Skip to content

Discover the Power of Smart Conflict

Book in Circle
  • Unlock the secret to fulfilling relationships by acquiring insight, tackling challenges head-on, and reshaping your interactions.
  • Engage in a journey of self-discovery, where you learn to identify and break patterns that have held you back in the past.
  • Dive into proven strategies for managing conflict, drawing from a wealth of both professional and personal insights. 
  • Elevate your connections with loved ones through enhanced interpersonal skills. 

"Smart Conflict" equips you with advanced conflict resolution techniques, revealing the blueprint for meaningful improvement in all your relationships.

Embrace the opportunity to handle conflicts with authenticity, paving the way for true achievement. With each chapter, you’ll find yourself more empowered to create an atmosphere of understanding and respect, both in your personal life and professional environment.

This is your chance to transform the way you interact with the world around you, fostering harmony and fostering lasting connections.

  • Master the art of navigating workplace hurdles while building stronger bonds.
  • Discover innovative methods to turn every professional challenge into an opportunity for growth and collaboration.
  • Learn how to foster an environment where constructive criticism and diverse opinions are not just welcomed, but celebrated. 
  • Learn how a deep understanding of power dynamics and the flow of emotional energy can arm you with practical wisdom for everyday scenarios.

Reader Testimonial

"Smart Conflict is a practical guide that enlightens the reader about key communication skills... impacting both their work and personal relationships."

Vickie Perron, Director, The Clarity and Mindset Center


Meet the Author

Kat Newport

Kat Newport, ACC, is Conflict Educator, mediator, Conflict Coach, and author of "Smart Conflict: Turning Disputes into Growth Opportunities." Kat's heart-centered approach to interpersonal conflict sets her apart, "Smart Conflict," offers a relationship-focused take on conflict management, diving deeper into techniques and self-reflection to empower readers to navigate conflicts with clarity and grace.

Based on her popular SMART Conflict workshop, the book provides practical insights and strategies for engaging in professional and personal conflicts with confidence. Through her writing, Kat seeks to help individuals understand how conflict impacts their peace of mind and to cultivate a culture of collaboration and trust in their relationships.

As an active member of the coaching, leadership and mediation communities, Kat embodies excellence and resilience in her work. Her commitment to empowering individuals and organizations shines through in both her professional practice and her authorship, as she continues to inspire others to embrace conflict as a catalyst for growth and creativity.

Amazon (1)
Click the Amazon image to order your copy.

Reader Testimonial

"Kat expertly guides the reader to assess their contribution to the conflict, understanding that it takes two to tango, and she provides practical steps to change our approach to one of self-awareness, curiosity, collaboration and harmony.'"

Daniel Olexa, Leadership Mastery Coach, Transcendent Living, LLC

What is Smart Conflict?


"I am now confident to step into the various roles in my life and not be afraid to have conflict."

BN, Boca Raton, FL, USA

What Kind of Conflict Manager are You?

Explore your conflict management style - take the assessment now!

Unveil whether you operate from the "Burdened Backpack," "Lighthouse of Empathy," or "Hot Reactor" zone, and gain valuable insights into what each of these styles means for your approach to conflict resolution. 

Don't miss this opportunity to better understand yourself and enhance your conflict management skills!

Untangling Tensions

Smart Conflict: Untangling Tensions reviews how habits we have influence our ability to maneuver through conflict resolutions. We will cover: - Navigating Conflict with Insight: Untangling Tensions for Positive Change - Breaking Destructive Patterns: A Journey from Prediction to Understanding - Talk Like a Pro: Fostering Open-Minded Collaboration Through Active Listening



The Art of The Apology

Smart Conflict: The Art of the Apology - Explore how a well crafted and sincere apology can help resolve or avoid conflict. Learn practical tips to help you craft your apologies in professional and personal situations.

Learn more:


From Bias to Belonging

Smart Conflict: From Bias to Belonging

Do you ever feel like people always disappoint you? That they live up to the narrative you have about them in your head?

It's true! 

These internal stories you have gathered throughout your life can impact how you communicate and, more importantly, how much conflict you find yourself in and how effectively you can resolve it.

Learn more:


Reader Testimonial

"The term "Smart Conflict" describes the subject matter of the book, but also, in my view, describes the competence and breadth of its authorship."

Blaine Donais, President and Founder, Workplace Fairness International

Is groupthink hindering innovation in your workplace?

Sailing Through Challenges: Wisdom for Workplace Conflict

Workplace conflict is an unavoidable aspect of organizational dynamics, often underestimated for its influence on financial health and overall productivity. A 2008 CPP report reveals a staggering $350 billion worth of work hours lost to conflicts in U.S. workplaces annually, emphasizing the urgency for organizations to proactively address and manage conflicts. In this article, we will explore the reasons why neglecting workplace conflict is detrimental to organizational success and delve into the positive outcomes of fostering a culture that encourages open communication and creative collaboration.

Financial Implications

Addressing the financial implications of unresolved workplace conflict is crucial. Beyond immediate costs associated with disputes, such as legal fees and settlements, there is a significant loss in work hours that could have been dedicated to more productive tasks. Unresolved conflicts lead to absenteeism, reduced productivity, and increased employee turnover. Proactively addressing conflicts enables organizations to mitigate these financial losses, ensuring a healthier bottom line.

Consider a case within one of our client organizations where a remote employee faced summary termination during a site visit by a manager. The termination resulted from the employee not being physically present on-site during the visit, a fact unknown to the manager. Unfortunately, no prior conversation had taken place between the manager and the employee regarding the expectations during the visit.

The miscommunication led to the employee launching a wrongful dismissal suit, resulting in an out-of-court settlement of $80,000CAN. This case vividly demonstrates the significant financial repercussions of not addressing workplace conflicts proactively. The lack of a difficult conversation, assumptions made, and subsequent legal proceedings cost the organization a substantial amount – approximately $80,000 in this instance.

Psychological Safety

Thriving in environments where psychological safety is paramount is crucial. Creating a workplace culture that encourages open dialogue and the expression of diverse ideas without fear of negative repercussions is essential for building psychological safety. When employees feel secure in sharing their thoughts, concerns, and feedback, it fosters a sense of trust and belonging, leading to higher job satisfaction, increased engagement, and improved overall well-being.

In a pivotal meeting where we navigated a weighty discussion, focused on generating swift solutions through brainstorming, an incident underscored the importance of psychological safety within the team dynamics.

As the conversation unfolded, a team member proposed an idea, only to face a disparaging remark from a senior manager. The atmosphere tensed, with an awkward silence engulfing the space. The individual who made the recommendation visibly turned red, overcome with embarrassment.

Sensing the palpable shift in the room, the manager attempted to rectify the situation with a laugh, stating, "Just kidding! I was just kidding." However, this attempt at levity proved insufficient to repair the damage caused by the initial disparaging remark.

This real-life scenario illustrates how a momentary lapse in psychological safety can disrupt team dynamics and hinder the collaborative spirit necessary for effective problem-solving. It emphasizes the importance of fostering an environment where team members feel secure in expressing their ideas without fear of ridicule, ensuring a conducive atmosphere for innovation and open communication.

Creativity and Innovation

Conflict, when managed constructively, serves as a catalyst for creativity and innovation. Differing perspectives and ideas often emerge during conflicts, leading to breakthrough solutions and enhanced problem-solving. However, leaders must be aware of potential pitfalls that hinder creativity within teams.

Challenges and Solutions: Groupthink: One common challenge is the phenomenon of groupthink, where team members prioritize conformity over critical thinking, stifling creativity. Leaders should actively encourage diverse viewpoints, fostering a culture that values independent thinking.

"We've Always Done It This Way" Mentality: Another obstacle to innovation is the entrenched "we've always done it this way" mentality. Leaders need to challenge the status quo, promoting a culture of continuous improvement and encouraging a willingness to experiment and learn from failures.

Employee Retention

Retaining top talent is an ongoing challenge for organizations. Employees who feel unheard or unsupported in the face of conflicts may become disengaged and seek opportunities elsewhere. Proactively handling workplace conflicts demonstrates a commitment to employee well-being and satisfaction, reducing turnover and preserving institutional knowledge.

Within one of our client organizations undergoing operational changes and cost-cutting measures, a decision was made to part ways with a long-standing team member who held crucial connections with various operational teams. The rationale behind this move was rooted in the organization's efforts to streamline and economize.

Regrettably, the execution of this decision lacked transparency and strategic communication. The departure of the team member was swift, and the organization chose not to announce this significant change to the remaining staff. Unbeknownst to the leadership, the aftermath of this decision had far-reaching consequences.

The absence of a clear announcement resulted in a noticeable reduction in psychological safety among the remaining team members. Witnessing the abrupt departure of a longstanding colleague without understanding the context left a void, fostering uncertainty and unease.

In the subsequent months, team members who had observed this departure began actively exploring alternative employment opportunities. The lack of communication regarding the departure had planted seeds of doubt and dissatisfaction. Within eight months of the removal of the long-standing team member, the organization experienced the departure of six key members from their team.

This real-life scenario underscores the critical link between transparent communication, employee retention, and organizational stability. The unintended consequence of losing key team members highlights the importance of thoughtful communication strategies during periods of change, ensuring that employees feel valued and informed to maintain a stable and engaged workforce.

Enhanced Team Dynamics

A workplace with unresolved conflicts can suffer from strained team dynamics, leading to a toxic work environment and hindering collaboration. Proactive conflict resolution fosters healthy communication and strengthens team dynamics, encouraging effective collaboration among team members.

Tips for Leaders to Manage Conflict

  • Promote Open Communication: Encourage team members to express thoughts and concerns openly, creating a culture where everyone feels comfortable sharing opinions.
  • Active Listening: Leaders should actively listen to understand underlying issues, giving full attention, paraphrasing, and asking clarifying questions.
  • Define Clear Expectations: Establish clear expectations and guidelines for team behavior and performance to prevent misunderstandings and reduce potential conflicts.
  • Encourage Diverse Perspectives: Actively seek and encourage diverse viewpoints within the team, embracing different ideas that can lead to innovative solutions.
  • Foster a Culture of Continuous Improvement: Challenge the "we've always done it this way" mentality by promoting continuous improvement, celebrating successes, and viewing failures as learning opportunities.
  • Implement Conflict Resolution Strategies: Equip leaders and team members with conflict resolution skills, including mediation techniques, negotiation skills, and the ability to find common ground.
  • Lead by Example: Model constructive conflict resolution behavior, demonstrating openness to feedback, willingness to consider different perspectives, and a commitment to collaborative solutions.

By addressing groupthink and breaking free from outdated mentalities, leaders can harness the full creative potential of their teams, driving innovation and fostering a dynamic work environment that attracts and retains top talent.

In conclusion, proactively managing workplace conflict is not just about resolving disputes; it is a strategic imperative for organizational success. The financial implications, impact on psychological safety, potential for creativity and innovation, positive effects on employee retention, and enhancement of team dynamics collectively underscore the importance of embracing conflict resolution as a core organizational competency. Organizations that invest in proactive conflict management strategies cultivate a workplace culture that not only navigates conflicts but thrives on them, ensuring sustained success and growth.

CPP Global. (2008). Human Capital Report. Mountain View: CPP.

How do introverts and extroverts navigate conflict differently?

Navigating the Gray Area: Understanding Introverts and Extroverts in Conflict

As leaders and conflict coaches, we understand that effective conflict resolution is not just about addressing the issue at hand but also understanding the individuals involved. One crucial aspect of this understanding is recognizing the spectrum between introversion and extroversion. While we often categorize people into these two distinct camps, the reality is far more nuanced, and these tendencies exist on a spectrum rather than a binary divide.

Introverts are often seen as quiet, introspective, and reserved, while extroverts are viewed as outgoing, expressive, and social. However, people are rarely exclusively one or the other. Instead, we all fall somewhere along the introversion-extroversion spectrum, exhibiting a mix of traits and behaviors. This spectrum acknowledges that every person has unique preferences and tendencies for how they recharge, communicate, and engage with the world.

In the context of conflict resolution, these introverted and extroverted tendencies can play a significant role. It's essential to recognize that these differences can lead to distinct approaches to conflict and communication. Understanding these tendencies can help us bridge the gap and foster more effective conflict resolution.

Introverted Tendencies in Conflict:

Introverts may prefer thoughtful, private reflection. They tend to process information internally before expressing their thoughts and emotions. In a conflict situation, introverts might:

  • Take their time to respond: Introverts may need time to process their thoughts and feelings before responding to a conflict. This can be mistaken for indifference, but it's often their way of ensuring a considered response.
  • Avoid confrontation: Introverts may shy away from direct confrontations and prefer more subtle, indirect approaches to address conflicts.
  • Seek one-on-one discussions: Introverts often feel more comfortable discussing conflicts privately rather than in a group setting.

Extroverted Tendencies in Conflict:

Extroverts, on the other hand, may lean towards open communication and external processing. They are typically more inclined to express their thoughts and emotions outwardly. In a conflict situation, extroverts might:

  • Address conflicts immediately: Extroverts may feel compelled to address conflicts head-on, often in a group or public setting, which can be overwhelming for introverts.
  • Express emotions openly: Extroverts are more likely to express their emotions and reactions openly, which can be seen as a lack of restraint by introverts.
  • Engage in group discussions: Extroverts often prefer discussing conflicts within a group, which can be intimidating for introverts who might feel outnumbered.

To bridge the gap between these introverted and extroverted tendencies, here are some tips:

  • Active listening: Encourage both introverts and extroverts to actively listen to each other. Introverts should make an effort to express their thoughts and feelings while extroverts need to give space for introspective individuals to speak.
  • Private and public communication: Offer opportunities for private one-on-one discussions and group discussions. This allows introverts and extroverts to express themselves in ways that suit their preferences.
  • Patience and understanding: Encourage patience and understanding among team members. Introverts may need time to gather their thoughts, while extroverts may need to moderate their emotional expressions.
  • Encourage diverse perspectives: Highlight the value of diverse communication styles and perspectives in conflict resolution. Emphasize that both introverted and extroverted tendencies have their strengths.
  • Conflict resolution training: Consider providing conflict resolution training that addresses different communication styles and how to navigate conflicts effectively with individuals who have varying tendencies.

Understanding the nuances of introverted and extroverted tendencies is essential for successful conflict resolution. These tendencies are not a binary distinction but rather a spectrum of personality traits. By embracing these differences and fostering an environment that respects and integrates both styles, we can create more harmonious and effective conflict resolution processes.

Remember, the key to successful conflict resolution is not in erasing differences but in harnessing the power of diversity to arrive at innovative and holistic solutions.

How does "be reasonable" shape interactions?

Reasonableness: Shaping Relationships and Conflict Resolution

Understanding "reasonableness" means seeing things from personal experiences. In this article, we'll explore its complexity and share practical tips for better relationships.

Reasonableness is Personal: It's all about personal views shaped by experiences, values, and expectations. This can lead to conflicts when different views clash in different areas of our lives.

How to Be Reasonable:

  • Know Your Limits: Understand what might affect your judgment, like stress or fatigue.
  • Be Kind to Yourself: Everyone has times when they aren't their most reasonable. Being kind to yourself helps you grow.

