A few days ago, I was pulled into a controversy at my local church that I thought was very minor, even petty. For or the others involved, it was a major dispute. As I was thinking about ways to resolve this disagreement, a coworker asked me to write a short piece on a 150- year-old method of comparing unlike items called Paired Comparison Analysis. Through my reading I discovered that this method is being used by some courts and judges to resolve civil issues. This fact really piqued my interest. Perhaps this was the way to resolve the dispute.
The Paired Comparison Method
Simply put, all issues are listed (six to ten issues seem to work best) and then are presented in pairs to all the other parties; for each pair the person selects the idea or solution that best satisfies the specified criterion. The theory of this method is that each item in the list is compared to every other item in pairs, thus the name, Pair Comparison Analysis. Item A is compared to item B, then to item C, to D, and so on. This forces a choice between two options; i.e. strongly prefers A to B but only slightly prefers A to C. The following is an example as to how it might be used in my case:
The controversy is over a significant number of dishes stored in the Church kitchen. The dishes are seldom, if ever used. The exception is the use of cups for a yearly tea party. The chair of that committee is so adamant the cups are not to be used any other time of year. Another committee chair will not allow the dishes to be used at all as it causes too much work cleaning up. Another committee chair states that the dishes should be sold and the storage used for other items. Each person places his/her choice in the white boxes. One person might feel selling is the best option and other storage is better.
After everyone has considered the items, the facilitator or leader compares the results and logs them on the Paired Comparison Analysis Tool.
While the information is subjective, the comparison gives the group four pieces of information: each person’s score, the score of the group, team ranking of the items, and the degree of consensus. The degree of consensus is important to understanding the deeper issues. If the degree is too high, your team may be too close to the problem and have already convinced themselves of the issues (group think mentality). If the degree is low or shows polarity, more investigation and discussion is needed. By uncovering the hidden issues, the group can better address the needs of its members, address and then move beyond the conflict.
If your team is having issues that are restraining or even halting progress on your team’s mission, give this tool a try.