Decision Workshops

I structure disputes using Dilemma Analysis


A husband comes home from work and switches on the TV to watch the big match.  As he does so his wife asks him to do the washing up.  He refuses and adds "Please don't nag".  


"Well I don't want to..." replies the wife.

Example card structure:  Watching TV without being nagged

Knowing the structure of a dispute enables a full understanding of it.


I use the common analogy of a card table.  Each thing somebody can do is looked on as a card that may or may not be played.   So at any time a dispute can be expressed as cards that those involved are playing, threatening to play, or requesting others to play.  But as in the picture, people don't always use the cards expected: they can bring out new cards or change those they play.

Watching TV (as opposed to doing the washing up) is the yes/no decision that the man could make.  He "owns" the card. The wife owns the card of "nagging".


So these are the cards:

Card Sharpe TVWashing

The next step is to structure the cards into a table. This should show the cards the husband wants to play, the cards the wife wants to play, and thirdly what will happen if they can't or don't agree (also known as the "Threat" or the "Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement" - BATNA). In this case the husband will watch the TV, but be nagged. So our card table looks like this:

Building a card table

The ticks show thing that people want to happen, the crosses things they  don't want to happen. The left hand column shows what will happen if the dispute does not change.


Nobody is happy with the situation. Both people wants change. They both have problems (or dilemma) with the situation.  These dilemmas follow from the logic of the ticks and crosses in the card table.  So much so that they can be calculated in a spreadsheet.  In the case above, the dilemmas are identical and are PERSUASION dilemmas, where both sides are saying that they want the other to do something different from what they want.


We  can therefore list the dilemmas next to the cards.


So what will happen next ?

One of the great things about dilemma analysis is that whatever strategy is adopted can always be expressed as changes to the card table.


There are many strategies that people can adopt, and from the brief introduction above it is not known which one will be best.  The best way to know this is to rehearse the confrontation using role play.  But a poor ability to get what we want from life is often due to an overreliance on a single strategy or not knowing which is best, there is no ideal strategy for every circumstance.

Using numbers to support understanding of the options tables

Use positive emotions and empathy

Use logic and rational argument

Use negative emotions such as anger

Use imaginaton, innovation and design

Slide64 Slide66

Describing the dispute with these numbers provides a language by which we can easily describe the confrontation and its development.  The man says, "I want to do the washing up; it's just I can't because I couldn't then watch the football". The wife says "I don't like nagging, but sometimes it's necessary to get my husband to do the right thing." Subtle nuances can be expressed in terms of the cards and the scores attached to them.


This language means it is also possible to describe the conflict accurately and concisely.  Imagine trying to convey all the above on a single side of paper!


The numbers give a language in which others can contribute and in which misunderstandings can be cleared up. People could say.  "I think the wife's score should be zero for nagging, rather than -1". We could then discuss why and attempt to resolve the differences, whist being clear about the subject.  This would be hard without using the numbers.

Benefits of using a card table

Back to "What's special?"

Often it helps if we add some more details to a card table. A way to do this is to assign numbers to each of the cards for each of the players, showing how much they want each card to be played.  


The numbers go from +9 (an extreme desire to play the card) through 0 (indifference) to -9 (an extreme desire not to play the card). The numbers should relate to the playing of the card independently, without considering its effects on other cards.


By looking at the numbers, we can get a better understanding of how the situation could develop, and what the reactions will be to different moves.

Slide18 Slide21 Slide23 Slide25 Slide16 Slide29

Here are a few examples of how people could try to solve the problem above.  Click on them for more detail (flash and popups must be enabled).

Here is an example:

Options IntoTable

The wife needs to persuade the husband not to watch TV, and the Husband needs to persuade the wife not to nag.  The human mind cannot bear to have dilemmas.  Nearly all social inteactions, all stories, all drama is about how people eliminate these dilemmas.  Emotion is also key to this and is a tool to help us with dilemma elimination.


There are many different ways of eliminating the dilemmas.  All the thinking and worry around dilemmas is about ways to eliminate them.  The decison workshops software tool "Dilemma Analyst" makes a suggestion of things that can be done. This is done clicking on the automatically generated coloured bars in the columns on the right that show the dilemmas.

FullHuswife DilemmaSoln1

In this case, the Husband's dilemma is a mirror image of the wife's

DilemmaSoln2 NumberHuswife