Being Reasonable Over Time:

  • Check In Real-Time: See how reasonable you can be in the moment, considering your emotions and the situation.
  • Think Long-Term: Your ability to be reasonable can change over time as you gain more experience and a broader perspective.

Different Perspectives:

  • Stay Open-Minded: Understand that what seems reasonable can change based on new info and personal growth.
  • Talk It Out: Create an open communication environment to share perspectives and understand what's considered reasonable.

Tips for Better Relationships:

  • Be Flexible: Everyone has different expectations, so be open to differences.
  • Listen Actively: Understand others' perspectives by really listening.
  • Share Your Thoughts: Clearly express your own views on what's reasonable.
  • Keep Learning: Learn from experiences to shape your understanding of what's reasonable in the future.

Conflict Resolution: To handle conflicts, be self-aware, empathetic, and use neutral language. By being open-minded and embracing diverse views on what's reasonable, you can find better solutions.

In Conclusion: Understanding reasonableness is a nuanced concept tied to personal experiences. Building good relationships, whether at work or home, means being flexible and open-minded about what's considered reasonable. By grasping the personal side of reasonableness and communicating well, you can create healthier connections with others.

How can we grow during conflict?

Interpersonal conflict - a phrase that evokes images of heated arguments, raised voices, and hurtful words. Just the thought of conflict can trigger physical reactions like sweaty palms, upset stomachs, and racing hearts. Yet, amidst these visceral responses, it's essential to understand the nature of interpersonal conflict and how we navigate it in our daily lives.

Most conflicts we encounter in a day may seem trivial in hindsight. Simple disagreements like who gets in the elevator first or correcting a coworker's mistake are commonplace occurrences. However, when conflicts become more personal or escalate, we often find ourselves reacting instinctively, without considering the consequences.

The challenge lies in our upbringing and learned behaviors. Many of us were never taught how to handle interpersonal conflict positively and effectively. Our reactions to conflict are often shaped by past experiences, whether it's withdrawing, lashing out, or avoiding confrontation altogether.

But why does it matter? Because how we manage conflict directly impacts our relationships and personal growth. Take a moment to reflect on your typical reactions to conflict. Do you tend to yell, withdraw, or seek resolution through dialogue? Now, consider how others perceive your conflict management style. Their perspective may offer valuable insights into areas for improvement.

Once you've identified your habitual reactions to conflict, ask yourself: "Does this align with the person I want to be?" If not, it's time to replace reactive behaviors with thoughtful responses. This shift requires conscious effort and a commitment to personal growth.

Examining our responses to conflict allows us to:

  • Change our mindset
  • Grow into our ideal selves
  • Foster healthier relationships at home, work, and beyond

Ultimately, we all strive to be good people who don't intentionally hurt others. By challenging our automatic reactions and adopting more constructive approaches to conflict resolution, we can create a future aligned with our values and aspirations.

So, why should we think about interpersonal conflict at all? Because in doing so, we open ourselves up to growth, understanding, and the possibility of creating more meaningful connections in our lives.

(Note: This article focuses on interpersonal conflict. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger due to conflict, please seek assistance from local authorities or support services in your community.)

Why do we assume the worst in conflict?

We have all done this - taken a word, gesture, facial expression or email and imbued it with multiple layers of meaning. Drawing fantastical motivations and distilling them into terrible consequences.

The mind races. All the hamsters that gnaw on the wiring of your brain add a piece to your puzzle. The result - a fully formed story framed by you, that causes emotions to run wild and social bonds to be affected.


Let me demonstrate with an example:

  • Gregor got an email from Ash. Ash's email points out multiple issues with Gregor's year end report. Ash asks Gregor to fix his mistakes.

Sounds fairly simple and straight forward... right?  But wait...

  • Ash has recently been promoted to this job. A job Gregor wanted. Gregor is upset by this.

The plot thickens...

  • Gregor is convinced that Ash is threatened by him. Ash is new to the company and fears Gregor's competence.

Here it comes...

  • Gregor concludes Ash is trying to get him fired and by finding mistakes on his year end report Ash is finally starting their wicked plan... because... you know... Gregor's report has always been flawless.

And just like that, a small request for corrections on a report has become an evil plot to get Gregor fired.

Gregor now has a choice:

  1. Let the hamsters win.  Tell anyone who will listen of Ash's plot and how evil they are. Stay awake at night worrying about the next step in Ash's plan. Figure out a counter-plan to get Ash fired... the list is endless.
  2. Gain perspective. Respond in a professional and calm way.

The choice is up to you... or in this example, Gregor.

Response #1 is not a good choice for many reasons that you, Friend, have already figured out on your own:

  • Gossip in the workplace undermines motivation.
  • Colleagues not effectively working together reduces productivity.
  • Escalation in conflict between co-workers affects not only the people involved but others.
  • Mental and emotional health issues may result for people involved.

So, you may be wondering, how do we short-circuit our hamster thinking and get the best possible future for ourselves?

Step #1 - Stop - Know when you are hamster thinking.  Fast!

Knowing when your thoughts are getting carried away quickly is a key to shutting them down. As you become aware of these thoughts, you may start to see a pattern. (For example, my catastrophic thinking hamster comes around so often, I call her "Gladys" and have conversations with her.)

Step #2 - Recognize - Name that hamster.

Figure out your trigger and evaluate it more objectively - are you fearful? Worried? Unsure?

(For example, "No, Gladys, the baby coughing does not mean he is choking to death.)

Step #3 - Remember - most folks are nice.

Most people are just trying to get through their day, just like you.  They have their own hamsters and worries and tasks.  Most people are driven by the core desire to be nice.

(Yes, I know, there are lots of people who were not nice... some folks have trouble knowing how... while telling them how nasty they are may resolve your emotional discomfort... what are you really accomplishing?)

Step #4 - Envision.  Think into the future.

Think about what you want your future with this person to look like.  Think about how this situation will best be resolved for you.

For example, you want a good and supportive relationship with your sister... even through she gave you a bathroom scale for your birthday.) 

Step #5 - Choose.

Choose how best to respond.  Don't react but respond.  What is your best course of action in this moment to get you to the future you want in this situation and with this person.

How would this look for our fictional Friend Gregor?

  • Stop the racing thoughts - No, Gregor, you are not going to get fired.
  • Recognize the source - Gregor is hurt and frustrated over not getting the promotion.
  • Remember - Ash is trying to do their job as best they can.
  • Envision - How does Gregor want his work life to look?
  • Choose - Gregor can review his report again and make corrections and, if confused, ask Ash for clarification about their feedback.

 How would this look with your sister's bathroom scale gift?

  • Stop - No, she doesn't think you're a fat pig.
  • Recognize - You are self conscious about how people see you.
  • Remember - Your sister made an effort to get you a gift.
  • Envision - You want a close and supportive relationship.
  • Choose - Thank her for her gift and make plans to go out and chat about your hobbies and things you like.  This will help her next time when she needs to choose a gift and it starts to deepen your relationship.

We are all stars of the show that is our life.

We are just background players in the lives of most other folks.

Even more importantly, as the director of your life, you get to cast who (if anyone) is the evil villain, the comedy relief or the love interest.

You choose.

What tools can help transform conflict into growth?

Conflict is an inevitable aspect of human interaction, occurring in various settings such as workplaces, relationships, and communities. While conflict itself is not inherently negative, how it is managed can significantly impact outcomes. The use of quality tools can provide structured and analytical approaches to conflict resolution, enhancing understanding and collaboration among parties involved. In this article, we'll explore how different quality tools, including SWOT analysis, the Eisenhower Matrix, and the Fishbone Diagram, can be employed to manage conflicts constructively.

SWOT Analysis: Identifying Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats

SWOT analysis is a strategic tool widely used in business contexts, but its applicability extends to conflict management. This tool involves identifying an entity's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, which can be translated into assessing various aspects of a conflict.

In conflict management:

  • Strengths: Identifying the strengths of individuals or groups involved can help recognize the potential contributions each party brings to the table. By acknowledging these strengths, parties can collaborate effectively to address the conflict.
  • Weaknesses: Recognizing weaknesses helps parties empathize with each other's limitations. This can foster understanding and encourage a more compassionate approach during discussions.
  • Opportunities: Looking at opportunities within a conflict situation involves finding common ground and potential areas for compromise. Identifying shared goals can steer the focus away from differences and towards mutual interests.
  • Threats: Threats can be external factors that exacerbate conflicts. By acknowledging these threats, parties can strategize on how to address them collectively.
Eisenhower Matrix: Prioritizing Tasks and Concerns

The Eisenhower Matrix, also known as the Urgent-Important Matrix, is a time management tool that can be adapted for conflict resolution. It involves categorizing tasks or concerns into four quadrants based on their urgency and importance.

In conflict management:

  • Urgent and Important: Conflicts that require immediate attention, such as those involving safety or legal matters, fall into this quadrant. Quick and decisive action is crucial to prevent escalation.
  • Important but Not Urgent: This quadrant includes conflicts that may not demand immediate action but should be addressed before they escalate. Taking a proactive approach can prevent further complications.
  • Urgent but Not Important: Some conflicts may appear urgent but aren't of high significance. These conflicts can be dealt with efficiently, potentially by delegating them to the appropriate parties.
  • Neither Urgent nor Important: Conflicts in this quadrant may not warrant immediate attention and can be set aside. It's important to discern whether these conflicts are worth investing time and effort in resolving.
Fishbone Diagram: Analyzing Root Causes

The Fishbone Diagram, also known as the Ishikawa or Cause-and-Effect Diagram, is used to identify the root causes of a problem. This tool can be valuable for understanding the underlying issues in a conflict.

In conflict management:

  • Categories: The "bones" of the fishbone diagram represent different categories related to the conflict. These could be communication, resources, processes, attitudes, or any relevant factors.
  • Causes: Within each category, potential causes of the conflict are listed. This encourages parties to delve deeper into the contributing factors rather than focusing solely on surface-level disagreements.
  • Analysis: The diagram aids in visualizing how various causes interact and contribute to the conflict. This holistic view helps parties grasp the complexity of the situation and work towards comprehensive solutions.

In conclusion, conflict management is enhanced by the application of quality tools that promote structured analysis, strategic thinking, and collaborative problem-solving. The SWOT analysis aids in recognizing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, leading to a more balanced and empathetic approach. The Eisenhower Matrix enables prioritization of tasks and concerns, helping parties address conflicts efficiently and prevent escalation. The Fishbone Diagram facilitates the identification of root causes, guiding parties toward comprehensive and lasting solutions.

By incorporating these quality tools into conflict resolution processes, individuals and organizations can foster open communication, mutual understanding, and sustainable resolutions that benefit all parties involved. Remember, conflict is an opportunity for growth and positive change when managed effectively.

Why should you train your team in conflict management?

In any collaborative environment, conflicts are bound to arise due to diverse perspectives, goals, and working styles. When these disputes emerge within a team or group, it's crucial to have a toolkit of practical methods that can be employed for resolution without the need for external mediation or formal arbitration. By leveraging these tangible tools, teams can address conflicts head-on, foster understanding, and strengthen their collaborative dynamics.

  • Facilitated Dialogue Sessions: Convening facilitated dialogue sessions provides a structured platform for team members to express their concerns and viewpoints in a controlled and respectful manner. A skilled facilitator guides the discussion, ensuring that all voices are heard and encouraging active listening. Through this open conversation, participants can work together to identify common ground and potential solutions.
  • Structured Problem-Solving Frameworks: Utilizing structured problem-solving frameworks, such as the "Five Whys" or the "Fishbone Diagram," can help teams delve into the root causes of conflicts. These frameworks encourage systematic analysis and exploration of underlying issues, enabling the team to collaboratively brainstorm solutions that address the core challenges.
  • Collaborative Brainstorming Sessions: Gathering the team for brainstorming sessions focused on conflict resolution can yield creative solutions. The aim is to generate a variety of ideas without judgment. Once a pool of potential solutions is created, the team can collectively evaluate and refine these ideas to find the best approach for resolving the conflict.
  • Role Play and Simulation: Role-playing scenarios related to the conflict allows team members to step into each other's shoes and experience different perspectives. This immersive exercise promotes empathy and understanding by providing insight into the challenges faced by others. It can be an effective tool for breaking down barriers and finding common ground.
  • SWOT Analysis: Conducting a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis in the context of the conflict can help the team identify internal and external factors influencing the situation. This analysis provides a comprehensive view of the conflict's nuances and potential avenues for resolution.
  • Conflict Resolution Workshops: Periodic conflict resolution workshops can equip team members with the necessary skills and tools to manage conflicts effectively. These workshops offer training in active listening, negotiation, empathy, and problem-solving techniques that can be applied in real-world situations.
  • Consensus Building with Nominal Group Technique: Employing the Nominal Group Technique (NGT) is a practical tool for consensus building. In NGT, team members individually generate ideas and solutions related to the conflict. These ideas are then shared and discussed openly, allowing participants to rank and prioritize the options. The result is a structured decision-making process that fosters agreement.
  • Feedback Loops and Continuous Improvement: Incorporating regular feedback loops and continuous improvement practices can prevent conflicts from escalating. Teams can conduct retrospective meetings to reflect on past conflicts, identify patterns, and implement process changes to minimize similar issues in the future.
  • Clear Communication Channels: Creating clear and open communication channels within the team is a fundamental tool for conflict prevention and resolution. Encouraging team members to voice their concerns and feedback regularly helps address issues before they escalate.
  • Coaching for Conflict Resolution: Introducing coaching as a method for conflict resolution can provide team members with personalized guidance. A skilled coach can work individually with team members to develop their conflict resolution skills, helping them manage their emotions, communicate effectively, and find common ground with their colleagues.

In summary, the successful resolution of conflicts within a team hinges on the practical tools and methods used to address underlying issues. By implementing facilitated dialogues, problem-solving frameworks, brainstorming sessions, consensus-building techniques, and other approaches, teams can collaboratively navigate conflicts, build understanding, and foster a culture of open communication and continuous improvement. Embracing these tools empowers teams to resolve conflicts autonomously, leading to stronger relationships and enhanced productivity.

How does inclusive language improve conflict?

In our fast-evolving professional landscape, nurturing a positive work environment is paramount for both employee satisfaction and business success. While conflicts are part and parcel of any workplace, how we manage them can make all the difference in fostering a cohesive team and a thriving organizational culture. Enter the game-changer: inclusive language. In this article, we'll explore how adopting inclusive language can effectively tackle and even prevent conflicts, leading to enhanced collaboration, mutual understanding, and overall prosperity.

Embracing Inclusivity through Language

Inclusive language entails communication that sidesteps biases, honors diversity, and acknowledges the worth of every individual within a company. It transcends mere  gender neutrality, extending to encompass various cultural, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds. The objective? To ensure that all employees feel not just recognized, but truly embraced, cultivating a genuine sense of belonging.

