MacKay: Covey makes case for 'The 3rd Alternative'

We live in a culture where compromise seems impossible. A meeting of the minds may consist of agreeing that the other party is wrong and the situation is hopeless. We sure can't look to our political leaders, the ultimate dealmakers, because the chasms are too great.

Can this trend be reversed? Can't we all just get along?

According to Stephen Covey, one of the brightest business brains I know, the outlook is promising. His new book, "The 3rd Alternative," presents one of the most positive approaches to this universal issue that I have seen.

You remember Covey from his megaseller, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," which has helped millions organize their lives and their thinking. He briefly introduced this concept in that book, calling it "the most catalytic, the most empowering, the most unifying and the most exciting" of all the principles he wrote about.

Covey defines 3rd Alternative as not my way; not your way; it's a third way we create together that is better than what either of us is thinking. When facing a critical difference with someone, you ask, "Would you be willing to work with me to create a solution that is better than what either of us wants now?"

Conflict is a natural part of life. "Life is full of problems. Problems that seem impossible to solve," he writes. "... we lose hope, give up, or settle for a compromise that doesn't feel so good in the end."

Covey says his 3rd Alternative works equally well on a playground, a battlefield, a boardroom, a legislative chamber or a family kitchen. And he says it is "the key to solving life's most difficult problems."

To solve them, he continues, "we must radically change our thinking."

Covey has organized the book into chapters that deal specifically with applying the 3rd Alternative at work, at home, at school, within the law, in society, in the world and living an Alternative life. The anecdotal examples are helpful in that you can place yourself in similar situations. He explains the significance of creating positive synergy so that it isn't just another buzzword.

Finally, he presents 20 solutions that a successful 3rd Alternative thinker will employ -- from the inside out. I'd like to emphasize a few of them:

•"Beware of pride. Let go of needing always to be 'right.'" How difficult is it to abandon your "perfect" idea for what may be a much better solution? I know that's a struggle for me often enough. But knowing how alternative thinking can improve so many situations, I'm more than willing to work on this one.

•"Read widely -- it's one of the best ways to make mental connections and get insights that can lead to 3rd Alternatives." I couldn't agree more.

•"Make quiet time for yourself to think through creative 3rd Alternative solutions to your challenges." As important as it is to be able to think on your feet, you sometimes need time to sleep on an idea or separate yourself from the conflict long enough to cool down and reframe your thoughts.

•"Learn how to become enthusiastically relentless about discovering how to create great wins for others -- wins that increase their peace, their happiness, and their prosperity. It will become infectious, and you may often find others seeking the same for you." This is perhaps the most important lesson to learn, and to me it means you have achieved a new mind-set. And I have learned that the biggest lesson in negotiating is: If every party can feel some sense of victory, the solution is usually the right one and success is more likely.

Stephen Covey knows his stuff. I've learned plenty from him, and "The 3rd Alternative" presents a refreshing perspective on negotiating, problem solving and human relations. Two sides to every argument? No argument here -- this book will change your life.

Mackay's Moral: Change your thinking, change your life.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail Distributed by United Feature Syndicate.

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