Most of us want to be right—that’s why we are so bad at solving conflicts.
Blaming is an easy way out—we make someone else responsible rather than owning our part. That’s why simple issues escalate into bigger problems both in our personal or professional lives. We want to win the argument at any cost.
Playing the blame game fuels more tensions. Being right becomes more important than solving the issue at hand.
The best way to solve conflict is to confront it fairly. That’s the principle behind the 50-50 rule—focus on finding a solution, not on being right.
Everyone Is Equally Accountable
“It’s always easy to blame others. You can spend your entire life blaming the world, but your success and failures are entirely your own responsibility.” — Paulo Coelho
Couples with poor conflict-resolution skills typically engage in fight, flight, or freeze behaviors. Those who’ve learned to overcome tensions last the longest. That’s why I stick to the 50 percent-50 percent rule—when something goes wrong, each side is equally responsible.
I came up with this rule many years ago. I started putting it into practice with my wife—maybe that’s why we’ve been together for over 20 years. It’s not perfect, but it works most of the time.
I usually share the 50-50 rule when coaching teams—it’s a simple and effective way to address conflict in the workplace. However, it takes time and practice. Most people resist it initially—no one wants to be "partially guilty" in advance.
Indeed, this approach suggests that you remove the other part of 50 percent of the responsibility and put it on your shoulders. It feels counterintuitive, right? However, the point is not to make one more or less guilty—the goal is to approach conflict as equals. When no one is either right or wrong, it’s easier to focus on the solution.
Creating an even field moves people from blame to introspection—everyone focuses on finding a solution, not on finger-pointing.
The effectiveness of the 50-50 rule is that it makes both parties equally accountable. Each side shares responsibility for:
- Having caused the problem
- Finding the best way to solve it
- Benefitting from the solution
The 50-50 rule not only removes the blame, but it also shifts our mindset.
1. From being “right or wrong” to integrating both perspectives
Most people approach conflict as a battle—being right equals winning. The problem is, no one wants to be proven wrong. Shift the conversation from right-or-wrong to integrating opposite perspectives.
2. From taking sides to being fair
When you must choose between two choices, you usually end solving the wrong problem. Un-ask the question instead. Taking sides will only make one person extremely happy and the other one very upset—it will fuel more tensions. The 50-50 rule brings fairness by eliminating the sides.
3. From being defensive to empathizing
Tensions turn people against each other—they see the other party as the enemy. Removing emotions is critical to driving a resolution. When there’s no right or wrong, people put their energy on understanding each other’s needs and perspectives.
4. From blaming the other to collaborating
Blaming is an easy way out. It’s easier to point fingers than to realize that we all can improve our behavior. Acknowledging that everyone is equally accountable shifts the focus from blaming to collaborating.
5. From winning an argument to solving the problem
The benefit of collaboration is to approach conflict with a problem-solving mentality. Winning is not about defeating the other side but finding a solution that will benefit everyone.
How to Implement the 50-50 Rule
Taking ownership of our actions, rather than blaming others, dramatically improves our performance. That’s the key benefit of the 50-50 rule.
Researchers at Stanford and the University of Michigan found that companies that attributed their problems to their actions instead of external factors perform much better.
Here are some tips to get you started.
1. Own your part: Next time you have a conflict, rather than blame the other party, reflect on what you can improve. Ask yourself: What can I do better? How are my behavior or attitudes—intentionally or not—adding fuel to the fire? What can I change on my end?
2. Remind others of the 50-50 rule: The upside of owning your part is that people must be accountable for theirs too—the 50-50 rule is a two-way street. For things to work, both sides must be aware and play under the same principle.
3. Look at what’s right on each side: Building on what’s already working gets quicker results than focusing on what’s wrong. By removing the blame, you can focus on what each side is right about and try to connect both with a “Yes, and…” approach.
4. Promote healthy dialogue: Arguments take us nowhere—we try to defeat others, rather than to understand what’s going on. Ask questions, invite people to reflect, and have a productive conversation. Understanding requires time and effort, but it’s more effective than quick fixes.
5. Encourage empathy: Focus on understanding the other person, instead of trying to assume that you know her/him. Most tensions are not about an issue intrinsically but emotional entanglement. People get upset because they don’t feel understood—effective conflict resolution requires walking in the other person’s shoes. Be patient and listen.
6. Remove yourself from the equation: If you are the decision-maker (a manager, parent, etc.), don’t try to be the hero. It’s tempting to be the smartest guy in the room who comes up with a wise solution. Let those affected find the solutions—it drives more buy-in. Unless it’s a life-threatening situation, don’t feel forced to decide on behalf of others.
7. Suggest a time-out: Silence is the think-tank of the soul, as I explained here. Distancing ourselves from our problems allows the solution to show up uninvited. When conflict gets too personal, it’s almost impossible to see things through with clarity. Let things simmer down.
The 50-50 rule removes blaming and focuses on finding fair solutions instead. Give it a try, and let me know how it works.