Navigating Conflicts: The Inclusive Way
  • Unintentional Sensitivities: Inclusive language goes a long way in avoiding accidental offenses stemming from cultural or personal differences. This approach involves using preferred pronouns and names, steering clear of assumptions about marital or familial situations, and adopting neutral terms to replace gender-specific ones. The result? Averted misunderstandings and potential conflicts.
  • Cultural Sensitivities: With diverse cultures come distinct communication norms and sensitivities. Inclusive language acts as a bridge across these differences, sidestepping potentially disrespectful terms and fostering an environment where employees from various backgrounds can flourish harmoniously, devoid of feelings of exclusion.
  • Facilitating Respectful Dialogues: More often than not, conflicts arise from miscommunication or a failure to grasp diverse perspectives. Inclusive language promotes open, respectful dialogues by fostering an atmosphere where individuals feel comfortable expressing their viewpoints without apprehension. When team members feel valued and understood, conflicts can transform into constructive conversations.
  • Fostering Empathy and Insight: Inclusive language encourages employees to appreciate different viewpoints and experiences. When language validates and respects each individual's unique journey, empathy and insight naturally follow. This shift reduces conflicts as employees gain a deeper understanding of one another's emotions and needs.
  • Curbing Discrimination and Harassment: The power of inclusive language extends to sending a clear message: discrimination and harassment have no place in the workplace. By focusing on abilities, qualities, and contributions rather than personal attributes, companies cultivate an environment that reveres diversity and actively discourages behaviors that lead to conflicts.
Putting Inclusive Language into Action
  • Empowerment through Education: Organizations can conduct training sessions that shed light on the significance of inclusive language and offer practical guidance for its seamless integration. Workshops, webinars, and informative resources can raise awareness and equip employees with tangible examples.
  • Lead the Way: Leadership plays a pivotal role in shaping organizational culture. When leaders consistently employ inclusive language, it sets a precedent for the rest of the team. This top-down approach underscores the organization's commitment to inclusivity.
  • Feedback and Flexibility: Encourage employees to share their insights on language usage and its effects. This feedback loop facilitates ongoing adaptation and refinement of communication strategies.
  • Guidelines for Success: Developing clear guidelines for using inclusive language in both internal and external communication is essential. These guidelines serve as a compass for employees, assisting them in selecting words that mirror the organization's values.

Inclusive language is not just a linguistic tweak; it's a potent tool for conflict management and prevention in the workplace. By fostering a culture of respect, understanding, and empathy, organizations can minimize conflicts, amplify collaboration, and build a culture where every team member feels valued and empowered. As workplaces continue to diversify, tapping into the potential of inclusive language isn't just strategic; it's a pivotal step toward crafting a brighter, more harmonious future for all. Let's make inclusivity our language of choice and watch our workplaces thrive.

How does change and risk impact conflict?

Change. Conflict conversations usually include some degree of change for all those involved. Change involves risk. Depending on your past, risk can by risky business, or it can be thrilling. Managing change and risk in a conflict conversation is important for successful outcomes.

Risk levels are driven by uncertainty. The more uncertainty, the more risk. The challenge here is, people really don’t like uncertainty and will cling to what they know is true even if it is not in their best interests.

This is one reason good innovations never make it off the ground. The thing about uncertainty is that it is worse than negative outcomes. Knowing you are going to miss a deadline is one thing, worrying about possibly missing the deadline is significantly worse.

In conflict conversations what does this mean?

  • Lessen the amount of uncertainty. If you are asking for something, make sure you can define what the outcomes are going to be and be certain about as much as you can.
  • Lessen the amount of change. Parcel out the change in bite sized pieces so that people have a change to experience uncertainty in little pieces instead of one big moment. For example, you want to start date night with your happily introverted partner. Instead of asking to go on a group vacation to start with, try starting with an intimate dinner out. Give something a try, without committing to the big thing and not being able to change back if the uncertainty or risk is intolerable.
  • Provide moments of delight and insight. If looking to deploy a new program at work, think about how the users can play with the system to get a new skill, insight, or product. Make it easy for them to try and succeed independently, reducing uncertainty and increasing the feeling of autonomy.

When looking at yourself in a conflict conversation, how do you see yourself managing your uncertainty in the situation?

Why do facts alone not solve conflict?

If you just give them facts, they will change their minds. Am I right? Nope! Rather than helping people come to the “right side” of a situation, providing facts and figures may trigger them to stick harder to their original (and now false) belief. The space between where they are and where the conflict needs them to be so everyone can move forward, is too great and was just made bigger by you proving everything they think is wrong.

Enter here confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the person’s bias towards information that only supports their position and nothing else. If you have a study, they will have a study. If you have facts, they will have counter facts. Both of you are now locked in a confirmation bias battle.

What are we going to do to move forward in the conflict conversation when the other person cannot “see reason”?

Think of it this way – the space you are asking the other person to jump is too large. You are asking them to jump over a river that is far too wide.

Start with steppingstones – to move someone away from a belief that may not be serving the relationship or the ultimate goal, provide a steppingstone that will bring them out of their position and a little bit closer to yours. Keep doing this until their position is more aligned with yours. Notice I did not say “the same as yours” here? That is on purpose. Do not expect the other person to agree with you completely. You need to be comfortable holding the concept that you are not going to get everything you want in a conflict conversation.

Figure out how far across the river you need to get this person. Knowing you are unlikely to get everything you want, start thinking about how much you do need. If you only need to get the other person to one quarter across the river, aim for that. The more you push, the more you’re trigger their stick-to-it-iveness in their original idea.

Know your distance to cover. 

Know how to break it down into manageable pieces. 

Stay curious and open minded!

Why do you need empathy in conflict?

Empathy and compassion. They sound like the same thing, but they are not. In conflict conversations, you need to have both. For yourself and for the others involved.

Empathy – the ability to understand how others may be feeling in a particular set of circumstances. With empathy, there is no requirement for you to have been in the exact position as the other person (and if you haven’t don’t say you have) but simply listen and acknowledge the situation the other person is in. This differs from sympathy – with sympathy, you have experienced the same situation and have experienced the nuances that go with it. That is why, if you have lost a loved one, at a funeral you can give your sympathies.

Compassion is empathy in motion. It is taking that concept of what the other person is experiencing and then taking action to support the other person through that situation. If someone has lost a big contract at work, you can empathize with the challenge that brings and then ask, “What can I do to support you right now?” Or you can help the person close the contract. These are offers of compassion.

In a conflict conversation listening to the other person’s perspective and then attempting to understand their motivations and feelings surrounding the situation is an act of empathy.
Why would I do that? You may be asking yourself. Think of your last prickly confrontation with someone. Did they listen to you? How much did you need them to hear and acknowledge your perspective? I am willing to surmise that you wanted that validation quite a bit. Being empathetic in a conflict conversation builds the relationship. Empathy in a conflict builds a bridge to the next level – negotiation. Without acknowledging the other’s perspective, you can rarely move past that desire for all parties to be herd.

In conflict, compassion is displayed in the negotiation phase. How can you encompass your wants and needs, and the other person’s wants and needs to reach an outcome that you are both comfortable with? This is empathy in action and you can clearly see how building empathy will lift you up into meaningful negotiation.

How does listening impact conflict resolution?

This is a multipart series on the importance of listening to support conflict resolution.


What role does listening play in resolving disputes?

When contemplating the myriad angles to address in a series of blog posts about conflict, I found myself drawn to a topic that often gets overlooked: listening. Amidst the myriad of words that come to mind when we think about conflict — arguments, confrontations, shouting matches, and so on — the art of truly listening stands out as a crucial yet often neglected aspect.

Listening, genuine listening, is a skill that holds profound significance in conflict resolution. Countless books have been written on the subject, with "Listen Like You Mean It" by Ximena Vengoechea being a personal favorite of mine. But why does listening matter so much in the context of conflict?

So much of conflict arises from misunderstandings and miscommunications. While we may engage in plenty of dialogue, the ability to listen with the intent to understand each other is a skill that requires practice for many of us.

Consider the last time you found yourself in a serious conversation. How much time did you spend rehearsing what you were going to say? How much mental energy did you invest in preparing sharp comebacks? Such behavior primes our brains to respond rather than to listen.

Tip #1: Future Focus Where it Counts

Instead of fixating on what you'll say and crafting witty retorts, envision the ideal outcome of the conversation. Imagine yourself in the future, having had a successful exchange with the other person. How does your relationship look? How do you feel? By focusing on this positive future scenario, you can chart a path towards achieving it.

Tip #2: Build in the Pause

Interrupting someone mid-sentence can make them feel unheard and undervalued. Conversely, being interrupted disrupts the flow of conversation and inhibits understanding. To counteract this, incorporate a pause before speaking. This allows both parties to gather their thoughts and ensures a more respectful exchange.

Tip #3: It's Not Enough to Listen, You Have to Look Like You're Listening

In today's fast-paced world, the temptation to multitask during conversations is strong. However, appearing distracted sends the message that the other person's words are not valued. To demonstrate genuine engagement, focus on your non-verbal cues. Maintain appropriate eye contact, manage your body language, and offer subtle nods to show you're actively listening.

By honing these listening skills, we can foster deeper understanding, promote meaningful dialogue, and ultimately, navigate conflicts more effectively. Stay tuned for more insights on conflict resolution in future posts.


How does active listening disarm conflict?

Don’t you hate it when someone is trying to persuade you to do something? You get that feeling all along your skin and your internal defense system starts sending up warning signals. If that persuasion goes to far, you double down on your position and write off any good ideas that the other person may have as them trying to take away your independence.

This is a common stance in conflict. One side trying desperately to change the mind of the other, not realizing that you are tripping the anti-influence defenses of your conflict conversation partner along the way making it harder to reach common ground.

People do not like feeling influenced. How do you move ahead trying to find common ground without tripping this defense.

Tips to not trigger the warning system:

  • Ask questions and listen deeply – make sure you are not dismissing the thoughts of the other person.
  • Ask for input on how they want to move forward and consider it, truly. How does it align with your position? Can this lead you towards the common goal?
  • State your position and ask for feedback. Learn where the tension lies between your position and theirs.
  • Provide a selection of options and allow others to choose the best way forward.

As you move forward in the relationship with your conflict conversation partner, remember that by allowing them to have agency in the decision, instead of ramming your idea down their throats, will get you closer to a resolution and preserve your relationship in the long run.

What does curiosity have to do with conflict?

This is a multi-part series about using curiosity in conflicts.


How does curiosity improve conflicts?

Think of a charismatic. Someone who delivers their message with gusto and enthusiasm. Someone who is ultimately convinced that their message is the right message, not only for them but for you. Do you have a picture in your head? Do they look like the hype-sales person on an advertisement (Shop now, this product will change your life!) or maybe a religious speaker (Do this to save your soul from damnation!) or someone else?

When we get into a heated conflict, we can sometimes become a late-night shopping channel spokes person driving our conflict conversation partner to convert to our idea now (do it now)! This has its dangers.

Think about the last time someone came at you with a message that was so strong and contradictory to your own and they would not take “no” for an answer. What did being exposed to that arrogance feel like:

  • Anxious?
  • Ready to change your mind?
  • Bored?
  • Smart and engaged?
  • Annoyed?
  • Fully embodying your individuality?
  • Avoidant?
  • Happy?

I am certain half of the above list may have come to mind, and not the positive half.

When someone comes at us like a spokesperson, we tend to shut down and tune them out. In a conflict conversation this is exactly what happens. When the conflict is not a conflict conversation (implying two-way communication and deep listening) there is no way to move forward while respecting the relationship.

How do you avoid this resistance to your message? Get curious! Ask questions instead of pushing your “buy now” message. Learn what it is that the other person is looking for in the situation so you can move forward together.

When negotiating, hold on to your core points. Do not try to get everything you want. This will require some advance work from you – know what your core points are and be able to negotiate the rest.

If you find yourself in the hard-sell seat, instead of rocketing in with your message, start by preparing your message with harmony in mind. What parts of this message can we move forward together on? How do I work around other points that are not so important?


Why is curiosity more effective than judgment in conflict?

Being judged. We have all been there. That feeling of being unsafe emotionally that translates into physical feelings like fatigue or being very alert, tightening in the chest or a stiff straight spine. We know the feelings. There are also times when judgement is offered by us, to others. There are still yet times where that judgement is offered by us, to us.

Where is judgement coming from? For many of us, this judgement is coming from one of two places –

  1. Our standards and expectations, and
  2. Our insecurities.

Let’s unpack these for a moment.

We feel compelled to judge people or situations when our standards or expectations of that person or situation have not been met. This will sound like, “I wouldn’t have done it that way.” Or “You should do it like this…” or “How could they be so foolish to think that this would even work?”

The woulds, shoulds and coulds of our lives are indicators of judgment based on standards and expectations. When we find ourselves saying these things to ourselves or others, we have solidified an idea in our head as to how the world is supposed to work. People should act like this, situations should unfold like that. When this does not occur we get into our feels.

How you feel about the situation will also depend on what your expectation for what you should be feeling. If you have judged something as unfair, you think you should feel indignant and outrage… then that is what you will feel. And if you’re really in your judgement, you will think that other people should feel indignant and outraged, too.

The challenge with judgement is, you only have your life experience to draw upon. If you’re very lucky, and consciously pursue active listening, you may know a skim of what the other person’s perspective is. However, when you sit in the seat of judgement, you are looking at the person or situation from mostly your perspective.

“I never would do that!”

“I don’t know what they were thinking!”

These statements are your personal thoughts, not objective statements. When you state them to other people you are attempting to prophesize; from your unerring seat of knowing you are pronouncing what the other person can not see because they are not you.

When judging many of us do not call out these judgements to the other person directly. These statements will be made in the fashion of every great armchair quarterback – by speaking to other people not involved in the situation or by yelling at the metaphorical TV screen. Gossip, negative venting and undermining people, projects or situations result.

If we do judge directly to the person or people responsible for the situation or decision in question, we are not supporting the other’s growth. The “should have” statement gets tossed onto the table and we expect, some how, through the haze of condemnation and emotion, the other person will pick up our judgement, deem it valuable and then laud our intelligence and insight.

Human brains, unfortunately, aren’t primed to take the shoulds, woulds and coulds hurled at us and see them as empathy and caring. Our brains interpret this as something threatening – we have made a mistake and left ourselves vulnerable or we are in the presence of someone who is trying to tear us down. These statements can trigger the stress response and devolve into conflict quickly. We have all been in the conversation where someone has said we should have done something differently and then we end up defending ourselves. Depending upon the relationship management skills of you and your conversation partner this can go well deepening understanding, or not so well causing hurt and relationship damage.

Onto our insecurities. When we see someone doing something that we think we could never do or that we have done before and failed at, we tend to judge that person or situation. All you have to do is sit in a boardroom for a little while to inevitably hear, “We’ve tried that before and it didn’t work.” This is a statement that, even in a different space and time, with different people, the situation will still fail so we are not willing to try.

Insecurity can drive us to be envious of someone else’s success or change in behaviour that benefits them. We are unsure of how we measure up to our own, or other people’s, perception of us if we, too, cannot be as successful as that person or in that situation. If someone close to you is starting to try new things and change their perspectives, our insecurity can drive us to judge and potentially undermine their efforts and what that change would then require of us. If our friend has stopped drinking alcohol, we judge their decision because, well, “There goes our Saturday nights!” You are so concerned with how your friend’s attempt to make themselves into the person they want to be in this world will affect your experiences that you judge.

