes in.

Instead of beating each other up until one of you (usually the one with less power) gives up and concedes, there’s an alternative.

It is very, very simple.

Just ask…


“I hear that you want me to do X. Tell me more about that, and in particular, why you want me to do X.”

“I hear that you want me to never ask you to do X. I’d like to learn more about that. Why do you never want me to do X?”

Every request or anti-request exists to serve an underlying (and often verbally unstated) need.

When I want you to do X, it is because I have a need that will be met by you doing X.

When you refuse to do X and never even want me to ask you to do X ever again, that’s because you too have a need that will be met when nobody ever asks you to do X.

Arguing occurs at the level of the X.

“No, you will do X!”
“No, I will not! You can’t make me!”
“I am your boss/father/mother/spouse. You will do X.”
“No, I will not.”
“You will do X, or I will do ________ !”

In “arguing,” there is no increased mutual understanding. There are simply demands, escalation, and implicit/explicit threats. In an argument, you may “win” (your position), but you cause the other party to “lose.” When one of two people “lose” in an argument, the relationship overall suffers.

However, genuine conflict resolution is not at the level of X but at the level of why you want or don’t want X. The richness in interpersonal conflict resolution is in the why.

So, when you ask your child to take out the trash, and they say, “Never ask me to do that again,” you can ask, “Why?”

“Because last night when I did that, a dog chased me and almost bit me!”

Oh… you have a need for safety. Safety is not an unreasonable need.

This opens up multiple avenues to find creative (a.k.a. elegant) solutions.

“What if I went to get the mail at the mailbox while you took out the trash? Would you feel safe then?”
“What if I took out the trash, and instead, you load the dishwasher, which I usually do? Would you feel safe then?”
“What if you took out the trash in the daytime so that if there is a dog, you can see it before it comes near you, and only take out the trash all the way if the street looks clear? Would that feel safer for you?”
“What if you took out the trash in the daytime while I’m working in the garden so that if there’s a problem, I can help you. Would that feel safer for you?”

In a direct confrontation over X, the most typical outcome is a win/lose situation. The only thing in dispute is who is going to lose on this one. In a classic confrontation, the other person is the enemy.

In the land of elegant conflict resolution, the focus is on collaborating to find dozens of potential scenarios. The premise is that surely one of these solutions will work. Let’s generate and sift through as many solutions as we need until we find one that works for both of us.

Hence… the elegant solution.

As a side note, I am contemplating teaching a class on how to have deeply satisfying romantic relationships. Yes, I know, I know… that topic is not the usual thing that I’m known for.

However, the topic of close relationships has been a deep focus of mine for the past ten years. It took me 90 days to figure out the case interview. It took me 3,650 days to figure out close relationships. I’m super passionate about this topic. Professionally, I’m known as the case interview guy. Amongst my friends (who have never heard of a case interview), I’m the romantic relationship advice guy.

Here’s my dilemma. I’d love to teach a breakthrough class on this topic. However, I have no idea if any of my regular readers like you would even be remotely interested. If you are, submit the form below to let me know you’re interested. If there’s enough interest, I’ll teach the class.

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