How do we address our judgement?  A couple of things to add to your toolbox:

  • Know when you are judging. We have become numb to our judgements. We don’t even know when we are making them. Your first place to start is to start listening to how you are talking about other people’s decisions and situations. Are you judging?
  • Reflection over reflex. Judgement is very easy when our biases are running unchecked. For example, judging that co-worker who didn’t say hello to you one morning is easy (horns bias), or judging your boss’ decision to work on Project A because you read a book and Project B would have been better (recency bias, availability bias).
  • Pursue curiosity, not judgement. Judgement is easy – gaining insight is hard. Find out what is driving the other person’s actions.
  • Finally, when you find yourself judging out loud or in your head, take the opposite stance. For example, “Boss is so stupid for choosing Project A!” Turns into: “Boss must have information I do not making Project A, a better option. There was that situation with the client metrics highlighted at the last meeting, I am sure that is playing into the decision.” By defending the other person’s decision or the situation as it currently sits, you are reframing your perspective and undermining your judgement.

Good luck with your new tools!


How do I improve my flexibility during conflict?

Changing people’s minds. When something seems so obvious to you, it can be a mental exercise to figure out why this person has not changed to “see the light” all ready. From there it is a short jump into judgement and labeling their behaviour. What are some of the hurdles on the way to changing your (or anyone else’s mind)?

Knee-Jerk Responses – this quick defense system shoots any idea out of the sky that may be damaging to your state of mind. This speedy defensive reaction stops the need to consider the other person’s perspective.

Outside the Realm of Possibility: This is not actually an idea that is off the wall, this is an idea that falls so far from the other person’s frame of reference you may as well be asking them to grow a third eye. They have never considered it, they have never thought about it, and they are not about to try it now.

We’ve Always Done It This Way – If something has been “working” there is a reluctance to put effort into changing.

Ideas on how to combat these hurdles:

  • Knee-Jerk Responses - Ask questions. Start exploring both sides of the issue (or more) in a supportive way and let the other person reach a decision, hopefully one more satisfying to all parties.
  • Outside the Realm of Possibility – Lessen the dissonance… start by asking for smaller changes or offering smaller leaps in perspective. While you may be tempted to ask for more, ask for less and move step by step towards your desired direction.
  • We’ve Always Done It This Way – Explore what staying the same is costing the person now and in the long run. Look for reinforcing proof that there is a cost to the “old way.”

When in a conflict conversation, we may be tempted to double down on our perspective and argue that we are right no matter what. However, if you are looking for a way forward in your conflict working together with others, it is important to realize the volume of your argument will not change hearts and minds, it is your ability to work with the relationship.

Why should leaders be better conflict managers?

This is a multipart series on leadership and conflict.

The Basics
Part 1

Leadership and conflict. These two concepts are not typically things you think of at the same time. However, they are foundationally linked to one another.

As a leader, you will be called upon to engage in conflicts that you may not be an integral part of at the onset. How do you address the conflicts of other people in a compassionate, functional, and empowering way?

  • Balance – do not give the impression of favouritism. Ensure you are looking at the difference of perspective from all angles. Give each party time to present their views.
  • Fairness – ensure you know what the corporate policies and expectations are. Resolutions negotiated with colleagues must not only address the perspectives of the parties involved but must fall within corporate policies and expectations. These can include legal ramifications, human resource policies, financial goals or expectations, and project or performance expectations.
  • Confidence – as a leader, your colleagues will be coming to you for definitive answers, ensure you are presenting them as such. If you are unsure of what route to take, reach out to your manager or other subject matter experts (human resources, legal, etc.) to get insights so you can confidently discern the correct route to take.
  • Confidentiality – as a leader, you will be made aware of information that should be kept in confidence. As such, how you source relief from stress or anxious feelings surrounding conflicts and your decisions are important. As a leader, avoid gossip at all costs. When looking to talk out your challenges, ensure you are reaching out to people who are not involved with the situation; this is a perfect opportunity to rely on a mentor or a coach.
  • Self-awareness – As a leader, you are looked to as a signpost for ethical and moral behaviour; someone who can balance the needs of the organization, the needs of employees and yourself (sounds daunting, doesn’t it?). When in a position to support others in conflict conversations, it is important that you are aware of, and can identify, your biases or coping habits that are not supporting everyone’s best interests. I am sure you can think of at least one encounter with a leader who “supported” a conflict by exercising power with impunity… it typically does not end well.

Depending on your typical conflict management style and the type of conflict you find yourself in as a leader, you may be tempted to not get involved. The “not my problem” mentality can challenge teams wherein having a neutral third-party support negotiations and exploration would benefit team dynamics and create a more productive work environment.

As a leader, it is your responsibility to ensure that your team is performing to the highest possible standards. To do this, conflict is one thing you will need to manage and engage with. A mentor or leadership coach can help you navigate this.

Part 2

 As a leader, you will be called on to weigh in on conflicts of your colleagues. The trick here is to figure out which conflicts to engage with and how. Not only this, you will also be required to make decision and take actions that are going to be unpopular and potentially trigger conflict all on their own. There is a skill in knowing how to manage the results of your decisions.

This is going to start off with some self reflection.

What kind of leader do you want to be? Not what kind of leader are you now, but what kind of leader do you want to be in one year, five years, ten? Projecting yourself into the future to determine where you want to be and how you want to show up in the world will inform how you engage with conflict conversations in the here and now.

Do you want to be a respected leader for example? When you say “respected” what does that mean and look like to you?

  • Does everyone jump to do what you ask without question?
  • Does everything run smoothly because everyone does what they are told?
  • Do you encourage personal development fostering trust and respect?
  • Do you take the opportunity to speak about and for your colleagues providing them with opportunities because you are their leader?

One single word can mean very different things to different people at different times. Ensure you know what kind of leader you want to be by defining your terms before you consider how you are going to engage with conflict as a leader.

Next, with your self reflection work firmly ongoing (yes, I said ongoing) you must decide how you best interact with conflict. Awareness of your conflict management habits will support your leadership aspirations. If you know you need time to unpack information before responding, how do you ensure you get what you need (time and space) while managing the expectations of others (relief from uncertainty, support, and engagement)? Conflict management habits that work against your leadership style should be consciously worked on. If you know you’re a “hot reactor” who jumps into conflict with passion and volume and sometimes alienating others or causing hard feelings, it may be time to find a better way to manage yourself in a conflict situation.

Moving on to becoming the trigger for conflict. Leadership requires making tough decisions and ensuring deliverables are achieved. This is going to cause tension. There is no possible way (yup, I made a definitive statement here) that you will be able to make everyone happy with your decisions all the time. There will be decisions you have to make that are going to upset or even anger some of your colleagues. This is not typically something you think about when you are hired for that leadership position or when you are promoted (there are other exciting things to consider!).

With this awareness, you will, ideally in advance of the situation arising, need to consider how you are going to manage the inevitable conflict resulting from making a decision that not everyone agrees with.

  • How will you manage the verbalized opposition to your decision?
    • Conflict in the moment (planned or spontaneous).
    • Interfaces with third parties like unions.
    • Complaints going to your supervisor.
  • How will you manage the non-verbalized opposition to your decision?
    • Demotivation of colleagues.
    • Work slowdowns or a refusal to do the new task.
    • Gossip or back-biting. Undermining of your position.
  • Where will you source your support from?
    • Once you are in leadership, particularly if you have been promoted within your organization, work-friends, or colleagues that you were once close to may not be so close anymore. Further, information you are now aware of may need to be kept confidential from colleagues who have not entered the leadership arena. These two obstacles may make it difficult for you to rely on the resources you once used to deal with stress and anxiousness as well as those with whom you were able to share your success. You are going to need to find new resources to help you in your new role.

As you can see, now that we have the second part in our leadership and conflict blog series, leadership is inherently tied to conflicts. Why? Because conflicts are a difference of opinion between two people or parties and, let’s face it, we have all experienced a moment (or several) where we have not agreed with leadership’s decision leading to conflict. As you move into a leadership role, you need to be prepared to manage conflict in a proactive, direct way.


The Role of Leaders in Conflict Management

Navigating conflicts in today's dynamic workplaces is inevitable. However, exceptional leaders distinguish themselves not by merely reacting to conflicts but by proactively fostering an environment where conflicts are minimized, effectively managed, and swiftly reconciled.

A study conducted by Psychometrics Canada Ltd. highlights the need for Canadian managers to enhance their conflict resolution skills. Recommendations from those surveyed include managing toxic individuals more firmly (75%), providing clearer expectations (77%), and modeling appropriate behavior (84%). This underscores the critical role of leadership in conflict resolution strategies.

Resolving conflicts in the workplace requires adeptness from leaders, akin to navigating family and relationship challenges. Techniques such as mediation, empathetic assertion, active listening, and negotiation are essential for reaching satisfactory solutions for all parties involved. It's like a handshake, bringing conflicting parties together to find common ground and move forward collaboratively.

Furthermore, the study found that 38% of respondents deal with conflict frequently or always, emphasizing the need for decisive action from leaders. Proactive measures are key to maintaining a harmonious workplace environment and fostering productive relationships among team members.

The first step in conflict management is prevention—anticipating and avoiding conflicts before they arise. Leaders achieve this by implementing proactive measures such as effective communication, building bonds among team members, establishing healthy boundaries, and setting clear expectations. Picture this as a shield against potential conflicts, creating a resilient foundation for a harmonious workplace culture.

Providing clarity about expectations, as recommended by 77% of respondents, is paramount in preventing misunderstandings that often fuel conflicts. Effective communication, articulating expectations clearly and consistently, fosters a culture of transparency and accountability.

Modeling appropriate behavior, highlighted by 84% of respondents, is another crucial aspect of effective conflict management. Leaders set the tone for acceptable conduct within the organization by demonstrating empathy, respect, and professionalism in their interactions.

In the pre-conflict phase, leaders employ proactive measures to anticipate and prevent conflicts. This involves ensuring clear communication channels, building strong relationships, establishing clear expectations, and remaining vigilant for potential conflict triggers.

Even proactive leaders may encounter conflicts despite their best efforts. In such instances, it's essential for leaders to engage positively and empathetically, creating a safe space for dialogue and resolution, rather than resorting to authoritarian measures.

Toxic behavior, identified by 75% of respondents as a significant concern, must be confronted head-on. Leaders set clear boundaries and expectations to preserve the integrity of the team.

During the resolution phase, leaders play a pivotal role in facilitating constructive dialogue, focusing on the intent and desired outcome of the intervention, and avoiding gossip.

Moreover, leaders model healthy and mutually beneficial relationships with colleagues and the team, demonstrate effective boundary-setting, and expect respect in interactions.

In the restoration phase, leaders focus on realigning organizational and team norms and expectations, cultivating empathy, continuously monitoring the situation, and promoting growth.

In conclusion, leaders' role in mitigating conflicts, engaging positively during conflicts, and fostering reconciliation cannot be overstated. By proactively addressing underlying issues and implementing effective conflict resolution strategies, leaders create an environment where conflicts are viewed as opportunities for growth and transformation, laying the groundwork for a harmonious and resilient workplace where individuals thrive and teams flourish.

Why is timing so important in conflict?

Setting the stage. It may not seem like a big deal, but the better you select your location and timing, the better the outcome of your conflict.

Many of us when feeling strong emotion and jump directly into conflict to alleviate our discomfort. We want to feel better, so we give no consideration to where we are or the state of mind of the other person. If we come at someone who is not able to effectively manage the confrontation in the moment or we pick a place that does not feel psychologically and emotionally secure for the other person, you will get push back and a negative response.

For example – you have noticed the toothpaste top off the tube again this morning but by the time you see it, your roommate is already gone for the day. You think about what you are going to say and do the moment they come home. You’re so ready for this confrontation. The second your roommate walks in the house, you start. How dare they be so disrespectful? How dare they not show consideration for your needs? And on, and on. What you did not notice, in your haste to make yourself feel better, is that your roommate looks terrible. There are tears already in their eyes when they walk in the door. They still have their shoes and jacket on and are leaned with their back against the door. The outcome of your confrontation will not be positive for either of you. Your roommate may simply open the door and walk back out. Your roommate, in their own defense may start being hard and unreasonable right back at you.  This is not a situation in which a good or positive outcome to this conflict will occur.

If we look at an example from work, consider this. You need to provide feedback to a colleague on the quality of their work. They have made a mistake and it has impacted your ability to finish your project. You are going to have to stay late to finish. You go hunting for your colleague and catch them walking out of a boardroom, surrounded by others. Then you start. You dare they be so disrespectful? What kind of professional are they? Do they not understand the ramifications of their actions? The other coworkers have stopped to watch you confront your colleague about their work. Your colleague is embarrassed. Their status at work is being questioned. You are engaging in public humiliation. The situation is not psychologically or emotionally safe for the other person. The other coworkers are looking at your lack of professionalism and tact. The outcome of this situation will not be positive.

What do you need to consider when setting the stage for your confrontation?

Public or private – When confronting someone in public, you are challenging this person’s status in the social group. This causes the other person to automatically become defensive – this confrontation is no longer about the topic at hand, it is about preserving their status in the moment. When possible, arrange for some privacy for your confrontation. This has the benefit of giving the other person some psychological and emotional safety, limits the impact on relationships and helps ensure your reputation is not damaged.

Your state of mind – If you are looking to make yourself feel emotionally better by dumping a lot of emotion on to the other person, you need to take some time. Unpack what is making you emotional and deal with the root cause of the emotion before your confrontation. High emotions lead to poor outcomes. This has the benefit of growing in your mindfulness, providing you with the opportunity to determine if you need to have the confrontation at all, and enhancing the potential of a better relationship post confrontation.

The other’s state of mind – If you have done your homework, picked a good place and your emotions are controlled but the other person is not in a good state of mind, your outcome will certainly be affected. The other’s frame of mind can be affected by any number of things - work, family issues, a traffic ticket, just having a confrontation with someone else – and you need to use your powers of observation to try and detect if this is a good time to confront. This has the benefit of supporting your ability to get your desired outcome from the confrontation – someone who is receptive to negotiation will better be able to support the relationship enhancing confrontation.

Surrounding situation – If there are mitigating circumstances that could affect your state of mind or the other’s state of mind, push pause. These situations could include a meeting at work where new projects have been dropped, a family emergency or the fact that you are travelling tomorrow and will not be present with your partner to support them after the conflict.

Some of these components you can plan. All of them can change in the moment. You will need to be situationally aware and be plugged in to the situation and the other person to determine if it is in your best interest to confront right now.

What is empathetic assertion?

This was a four part series of blogs on “Empathetic Assertion”

Part 1

We have chatted what impacts conflict has on you and your relationships. We have talked about framing and perspective. We have even talked about the fact that you don’t have to like another person to be able to have a positive confrontation and to work together… that’s a lot of ground!  Congratulations on getting this far with me!

With so much information already, you are probably wondering what you can do to have a better, more compassionate conflict with those in your life.  Let’s face it – the yelling and hurt feelings are not doing anybody any good.

This is where we bring in the concept of empathetic assertion. Whoa! Big words, let me explain.

Empathetic assertion is a way to be in conflict with another person while still respecting the other person’s thoughts and feelings (even if you do not agree with them). Yes, it is possible.

Empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of other people. This is not the same as sympathy, which is the act of having had a similar or the same feeling or experience as the other person. When you are in a state of empathy, you are able to understand that what the person is experiencing is unique to them; that their feelings and experience is valid and valuable even if you have never experienced their situation before. For example, you can have empathy for people who are facing evacuation because of a hurricane and know that it must be stressful, even if you have never lived through the same experience.

The concept of empathy applies to conflict when you are able to see the other person’s thoughts and feelings on the situation as valid and valuable. This requires practice, especially if you are having strong emotions of you own.

An example of empathy in a conflict –

Your partner is furious. You have left the top off the toothpaste again. They are coming out of the bathroom waving the tube of toothpaste in the air, telling you how upset they are and how inconsiderate you are being.

An empathetic response: “You seem upset. I did leave the top off the toothpaste again. I did not do it to upset you. I will try harder to remember in the future. Is there something else that is fueling your feelings of being disrespected?”
Notice a few things with the empathetic response:

The feelings of the other person are acknowledged.

In this case, there was a wrong done. The mistake was also acknowledged and accepted.

There was an insertion of motive.

It is noted that being this upset over a tube of toothpaste is abnormal… there must be something else going on. This was given space to be articulated.

The “assertion” of “empathetic assertion” comes into this response in steps 3 and 4 – an assertion of no intent to hurt without shuffling off responsibility and by realizing there is more to a huge blow out and you want to know what it is.

These four steps seem so easy as I write them but it does require you to be self aware and in control of your own emotions.

Let’s look at this from the other side of our toothpaste conflict.  Let’s say you are the one who has found the top off the toothpaste tube and you are going to confront your partner.  Instead of raging into the room and calling your partner inconsiderate… try:

“I found the top left off the toothpaste again this morning. Things like this, that I feel compelled to clean up, make me feel taken advantage of and unseen in our relationship. Moving forward, ensure you tidy up after yourself, especially with things we both must use. Can you do this for me?”

Well, that is a whole other path taken!

How is this response empathetic?

It clearly defines the trigger point.

It outlines why the trigger is upsetting the person without assigning blame.

It takes responsibility for the person’s own feelings.

It provides a solution that would be satisfactory to the person, not expecting their partner to come up with the answers.

It opens the comment up to a conversation, a negotiation, on how they are going to move forward together.

The “assertion” comes in here in steps 3 and 4 – defining the impact and asking for a resolution. This method of addressing a conflict clearly defines the boundary that you do not want crossed.

Empathetic response does NOT:

  • Bring up the past.
  • Bring other issues or people into the topic at hand.
  • Label someone else’s feelings.
  • Call names, yell or use profanity.

Empathetic assertion IS:

  • Respect for the relationship.
  • An attempt to rebalance the relationship with a defined way forward.
  • An understanding of personal boundaries and a definition of those boundaries for your conflict partner.
  • A reframing of the issue into a defined impact.

Empathetic assertion is Smart Conflict – a conflict that starts with the outcome in mind.

Coming up next in this four-part series on empathetic assertion, we will take a deeper dive into defining the impact, the “what” that is bothering you.

Part 2

Thinking of the outcome of the conflict before you start... Being aware of the relationship impact before you make a choice on how to have your conflict... These are lofty concepts. It is hard when your emotions run high to take a moment and think about these things.

Sometimes all we want to do is hurt the other person like they have hurt us. Sometimes, the whole world seems against us, and we lash out to protect ourselves and we get into conflict with the wrong person. This is the space where we get in trouble with conflict.

When you are angry or about to get into a conflict, you need to think about WHY:

  • Why are you upset? 
  • Why do you want to get into a confrontation with this person? 
  • Why are you getting a benefit from the conflict?

So how do you figure out the core issue of your conflict with someone else? What is the tip here? Let’s use an example to demonstrate the “5 Whys”.

Hammad works with Selena. Hammad has been with the company for 10 years and has always gotten good performance reviews. Selena is new, hired right out of college and has been a superstar. There is a new job opening as a program director and both Hammad and Selena have applied. Selena gets an interview, Hammad does not. Hammad is upset and he wants to confront Selena. Why is Hammad upset? Let’s apply the 5 Whys to find out:

  1. Hammad is upset at Selena for being successful. Why?
  2. Hammad is upset because he did not get an interview. Why?
  3. Hammad is upset that he has always gotten good performance reviews and he didn’t get an interview. Why?
  4. Hammad is upset because he has 10 years more experience than Selena and he didn’t get an interview. Why?
  5. Hammad doesn’t understand why Selena was picked for an interview and he was not.

By using the 5 Whys, we have gotten from being mad at Selena to not understanding why Hammad was not picked for an interview. This is now pointing Hammad away from speaking with Selena and in another direction. It is unlikely that Selena is going to know why she was picked and Hammad was not. The only person who may know, would be Hammad’s supervisor.

By exploring the 5 Whys, Hammad was able to save himself an unnecessary confrontation with Selena which could have potentially damaged his relationship with her. Hammad also was able to look in another direction to find the solution he is looking for.

Running through the 5 Whys takes some time to get used to. You will need to take some time to unpack your thoughts and feelings surrounding the situation. It may be hard to do in the moment. Remember to take some time away from the situation to get a handle on your thoughts and emotions.

Let’s take another example – The toothpaste cap. Yes, we are back to this example, Friends. Let us say that Jeremy has found the cap of the toothpaste again. Jeremy is furious. Before learning the 5 Why technique, Jeremy would have marched right out and yelled at Markus. Jeremy, takes 10 minutes before running out to talk to Markus and grabs a pen:

  1. Why am I mad about the toothpaste cap? Because Markus never puts it back on!
  2. Why does Markus not putting the toothpaste cap back on make me upset? Because Markus never listens to me!
  3. Why does Markus not listening to me about the toothpaste top make me upset? Because Markus always does this, just like when he bought the new car without telling me first.
  4. Why does Markus buying the new car make me upset, upset enough to yell at him about a toothpaste cap? Because I feel like a roommate and not a partner.
  5. Why do I feel like a roommate and not a partner? Because Markus is very independent, I feel shut out of his life.

And there we have the 5 Whys… Jeremy is not upset over Markus leaving the toothpaste top off. When Jeremy is willing to put effort into looking more deeply, he realizes that the issue is not as superficial as first thought.

Now Jeremy has a bigger decision to make – to yell at Markus over the toothpaste top or make some space to talk to Markus about their relationship and how Jeremy’s needs are not being fully met.

To learn more about finding out your “why,” I recommend reading The Power of Positive Confrontation by Barbara Pachter with Susan Magee (you can find it on Amazon). The authors explain more in depth the motivation behind finding out your “why.”

Part 3

Last week we chatted about finding out why you are really upset during a conflict. The tip we learned was the 5 Whys. This week, we are going to explore the next step in our empathetic assertion journey – having a proposed solution ready: What do you want from the other person?

When in conflict, you can sometimes feel helpless or unsure. This feeling can lead us to make poor decisions during the conflict to feel safer in the situation (reacting compared to responding). Discovering why you’re upset (the true reason, the core) and why you want to engage in a conflict/confrontation is the first step in feeling more in control so you can make balanced decisions. In this way, you will be more likely to achieve the outcome you are looking for. Once you understand your “why,” to continue feeling empowered to get and a solution you are comfortable with, you need to present the other person (or people) with what you are looking for. 

Knowing what you want out of the conflict will help avoid the pitfall of being in a confrontation and not being able to tell when it ends. If you do not know what you want the outcome to be, the conflict drags on and on. In advance of the discussion, you need to determine what you will need to feel resolution in this situation. If you do not do this, it is emotionally difficult for both you and the other person; it is also damaging to your relationship.

It is important to note at this point, even if you know what you need, you are going to need to be open to negotiation of that need with the other person. Don’t get so locked into what you want that you forget you are managing a whole relationship not just this one situation.

What does having an “ask” look like? Let’s return to Jeremy and Markus – our Friends from last week’s blog. Jeremy is upset over the toothpaste cap being left off the tube; after some reflection Jeremy has discovered that his issue is not the toothpaste but the fact that Jeremy feels shut out of Markus’ life. (If you are not sure how Jeremy has reached this conclusion, please [re]visit last week’s blog.)

Jeremy, before sitting down with Markus for a chat, needs to figure out what he needs from Markus to feel more secure and acknowledged in their relationship. For Jeremy this is going to be a time for self reflection. Let’s look at an example of how this could play out:

  • Jeremy: Markus, thank you for being open to this discussion today. I wanted to talk about some decisions lately that seem to be bothering me. I really want to work them out.  [Insert discussion here.]
  • Markus: I didn’t know. I am sorry. [We will discuss more on how to manage unhelpful conflict behaviours in upcoming blogs if your counterpart is not as understanding as Markus.]
  • Jeremy: Moving forward, can we have a weekly sit down where we review the upcoming week and our budget? I feel that this would be helpful in making me feel more connected with you. Would you be willing to do this with me?

From the quick exchange above, you can see how Jeremy’s “why” is articulated with respect and it has nothing to do with toothpaste. You can also see how Jeremy’s ask is personal (Jeremy uses “I” statements) and opens the conversation to Markus’ perspective as well.

The example with Jeremy and Markus is a personal one and has a large emotional load. Most of our conflicts do not hit this level of intensity (although these are the conflicts we remember the most because of that emotional load).

When at work, for example, a colleague being late with a report is a conflict. However, a quick negotiation of next steps with consideration of both party’s needs will take care of it. It is unlikely to need unpacking like our Jeremy and Markus example. (If your reaction moves you to gossip or engage in other relationship damaging behaviour, some emotional unpacking may be in order.

So far in our journey on managing conflict with empathetic assertion, we have covered some important pieces to the puzzle:

  1. Why are you upset?
  2. Determine what you need.
Part 4

Relationships are founded, at least partially, on a give-and-take of wants and needs. This give and take can be as superficial and transactional as paying the cashier at your local fast food restaurant or as deep as someone with whom you want to spend a good chunk of your life.

This concept of give-and-take applies to conflict when we must determine what we want or need for the relationship to regain balance and then negotiate that want/need so both people feel satisfied with the outcome. This comes in to play with empathetic assertion in the third step:

  1. Why are you upset?
  2. Figure out what you want or need to resolve the issue.
  3. Negotiate a way forward knowing your desired resolution.

When you have determined what you want/need to resolve the issue, you are going to need to know and understand what your boundaries are. Not only that, you will need to know which of your boundaries are flexible and can be worked with, and which ones are totally non-negotiable. We will cover boundaries more in the next post.

A point to clarify before we go further - there is a difference between negotiating a resolution to a conflict and giving the other person an ultimatum. Let’s be clear on what an ultimatum is and ask Merriam-Webster: A final proposition, condition, or demand. Especially: one whose rejection will end negotiations and cause a resort to force or other direct action.

Let me be clear here, if you are in a relationship that has come to a point where an ultimatum is in order, please do not feel fettered in issuing one.  For example, if you partner is spending all the rent money every month on books and coffee, you may need to say “Stop it or I am moving out and getting my own bank account.” Every situation is unique and here is where I need to stress the first step in this process – “Why.”  Why are you actually upset and needing a conflict? The answer to this question will help you look at the needed resolution more clearly.

The third step begins with negotiation. Do not come into a confrontation with only explanations as to why you are angry expecting the other person to give you a resolution that will somehow make you feel better. This can only lead to struggle for two reasons:

The other person cannot read you mind and know what you want, and

If you wait for the other person to tell you what you want, you are giving your empowerment away. You are giving the other person all the control in the negotiation.

A negotiation should be opened with your first offering – something you have come up with already because you have taken some time to think about it (if it is a heavy issue) or because you are logically looking at the situation (if it is not an impactful issue). It is up to you, the upset one, to determine what the opening request will be.

Then the negotiation begins. There are multiple things that could happen at this point:

  • You get what you ask for.
  • You get a counteroffer.
  • They say no, absolutely not.

The great news here is that, with most negotiations that are brought forth with the intentions of good relationships existing after the event, the first option is more frequent than not (getting what you ask for). Congratulations, you have handled your conflict well and you are now resolved to move forward.

The next best offer is getting a counteroffer. This opens a dialogue. This is good. When entering the negotiation phase keep a few things in mind:

  • What are your non-negotiable boundaries?
  • What is the minimum you are willing to accept?
  • What is the level of desire for a harmonious relationship?

Your reaction to the counteroffer is *your* reaction – do not assume motive of the other person until you have confirmed it.

You are permitted to counter the counteroffer – this is the essence of negotiation.

Engage in Smart Conflict – keep the *outcome* in mind.

With this list of things in your toolbox, you will be able to effectively engage in a respectful negotiation with the other person. Note the word “respectful.” If your habitual way of dealing with conflict includes some less-than-ideal behaviours (name calling, yelling, sarcasm, bringing up old issues, shaming, aggression, bullying, belittling, etc.) you will need to control those. None of these behaviours will enhance the relationship with the other person.

The final option – No, absolutely not – may sound terrible. Depending on the situation, it may be easy to move on (the fast-food restaurant will not refund you for the large fries) or very difficult to recover from (your boss does not agree with your reasons for asking for a raise and you will not be getting one). Either of these situations linked to moving on have one thing in common – you know exactly where you stand. It may be cold comfort, but it lets you evaluate your next steps with a firm understanding of where you relate to the other person. For the fast-food restaurant, you have the choice not to go back and leave them an unfavourable review. For the boss who will not give you a raise, you now have the choice to stay at the company and wage you are earning or start looking for another job knowing your future does not lie with the organization. 

Keep your eye on the outcome. Think about how you will respond. Look to restore relationship balance. Do not react in the moment or with heated emotions. You can do this!

If you are looking to enhance your conflict management skills, Oculus Inc offers a comprehensive one-on-one conflict management skills program to support your conflict management evolution at work and at home. Group workshops are also available.  Take a look and reach out today!


What do boundaries have to do with conflict?

This is a suite of articles written about Boundaries.

How do boundaries influence conflict resolution?

Boundaries. Dividing lines. Limits to spheres of activity. What do boundaries have to do with conflict?  The simple answer is… everything.

When you have established healthy boundaries, you will find yourself in less (that’s right – less) conflict. This is because you will know what boundaries you have that are non-negotiable and which can be flexible based upon the situation. You will not feel taken advantage of because you will know when to respectfully say, “No, I am not going to do that.”

It all seems so simple when I write it like this but if I was to ask you what your boundaries are, I think a good many of you would not be able to tell me. Boundaries impact various situations in your life:

  • Physical boundaries – who comes into your physical space, who can touch you and how.
  • Emotional boundaries – rules and expectations to keep you mentally and emotionally safe and thriving.
  • Spiritual boundaries – what your belief system is, how you honour it, and your right to believe it.
  • Financial boundaries – your money, your rules.
  • Sexual boundaries – when and what you engage in.
  • Time boundaries – who and what you will give time to and how much.
  • Material boundaries – Lending or borrowing of personal items.

Let’s start with figuring out what good boundaries look like. They all have some similar features:

  • Firm – Boundaries are present and consistently maintained by you.
  • Fair – Boundaries are not imposing your will inappropriately on to other people.
  • Flexible – Boundaries, for the most part, can be flexible depending upon the situation.

Let’s look at an example:

  • Jessa has a boundary – do not swear or use profanity when in her company, it makes her uncomfortable. Whenever it occurs, Jessa politely reminds her friends, coworkers and family about her boundary and, for the most part, they respect her boundary. This is a firm boundary.
  • Jessa’s boundary is fair – she is not asking all her friends, coworkers and family to never swear or use profanity, ever. Just avoid it when she is around.
  • Jessa’s boundary is also flexible. For example, when her friend Alex broke up with their long-time partner, Alex was despondent and used swear words to express their hurt, sadness and anger. Jessa understood this is an anomaly for Alex, who normally is very respectful of Jessa’s boundary; this is just an exceptional situation.

Troubles begin with personal boundaries when we start dipping into a few situations:

  • Fear – Your little brain hamster may jump on their wheel and start making you second guess your boundary because you are fearful of hurting others or making others angry. A few things to consider here – if your boundary is firm, fair and flexible, anyone who gets upset or angry about your boundary is exhibiting their own hamsters. Remember, Friends, the only person in the whole wide world that you can control is yourself.
  • Obligation – When you feel obligated to remove or bend your boundaries because of the situation or relationship. You don’t use your phone after 6:30pm but work is calling and, because it is work, you break your boundary. The other big one here – is family. You do not let people put you down or insult you in any other situation, but when it is your mother criticizing your hair, parenting, or weight, you put up with it because it is family.  The reason is this – These situations carry a heavy personal impact. Work and family take up a huge part of our lives. These are the spaces where we do need those boundaries respectfully maintained – if you do not maintain them, nothing will change. I am not saying that this will be easy – it may be very scary and emotional – but letting your mother know that you are happy with your weight and negative comments about it are not helpful so please stop – will place you into a position in your relationship to negotiate and get greater understanding.
  • Guilt – You carry the concept that your boundaries are somehow selfish and by having them you are making other people less of a priority in your life.
  • Lack of responsibility - Let me be clear here: Boundaries are yours to create and maintain. Boundaries are not for publication and everyone around you to tip-toe around. You are an active participant, quite frankly the only participant, in making sure you are maintaining your boundaries. (If you come to this blog with the thought, “So-and-so keeps violating my boundaries.” Read on with an open mind or find another blog.)
  • Rigidity – Your boundaries are an impenetrable wall that no one gets into or out of no matter what. These will cause issues with your relationships.
  • Loose – Sometimes you have them sometimes you don’t, your messaging is inconsistent, and violations are common.
  • Rubbery - These boundaries are all over the place, you don’t know where they start and end with any consistency and your relationships are just as confused by them leading to boundary violations.

What do you need to do to start setting good boundaries?

  • Examine yourself – what are your boundaries?  Which are non-negotiable and which are more flexible?
  • Commit yourself – when boundary issues become present, remove yourself from the situation, openly communicate your expectation and be consistent.
  • Be open to the relationship – having boundaries strengthens relationships as they make you feel more secure and thereby more open. When you feel more secure, you can discuss topics that may have been uncomfortable before (“No, Mom, talking about my weight is not helping me.”).

How does people-pleasing behavior hinder the establishment of healthy boundaries in conflict resolution?

Is it conflict avoidance or assertive boundary maintenance? We’ve talked about boundaries in two different blogs. I have been asked what are some of the reasons why people don’t like to set boundaries, or if they do, they don’t like to enforce their boundaries.  Let’s review.


Let’s Start with an example:

Grandma makes comments about how you are not married yet. You should get married. Married people are happier. She was married when she was your age, pregnant even!

If grandma makes this comment at every family get together, it is going to be very tiring at best. At worst, this is going to cause anxiousness and stress. It is hard to hang out with grandma when all she does is gripe about your marital status.

So why are we not setting a boundary with grandma – well… she is so sweet, I would feel bad telling her to stop… guilt!  If I set a boundary like, “Grandma, I don’t want to talk about marriage anymore, I will stop calling if you do.” I will break grandma’s heart! Guilt!

Instead of setting a calm, early boundary with grandma, you are now stuck in another conversation about how you should get married and won’t the wedding be beautiful! You are upset and getting anxious whenever you are talking to grandma.  But, hey, at least grandma doesn’t feel bad, and you don’t feel guilty – am I right? Let me be perfectly clear here – by not setting the boundary you are choosing to feel the feelings you do when grandma brings up marriage and all the other feelings that go along with it – like self-recrimination because you won’t set a boundary with grandma.


You permit the violation of boundaries (or just never set any up) because of … well, insert your reason of choice here.  It’s family. It’s work. It’s my partner. It’s my mother. Any number of reasons could fit.

By the virtue of being that thing (whatever it is) we feel obligated to allow our morals and values to be violated.

An example – You believe in family time. You get home from work and are eating dinner with your partner and your parents who drove two hours to visit you. The phone rings. Normally you wouldn’t get it – you would focus on family – and usually you wouldn’t but you’ve set a special ringtone for your boss. That ringtone. So, you excuse yourself from the table, grab your phone and disappear into the bedroom. Only to emerge 20minutes later to grab a coffee to go and a bite of dessert because, as you say on your way out the door, “I normally wouldn’t do this, but it’s work, you know…”

There is an obligation in your head that your boss and job will trump your family values. You’ve just proven it. This overriding obligation will force you to violate your boundaries “just because” it’s this person or situation but what about your values? Once again, I want to be perfectly clear – feeling obligated to violate your boundary for the person or situation and then doing so; you are choosing to value that person or situation more than others. In this example, you are valuing your job more than your family – that is the choice that was made.

What are the consequences of this type of boundary violation?

  • Other people (like your family) may feel slighted that you are (again) rushing off to do things you feel obligated to do instead of setting boundaries. Many relationships have been ruined because of over work or obligatory activities with friends or family (really, you’re going to bail out your brother again?!).
  • You will feel pulled in many directions – not knowing who to please because you feel obligated; you may begin to feel stretched thin.
  • You may start neglecting yourself – in your attempt to fulfill your obligations, something has to give and it will likely be your self-care.
People Pleasing

The feeling of self worth we get when we do things for other people. When done in moderation, doing things for others does have significant benefits – for them and for us. However, when people pleasing is a way you interact with the world, boundaries will be hard to set and even harder to enforce.

People pleasing is driven by a desire to be liked by other people; to gain or perpetuate your social status through the act of service to others. It can be heavily linked to your self-esteem (if you’re not helping others, who are you)? People pleasing can also be to avoid social shunning or negative emotions or comments from others. (If you just do what she says, your mother won’t call you those terrible names.)

People pleasing behaviour will put other people’s desires and values before your own. You will find it hard to say no or that you don’t like something. The attempt to even put a boundary in place, let alone communicate that boundary to anyone else, may feel unnatural and emotionally draining. Thoughts like, “What will happen if they don’t like the boundary?” will trigger fear and anxiousness.

People pleasing behaviour can be driven by fear – a fear of what will happen if you do not do what the other person wants. For example, if I say I don’t want to work late to my boss, I am going to get fired! This fear will mean I will be working late, no matter if my parents have driven from out of town to spend the weekend with me.

What can we do to help with these barriers to erecting our boundaries?

  • Be very clear on what is important to you.
  • If you’re new to boundaries, start small. Set a boundary with minimal risk and then enforce it. Get bigger and more frequent as you gain confidence.
  • Look at yourself. Start working on the stuff that has conditioned you to think that you need to please other or, feel guilty if you take time for yourself or you must do something even though you don’t want to. 

You are a whole and worthy human being – take time for yourself and protect what matters to you.


How do requests differ from boundaries, and why does clarity matter in conflicts?

Boundaries can be a real challenge for a lot of folks in part because boundaries are stated like they are requests.

Boundaries are not requests. You are not asking someone, out of the kindness of their hearts to do you a favour. When you set a boundary, you are deciding on what your morals, ethics and values will tolerate and then deciding what you will do when those boundaries are violated.

What makes a good boundary has been discussed in another blog post, so we will not go into Firm, Fair and Flexible here. What I do want to expand upon is how you put up your boundary.

Like a good rancher, you need to put fences up around your property to keep your cows safe. (Keeping your personal peace, protecting your morals, values, and ethics.)

This needs to be done in such a way that everyone knows where the boundary is. Think of that split rail fence you see driving through the country – they are everywhere. (We all know people have boundaries, a good portion of the time they are well communicated and logical.)

There are some fences, however, that have a sign tacked to them “No Trespassing. Trespassers will be Prosecuted” It seems redundant, doesn’t it… the fence is up, you assume people will stay off your property. This added sign is a clear message to anyone who comes near the rancher’s boundary that, not only are you keeping the cows inside safe, but you also won’t let anyone come into your property to disturb them either. (You’ve set a firm boundary, communicated well, and set consequences.)

If some hunters hop over the rancher’s fence in pursuit of a deer, the rancher then must call law enforcement to press charges against the hunters. (Enforce the boundaries to protect your morals, values, and ethics.)

Like the rancher – ensure you know what you are protecting, set clear boundary lines, communicate them well and act on violations quickly in exactly the way you said you would.

Let’s think of this another way –

  • What if the rancher found the hunters with their cows but did not press charges?
  • What if the rancher did not put-up fences?
  • What if the rancher did not post signs?
  • If we take those three questions out of the metaphor –
  • What if someone violated your boundary and you did nothing about it?
  • What if you didn’t put up any boundaries at all?
  • What if you do not communicate what will happen if your boundaries are crossed?

Now that we have explored boundaries a little bit more, let’s move onto the concept of a request. A request sounds like, “Can you please not comment about my appearance?” or maybe, “Please make sure you take off your muddy boots before you come into the house.” Both sentences are requests – they are hoping that the other person will do what you asked.

Jumping back into our metaphor –

  • “Please, cows, don’t wander off.”
  • “Neighbour’s cows, please don’t eat the feed left out for my cows.”
  • “Hunters, try not to disturb my cattle, if you could.”
  • “Hunter, in the future, can you stay off my property?”

A request is asking someone to voluntarily follow a direction without effective communication or follow up. Someone hearing a request decides on whether to agree to your request. I could march right into your house with muddy boots on your white carpet – nothing is going to happen to me, and you get to clean up the mess. I can continue to make whatever comments about your appearance I want to, there are no consequences to my actions.

If we take these two examples and flip them into boundary statements, they will look something like this:

  • Take your boots off when you come into the house, or I will stop inviting you over.
  • I do not appreciate comments about my appearance. If you continue to do so, I will file a formal complaint with HR.

The important thing about both statements is not that you made them. The important thing here is, after you have said them, you must follow up! Stop inviting muddy-boots-friend to your house and file that report with HR.

Also note the language used in these two examples. The language is definitive. There is no grey area to what is being said. “Take them off or I will stop inviting you.” There is no room for interpretation. “I do not appreciate your comments, stop or I will formally report you.” Again, there is no mincing words. There is also no judgement, name calling or other extra words that will cloud your message.

This is not to say that these sentences cannot be said respectfully. You do not have to yell or be sarcastic or condescending. A level and calm tone of voice will be enough to convey the message. The whole point of setting effective boundaries is to support your relationship with this person moving forward.  It’s about relationship management.

Do not wait until you are on your final nerve before exploding into boundary setting. Like our rancher, by that time, the hunters are in your field and your cows have wandered off – you yelling that’s it’s not okay is not going to help. Set your boundaries with care and early in your relationships.

Some homework for you–

  • Start identifying your cows (morals, values, ethics)
  • Start putting up your fences and signs (boundaries and communication)
  • Prepare for what you will do if someone hops your fence (enforcing your boundaries)
What is conflict avoidance?

Conflict avoidance - what is it and why do we need to talk about it?

Conflict avoidance is the tendency of a person to avoid conflict at all costs and get emotional relief from the feelings the conflict brings up via other actions.  We all avoid some conflicts but people who regularly, and by default, avoid conflict and engage in other activities are on a whole other level.

A gentle reminder - conflict is not generally a “bad” thing.  It is simply two people or groups with a difference of opinion or perspective.  When mentioning conflict or confrontation in my blogs, this is what I am referring to.  Yes, conflict is emotionally impactful sometimes and can be uncomfortable but in this context is not violent or damaging.

Why may people be conflict avoidant?

People may adopt conflict avoidant behaviour for a number of reasons, including:

  • A history of traumatic conflict situations such as violence or emotional abuse,
  • Not having the appropriate skills to deal with conflict (never having been taught as a child, for example), and
  • Not seeing the value in the relationship that would otherwise trigger healthy conflict to create future peaceful interactions.

There are other reasons, this is not a comprehensive list.  Note - if you or someone you know are conflict avoidant due to a history of violence or emotional abuse, please reach out to your healthcare providers for mental health supports.

What are conflict avoidant behaviours?

People pleasing - a fear of others’ feelings or of upsetting others.  These folks will think of the worst case scenario that could arise out of a conflict situation and focus on only that. To avoid this perceived terrible outcome, they will ensure those around them are kept as happy as possible.

Stonewalling or changing the subject - To ensure the topic never comes out into the open, the conflict avoider may avoid speaking with the individual, not participate in work projects with the other person or deliberately change the subject off of the sensitive issue when it is brought up.

Gossip or venting - While there are two (or more) schools of thought on “venting” beware when venting or gossip become your pressure valve.  When using gossip or venting to relieve the emotional discomfort you are feeling, you are:

  1. Getting only temporary relief from your uncomfortable feelings (meaning - you will have to do it more and more to continue your relief).
  2. Pulling another person into your conflict (meaning - causing divides in relationships not originally involved in the conflict).  For example - you are having an issue with your boss, you vent about this to someone else who reports to your boss but may not have troubles with your boss… you are now involving this person in the conflict and requiring them to take sides and provide you comfort (or conversely siding with your boss).
  3. Perpetuating the problem - without dealing directly with the issue (independently or with appropriate supports) the issue will continue.  Note - if you are in or are dealing with conflict avoidance due to a violent or emotionally abusive relationship, I am not advocating a confrontation or conflict management - seek professional help.

Ignoring the issue - you’re fine.  Totally. Fine. With. It.  You push your discomfort down deep inside and ignore it as best you can while smiling in the relationship that contains the conflict.  Beware - this technique can cause physical and mental health issues.  Further, if employed regularly, it can result in the “Toothpaste cap” event. 

Toothpaste cap event - when a couple in an intimate relationship decide to split up or get a divorce because one of them has left the cap of the toothpaste tube… again!!  You and I both know, my Friend, that the toothpaste is the straw that broke the camel’s back… there are other things in the relationship that have been pushed down so deep that the only safe way to address emotional discomfort is over something as innocuous as toothpaste.  Meaning - it is easier to have conflict over toothpaste than it is over money, children, unmet needs, or other charged issues.

Shutting down - you know that person, when you try to talk to them, they stop making eye contact, they don’t talk to you or engage in conversation?  They are unable to engage in the relationship in order to fix whatever the conflict is about. 

How can you overcome conflict avoidance?

  • Know your feelings - Why are you feeling conflict? What is specifically bothering you? Identify, validate and manage the emotions you are having.  Your ability to do this is a sign of emotional health and your proactive care of your emotions.
  • Know your motivation - Why are you avoiding conflict? Are you getting benefits from avoiding conflict or would you get more benefit from a resolution?
  • Framing  - How are you looking at the situation and are there other ways you can look at the situation? How can you look at this situation in a constructive way?
  • Practice emotional regulation activities - Feeling anxious or stressed out - how do you normally address that? Go for a run.  Get walking in nature. Journal those feelings out.  Whatever it is you do - get going!  This is another sign of proactive care of your emotional health.
  • Build a plan - worried about how the conflict will go if you try?  Plan out what you want to say and how.  Some upcoming blogs will address empathetic assertion, a good tool for the tool box.  When you deal with the issue you can move forward exploring more opportunities.  
  • If needed, grab a trusted mentor or coach to help you build a plan. Sometimes having that sounding board can help you sort through your thoughts and emotions surrounding the conflict. Note - I am not saying you have to continue in the relationship - sometimes the conflict is about moving on - for example - having to have the difficult conversation with a long term employee that they are no longer employed.
  • Don’t wait! - The longer you put off a confrontation the more emotions will build up behind it… and with it fear.  Try to address conflict as quickly as possible after the event to get yourself emotional relief and effectively manage your relationship going forward.

If you want to learn more or need some coaching, reach out to us - we would be happy to help.

Why should you focus on the outcome during a conflict?

Many of us may have strong emotions surrounding the concept of conflict. So strong, in fact, that we may avoid conflict all together, being "nice" and putting our needs and wants aside for the privilege of not having to engage in conflict. This concept is known as conflict avoidance - a topic that we will cover more in another article because it is important to have a chat about that all on its own.

What we are going to talk about here is not conflict avoidance it is Smart Conflict©.  When to engage in conflict and when to let it go. 

This is different from conflict avoidance because you are not habitually avoiding conflict to make others happy and yourself comfortable - you know conflict is good and it will happen in your relationships.  However, there is no need to run into conflict willy-nilly laying down your thoughts without regard for the desired outcomes.

Conflict impacts our relationships with other people.  You have relationships with every person in your life… not just friends and family but co-workers and transactional relationships as well (your barista or grocery store clerk).

Smart Conflict© starts at the end - the outcome. When looking to engage in conflict, consider what you want the outcome to be.  What do you want this relationship to look like after the conflict. How can you achieve that outcome limiting any negative impacts. (Tip: this works for conflict avoidance, too.  If the conflict is to improve your quality of life, we need to work through your fears surrounding conflict and get some resolution.)

Is walking up to the retail worker and telling them how incompetent they are for not having your favourite shampoo on the shelf actually serving you in some way (other than giving you a vent to the emotions you cannot control yourself… yup, I said it, I went there…)? Is getting out of your car and kicking in the head light of the person who cut you off in traffic getting you anything other than momentary emotional relief and a chat with the police? Is dumping your long term partner with a litany of the terrible things they have done in your relationship helping you or helping them... or are you just trying to make yourself feel better in the moment?

Let’s explore when conflict may not be in your best interest:

When you are emotionally triggered. No good conversation ever comes out of a situation where emotions are high and darn near uncontrollable. Take your time and step away from the situation. Do what you do to cool down a bit - go for a walk or run, take a shower, meditate, scream into a pillow... whatever it is, get that energy out.

There is no rule that indicates you must have a conflict now.  There is no rule that says you have to juggle your strong emotions and how to best navigate a conversation towards a desired solution at the same time. 

  • Give yourself a break. 
  • Take some time. 
  • Think about the outcome. 
  • Revisit the situation.  (Note: this is not conflict avoidance… you will come back to the situation, just when you have a cooler mindset and can advocate for yourself.)

Vengeance. Let me be perfectly clear here - Smart Conflict© is not vengeance. If your one desire is to make the other person "pay" and feel horrible things… It is time to take a step back and not engage.  (See point #1.)

Mind your business. When the conflict has absolutely nothing to do with you (and nobody's getting hurt) stay out of it. No, really.  Stay out of it.  

  • The couple in line in front of you at the grocery store fighting about who’s parents to visit for the holidays do not need you to weigh in on who’s right and who is wrong. You are not helping.
  • You sounding off to the sales clerk trying to explain the return policy to someone  is none of your business. You are not helping.

With this said, let me be perfectly clear, if someone is getting hurt or is in danger, do not be a bystander. For example, the person sitting next to you at the bar who is now being touched by someone even though they told the other person to go away, this is a time to step in - you are helping here...Okay?

Boundaries intact, perimeter secure. Yelling at your spouse for chewing loudly… your child wearing that awful outfit outside of the house (you know the one)... your mother-in-law not eating the chicken you have prepared… Annoying, yes.  Conflict worthy… on their own… no.

If your personal boundaries and morals have not been violated, entering into a conflict about something is likely not in your best interests (anyone been in an argument because you breathe too loud?… No… just me… okay…😬).  At best you come off as irritated and moody, at worst you are coming off as selfish and argumentative... neither a good place to be if you're nurturing a relationship.

You’re bored. There are so many things you can be doing in the world… Why pick a fight? Conflict is not entertaining. Conflict impacts relationships. 

Many of us have had a person in our life who has done this. This type of behaviour can:

  • Make interacting with the conflict-lover difficult, if not frightening.
  • Affect your self esteem.
  • Impact your ability to predict what will and will not trigger a conflict leading to feelings of insecurity and anxiety in the relationship.
  • Boredom is not a valid reason to start a conflict.  See above: start with the outcome.

You may be seeing that a lot of this Smart Conflict© stuff is starting with you... what you are thinking and feeling, what you want to have your relationship look like in the future.

To start practicing Smart Conflict© today:

Take inventory of how you are feeling about the situation:

  • What are your feelings, exactly? What is the trigger for your emotional state? (I know this bullet point may sound silly. Many of us, however, do not take time to identify/ name our feelings and what is triggering them.)
  • Are your feelings controllable? (Violence (hitting, smacking, ramming with your vehicle), yelling/screaming, sobbing/crying that interferes with your ability to speak - none of these are controlled responses.)
  • Do your feelings need some time and space to process? (Rage, vengeance, deep sadness or hurt need time to process.)

Take inventory of your motivation:

  • Do you have a clear idea on why you are engaging in conflict?  What are you getting out of this?
  • Do you have a clear vision of the relationship after the conflict?

Don't forget to give yourself some grace - you will not necessarily be great at Smart Conflict© when you start, but you will get better the more you work at it.

What can happen if you mishandle conflicts?

Human beings are social creatures.

We rely on other people in our lives, in varying degrees of closeness, to exist.

When I say relationships, I know you started thinking about yours. Your parents, your spouse, your siblings, your friends. These are the close relationships that form, to different depths, our social bonds.

I do want you to think about the relationships outside of these close relationships and ask you to consider other relationships you may not classify as such. You have relationships all around you, even if you do not notice them -

  • Shelly at the coffee shop that gets you your favourite drink every morning,
  • Jalisa from the accounting department who manages your clients' invoices,
  • The nameless person who delivers your take-out food,
  • Your neighbour Ahmed.

Even these people with whom you have no deep emotional connection with (for good or for bad) have a relationship with you. These are transactional relationships - relationships where both parties have some sort of expectation reciprocity - you do something for them, and they do for you.

So why am I talking about this, you may be asking.

Even transactional relationships may contain conflict.

Think of personal transactions:

  • Shelly at the coffee shop who overcharges you...
  • The person who delivers your take-out food and it is cold...
  • Your neighbour Ahmed who likes classical music... really, really, loud classical music.

In a workplace environment these conflicts can be particularly impactful:

  • Think of Jalisa from the accounting department... who manages your clients' invoices... and gets them wrong more often than they get the invoices right.
  • A co-worker who does not meet their deadlines causing issues with your work.
  • A boss who does not recognize your contributions effectively.

Relationships (family, friends, transactional) can all suffer if you do not manage conflict effectively.

  • Yelling at Shelly that overcharges you (do you really want to go back to that coffee shop the next morning?)
  • Throwing the take-out food at the delivery person and getting banned from your app or worse.
  • Pounding on the floor mercilessly all night until another neighbour calls the building manager on you instead of Ahmed.
  • Jalisa who you gossip about and, when new colleagues arrive, you exercise character assassination even before the newcomer knows who Jalisa is.
  • The deadline missing colleague you choose to ignore in all settings leading to a meeting with HR.
  • Quitting your job because you do not feel appreciated by your boss, changing your life.

The wonderful (and sometimes inconvenient) thing about being human is that we need other humans. (I honestly could not live without my electrician... I have no idea how to put up those new fixtures...)

 How you manage conflict will determine what your social situations will look like moving forward.

 Uncontrolled emotional release to make yourself feel better in the moment may cause serious (and in extreme cases, irreparable) damage. In the case of family, friends and coworkers’ social bonds can be broken and difficult to repair.

 So, when conflict arises... what tips can help you preserve your social bonds?

 Tip #1 (and the most important) - What do you want this relationship to look like in the future?

It sounds non-sensical. When your emotions are bubbling, and you just want to let the other person "have it" - trying to picture yourself in the future with this person is hard.

Shelly at the coffee shop - Do you want to keep coming to this shop? How important is your reputation at this shop? 

The take-out delivery person - Do you want to keep ordering from this app? Are there better ways to resolve your issue than tossing noodles all over your delivery driver? If resorting to acting out - what does a criminal record mean to you (or at least the embarrassment of police at your door asking about assault allegations...) 

Your neighbour, and classical music lover, Ahmed - do you need to live next to this person until your lease is up or you sell your place... is having a contentious relationship from this point forward worth it?

Jalisa who you gossip about because you find her work sub-standard. What are the affects of this on your career?

Tip #2 - Think about how you would want to be dealt with if the situation was reversed (empathy).

I know you are thinking that you would never do that. But what if you did?

Being able to put yourself in someone else's frame of mind/ situation, and then attempt to understand it, is called empathy. Empathy does not require you to have felt the way they feel. Empathy does not require you to have experienced what they are experiencing. Empathy requires you to think of what it could be like and then respond to build a bond. (Don't panic, I am not asking you to become best friends with your noisy neighbour. I am asking you to think about how you will talk to them in the elevator tomorrow morning.)

If you made the mistake and over charged someone... how would you want to be treated?

If you were making a delivery and delivered cold food... how would you want to be treated?

If you were making a mistake at work and other people noticed... how would you want to be treated?

Then once you are in this empathetic mindset - choose what to do next. 

Tip #3 - Manage the emotion.

I have a secret.

Well, it is not really a secret.

There is no one on the planet who can make you feel anything. How you feel is a choice. (Barring medical conditions such as bi-polar disorder or depression, for example.) 

If people could make you feel things... you would be happy... because I wish you, my Friend, would be happy. Did it work? Unlikely...

In this same vein, Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 played at 1am through the walls of your bedroom is unlikely to trigger rage. The rage is a choice... just as what you are going to do about it is a choice. (See my December 25th post: Sometimes little things are just little things to explore this further.)

Understanding that what you choose to do with conflict will affect your relationships is a big step on positive conflict management. 

This may take some pause. A little unpacking. You need to decide what each relationship means to you. (I mean, come on... I love that coffee shop and do not want to find another.)

Stay tuned for upcoming posts on Empathetic Assertion to get more tips and ideas on how to choose to move ahead with your conflict management.

How do I handle people's reactions during conflict?

This is a multi-part series about managing common reactions to conflict.


What steps can I take to prevent emotional hijacking during confrontations?

The most common question I get when workshopping conflict is, how do they get the other person to:

  • Calm down?
  • See reason?
  • Not be angry?
  • Agree with me?
  • Not cry?
  • Not get emotional?
  • Or any other state of mind that the asker wants to impose on their conflict partner.

My very unsatisfying answer is – you can’t.

Dear Friend, don’t leave me now – stay with me for a few more paragraphs and I will explain.

Conflict, in its nature, has two opposing opinions coming together. As social creatures, we want to be in harmony with other people (even if you’re not aware of it yourself or you are in denial about this fact). When we are not in harmony, this causes stress and anxiousness. There is, then, a natural desire to re-establish the balance and harmony. Psychological safety drives us to try and “make” the other person see the issue your way… or avoid the confrontation all together.

We get nervous.  This nervous energy causes us to come in hard or avoid the situation based upon what you label the energy as. Is your nervous energy “good?” Or is your nervous energy “bad?” (Remember – there are no “good” or “bad” emotions… there are simply emotions, the value judgement is yours.)

If you are interpreting your nervous energy as something “good,” you will enter the confrontation with a more open mind. This will affect how you communicate; from the words you choose to your body language. If your energy is “good,” you will be more open to the relationship, alternate points of view and be less emotionally connected to being “the winner”.

If you are interpreting your nervous energy as something “bad,” you may not enter the confrontation at all. You will start focusing on all the things that could go wrong and be less focused on the benefits of the discussion. If you do jump into the conflict, your messaging, body language and tone of voice will convey your “bad energy” to the other person, triggering their psychological defense systems. We are now in a perfect set up for a poor outcome to conflict.

As you can see from these two paragraphs, conflict comfort is all about how you think about the process itself.

Please do not misunderstand me, I am not saying that you will not be nervous or have strong emotions entering a confrontation. I have been working with conflict for years and years (…and years…) and I still get a gut twisting feeling sometimes. If I compare my reaction now to 15 years ago, however, the feeling is manageable and I can stay in control of my brain, usually avoiding, the amygdala hijacking.

Amygdala hijacking… what is that you may ask…? The amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for your immediate, life preserving reactions in times of danger. When we enter into conflict, and we are not preparing ourselves for it, our brain goes into self preservation mode (fight-flight-freeze-fawn) and shuts off our higher brain functions (i.e. like logical thinking). When life was dangerous for us as a species, this was helpful to ensure we did not get eaten by a bear. In a boardroom or with your uncle at the family reunion, you are not going to get eaten; but your brain doesn’t know that.

What steps can you take to reduce the chances of a brain hijacking?
Listen to your body – what are the sensations and bodily reactions you get when you’re about to go “tharn” (to quote Watership Down). By paying attention to the shifts in your body, you will be able to start predicting when you will experience the hijacking. Getting your logical brain working on supporting your thoughts and emotions in the moment will help stave off the coming attack.

  • Know your buttons – when do you usually get hijacked? When talking to your boss or someone who has perceived superiority over you? When talking to your mother (sorry, mom)? When facing someone who has little control over their emotions? By understanding when you typically get hijacked, you will be able to mentally prepare before you get into the situation and lose logical brain function.
  • Have a plan – When you know what your signs are and what situations are going to push your buttons, plan on how to deal with a hijacking before it takes over. Engage your logical brain well in advance of a conflict situation to set out things that will help you manage the conflict, like:
    • Step away from the situation for a moment (i.e. go get a glass of water).
    • Be more mindful - Connecting with the situation and not getting lost in the emotion of the moment will help the emotional response (i.e. connect to 5 things each that you can see, hear, touch, smell and taste to bring you back to your body and out of “tharn”).
    • Enlist backup – if entering a situation with someone you can trust (like a teammate working on the same project as you), share your nervous energy and how you want them to respond if you start showing symptoms of a hijacking (i.e. taking over the presentation for the next slide or two, suggesting a short break, etc.).
    • Breathe – when you start going into hijack mode, your breath becomes very shallow and quick. Sometimes, you may even start holding your breath – this pushes you quicker to the hijack point. As simple and redundant as it sounds – remember to breathe, deep breaths!

These are but a few techniques to keep you working in your logical brain space and out of your hijack mode.

In summary, your desire to control the other person’s response to the conflict is a reflection of your inner emotional energy. By knowing and planning supports for your emotional reactions, you will set yourself up for a more successful conflict that has less of a negative emotional impact on you. Remember however, that a successful outcome every time is unrealistic. To borrow a mantra from Amy E. Gallo that may help you when feeling the conflict pressure –

“Sometimes, people are going to be mad at you… and that’s okay.”

Take a look at Amy’s TED Talk here: Amy E. Gallo: The Gift of Conflict | TED Talk


What strategies can I employ to handle the emotional reactions of others during confrontations?

 How do I manage other people’s emotions? 

This is a common question I get when workshopping conflict. People have a lot of anxiousness surrounding what the other person will do in a confrontation. This feeling of worry over the other person’s reaction can sometimes be so acute, that the worrier chooses not to confront the other person at all; instead choosing to live with the issue that is bothering them forever instead of opening a dialogue.

We have walked through a lot of tools and techniques to set up your confrontation to get the best possible outcome. This is the best place to start. Check out my other blogs (and subscribe!) to refresh your memory.

Even with the best self-management and situation set up, there will still be times where the other person will react in a way that is not in line with good relationship management. In this case, I once again want to remind you, you cannot control the emotions or reactions of another person; you can only control yourself.

The first rule on working with another person’s reaction: Do not engage in the same lack of self-regulation.

A situation will not get resolved if both of you are:

  • Yelling at each other,
  • Giving each other the silent treatment,         
  • Refusing to own responsibility for your own actions,
  • Calling each other names,
  • Trying to bully the other person into agreement or capitulation.

The only things this type of reaction-to-reaction behaviour will accomplish is damage to the relationship, hurt feelings and a prolonged conflict.

You read and hear the flippant soundbites of, “Don’t lower yourself to their level.” This never sat well with me in the past for several reasons: 

  • Why should I have to control my emotions when they, so very obviously, are not?
  • Why do I have to act like I am not feeling anything when they are calling me names or being rude, venting
  • all that emotion? 
  • What obligation do I have to make this other person feel respected in this relationship when they obviously don’t have the same respect for me? 
  • When do I get to vent my emotions so they can understand how deeply I am feeling things, too?

It took me a long time to understand that, “Don’t lower yourself to their level.” Is not for them. It is not to ensure that they feel better or get something that I do not. It is for me. It is so I:

  • Don’t have to generate all of that negative energy fighting someone and something that isn’t really mine to deal with.
  • Don’t have to live with regret if I say or do something in the heat of the moment that is not in line with the person I am or want to be.
  • Don’t have to try to repair damage in my relationships where no damage would have existed if I had just held my boundaries and understood that the other person’s reaction is a reflection of their inner dialogue and hurt, not a conscious attack on me or my character.

I had to take a long (long, long, long) look at myself and figure out how I could remain psychologically safe in a situation where other people’s emotions and reactions didn’t make sense to me. Where their reactions are, in my opinion, out of sync with the situation.

I am not telling you I am perfect at this, far from it. I continue to work with this every time a conflict arises in my life and emotions get high. I continue to work with this even when there is no conflict because, my Friend, this has nothing to do with conflict. It has everything to do with how I perceive myself and my self-worth. As I grow as a person, this perception of self and self-worth grows along with me.

So, the first rule in working with other people’s emotions during a conflict is to learn how to work with your own.


How can we effectively manage conflicts with individuals who respond with silence?

 “How can I make people…?” This is a common question in most of my workshops. My standard reply is, “You can’t.” Very unsatisfying, to be sure. I think the real question that is being asked in these situations is “How do I manage someone’s reaction to a conflict that makes me uncomfortable?” This is what we will cover in the coming posts. How do you manage someone’s reaction that makes you uncomfortable:

  • Yelling or shouting,
  • Bullying,
  • Silence,
  • Complaining, gossiping, backstabbing or character assassination,
  • Avoidance,
  • Denial and displacement,
  • Self-arguers.

To be honest, you may find yourself falling into one (or more) of these categories depending on the person or the situation. Most times, people’s reactions to situations are so ingrained that they are unconscious. People don’t even choose how to react, they simply dive into the habit they have built up over time.

Understanding that the other person’s behaviour is unlikely a conscious attack on you as an individual is helpful, however it still may trigger a reaction in you, but now you can begin to depersonalize the situation and gain perspective?

Let’s look at the silence reaction - as your confrontation partner sits blankly staring at you not saying anything, what’s a person to do? When dealing with this situation, understanding the source is important. When in a confrontation, people will go into the fight-flight-freeze reaction. Silence to a confrontation is a good representation of the “freeze” mode. The higher brain functions have shut down, the base-brain functions have taken over and the brain says the best course of action is to not say or do anything and wait for the danger to pass.

What are you going to do about it? There are some options:

  • You’ve read Smart Conflict and have had some time to plan your agenda. Give the other person some time to digest and plan.
  • You’ve had time to marshal your emotions – do the same for the other person. The freeze response is simply them trying to process all the emotions while trying to interact with you… and it’s not working. Give the other person time to manage their emotions before speaking with them.
  • Be aware of your status. If you are a supervisor or manager and you approach someone out of the blue with a conflict, there is likely to be fear. Am I going to get fired? What about my bonus? I was on track for a promotion, what now?

When you hope to prevent the freeze reaction, try something like this:

“Hello, Jason. I would like to talk to you about your performance in the stakeholder meeting this morning and the quality of the presentation. I am hoping to improve them for next time. Can I put an hour into your calendar at 1pm so we can review?”

By putting the introduction to the conflict together in such a way, you are respecting many of the triggers that can cause resistance. In David Rock’s 2008 study found people become reactive and prone to heated conflict when certain parts of the personality feel like they are being attacked.  This led Rock to the create of the acronym SCARF to help folks remember what these triggers are (status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness).

You are approaching Jason with calm respect (status). You are being specific about what you want to talk to Jason about (certainty and autonomy). You have clearly set out your goal for the conversation (certainty and relatedness). You have given Jason a choice to the timing of the meeting (status and fairness).

You may now be wondering what you can do to address the freeze response in the moment:

  • Respect the time and place – if you are in public, if you have not given the person time to mentally prepare for the conflict – and, of course, if you are able. Back off and give them time to process. Set up a meeting for later in the day and follow up – don’t let the freeze response deter you from pursuing a necessary conflict.
  • Do not badger them. Do not repeatedly ask for a response. Do not demand that they speak to you. Any response, a head nod, a “uh-huh”, is unlikely to mean what you think it does when the other person is in a reactive freeze state. When in this state, they just want the threat (in this case – you) to leave them alone.
  • Enter the conflict with calm. When speaking with them, express your boundaries and needs, but keep your emotions under control. Your big emotions are likely to make the other person’s freeze reaction worse. (See our blog on managing your reactions )
  • Acknowledge their discomfort and offer to reconvene. You do not have to understand why they are in freeze mode, but recognizing and respecting that they are, displays good emotional intelligence. Do not forget or avoid following up – the conflict is needed to continue to improve your relationship.

In conclusion, if you know the other person is typically a freeze type reaction – set them up to move into the situation with confidence and prepared for a conflict. This is a good plan for any reaction or response type. In the moment, show empathy and remember David Rock’s SCARF – respect the triggers and get a better outcome to your conflict.


How can we effectively manage conflicts with individuals who raise their voice?

 Let’s continue with our exploration of other people’s reactions to conflict. Last time we discussed the Sound of Silence – the “freeze” response when we feel threatened. Let’s jump to the under end of the spectrum – and one of the most feared reactions – the one who raises their voice – the “screecher.”

To review – when threatened people can go into fight-flight-freeze mode. Depending on a variety of factors, the same person may go into a different reaction at different times. Do not make the mistake of assuming someone who shouts will always resort to yelling at you. Some of the factors that will impact your conflict partner’s reaction are:

  • Location – where are you?
  • Their mood – were they already stressed out?
  • Your approach – were you coming on strong? Weak? Respectful? Harsh?
  • Observers – do you have eager spectators?
  • Time of day – are they hungry? In a rush?

What happens with a “screecher”? You approach with a conflict, and while things may start out okay, as you progress in the negotiation phase, the stress builds up in your partner until they feel they must defend themselves against you. This slide into defensive mode can be quick or it can take a little while. Once your partner hits capacity, they begin to yell. This will likely be accompanied with not letting you speak (cutting you off, talking over you), body language that is large and expressive (waiving of arms, banging of hands on the table), and other signs of agitation.

This is a big one. When people are going to have a conflict with others, this is a topic that really deters a lot of folks from even trying to resolve the conflict. Who likes getting yelled at? The human brain has evolved to keep you safe. Getting yelled at could be a threat and your brain wants to keep you safe. However, to do this, your brain will make the risks seem larger than they are. Conflict can ruin relationships, impact your self-esteem and make life harder – proactively and positively managing your conflict is important.

Let’s pause for a moment.

There will be cues telling you that yelling may start. By actively listening to the conversation (this means looking at all the communication dimensions – face, body, tone, words, volume, emotions) you may be able to predict the screeching and take steps to reduce the stressors (for example, giving the other person time and space before approaching again).

Still pausing…

If, at any time, you feel this person agitation is a threat to you – disengage. Pull back and make a plan to address the conflict with some safety mechanisms in place for both of you. I am not suggesting you enter a potentially hostile environment; this methodology is for common conflicts only. With that said, few conflicts devolve into safety related issues (unless you are working in an environment where this is par-for-the-course, like policing) and remember, your brain will overestimate risks to keep you safe.

Back to it – when faced with a screecher, it is important to have your boundaries clearly defined. What will you tolerate and what will you not tolerate? For example, if they are upset over a car accident and are being very loud at expressing their upset, this is different that yelling and cussing at you over something they don’t appreciate about you.

When volume increases, remain calm. Make sure you are calm and clear with your boundary, “I am uncomfortable with you raising your voice. I do want to resolve this but if you continue to raise your voice I am going to have to leave.” Remember – with boundaries – it is up to you to enforce them. If your conflict partner continues to yell, “I am going to leave because you keep raising your voice.” And then LEAVE!

Avoid the temptation to fight fire with fire… yelling back does not help the situation. You will only have two stressed out people yelling loudly and no one but coworkers or the neighbours listening. I agree, yelling back will make you feel better in the moment.  However, yelling back is unlikely to move you to your ideal solution to the conflict.

Even if you are not totally calm, check your communication – this can help you appear calm. When in a heightened state of stress, your non-verbal communication becomes very important. Ensure you remain as relaxed as possible in your face and body. Keep your hands by your sides, hands open. Be aware of your eye contact, make sure you are maintaining it to appropriate levels (don’t stare at the floor or directly at the person unwaveringly), keep your shoulder square to the person or slightly turned away if they are getting more worked up.

Screeching, as part of the fight-flight-freeze mode, is an attempt to make the threat (you) go away. If you must disengage as the stress of the situation is too high for the screecher or yourself, remember to return to the conflict later. Do not let the possibility of yelling to deter you from addressing the conflict that brought you to that moment to start with.


How can we effectively cope with bullying in conflict situations?

 Reactions to conflict that make us cringe. It is arguable that the worst of them is the bully. You know the one. The person who pushes their agenda with judgement and ridicule until you feel there is no option but to give in to their perspective. This one.

Side note: Bullying can be a form of workplace harassment. If bullying is occurring and you do think it is harassment, reach out to your supervisor or your HR department for support.

How does bullying appear in a confrontation?

The “you must be stupid” tactic: When employing this tactic, the bully will question your intelligence with a myriad of phrases. This is a deflection away from your feelings and thoughts, to make you second guess yourself and move away from conflict.

  • It’s really obvious, I don’t know how you don’t understand.
  • Nobody thinks like that any more except you.
  • I’ve worked here for 20 years, you’ve been here a hot second. What do you know?

The “your feelings don’t matter” tactic: Invalidating your perspective by undermining your feelings. This is another deflection away from your feelings and thoughts, to make you second guess yourself and move away from conflict.

  • You cannot feel that way in this situation, it doesn’t warrant it.
  • Calm down. You’re overreacting.
  • You never acted like this before. You don’t need boundaries with me.

The Screecher is a sub-set of the bully. This person will yell at you hoping to make you go away or change your mind.

The “nice” bully. One who tells you all the reasons behind their position then cajoles you into agreeing with them. This is an attempt to build empathy from you to them – if you really liked them, you would stop the conflict.

  • Look, just do it. What harm is there?
  • You know I am right… come on, stop this.

The embarrassment tactic. Someone who tries to embarrass you into changing your conflict stance. This is an attempt to change your focus onto the past event and away from the conflict topic. This way, you either forget about the conflict or, by reasons of forfeit, lose the conflict in the other person’s perspective.

  • She’s been like this since she was a little girl, so stubborn. Stop being so difficult.
  • Stop being a stick in the mud. You were so much fun at the Christmas Party last year; I know you can let your hair down on this.

You’re a bad human being. Someone who compares you with he “social standard” of a nice person and points out where you are lacking. This is an attempt to make you “be a nice person” and see the conflict their way.

  • All you do at work is tell people what to do. Just stop already.
  • You’re useless. I don’t know why you were hired.
  • No we can’t take a break, if you loved me you would stay here and argue this out.

And many, many more.

When someone takes a bullying stance, how do you cope?

First you need to focus on your self-awareness. For this you will need to know exactly what the conflict is about.

Knowing why exactly you want to engage in conflict is then an important step. What are you hoping to achieve from the conflict. Be sure your reason for conflict lines up with your morals and values.

For example, if you have been hired to provide oversight on a production line and your job is to intervene when an error is being or about to be made, ensure that your personal morals and values line up with that position. Engaging with people and providing feedback on performance can result in more conflict than a typical job. Make sure you have the right frame of mind to help in this manner, otherwise this job will be very difficult for you.

Boundaries. When confronted with the coping mechanism of bullying, knowing in advance where your boundaries are, which ones are non-negotiable and how you will handle the situation if your boundaries are violated is going to be vital to your success. 

In the conflict situation, stay in tune with your body. When we go into situations that make us uncomfortable, some of us may detach our brain from our body. We are concerned over the conflict to a point where we are worried that we won’t be able to manage our physical reaction as well as our emotional reaction.

Knowing when the other person’s coping mechanism (not just bullying) is causing you undue stress is important so you can launch your boundary. Your physical reaction in the moment will help you identify when you may be getting too close to topics or situations you’re not yet ready to enter.

Signs you may be feeling uncomfortable in conflict:

  • Your heart is racing,
  • Your emotions are getting heavier,
  • Your palms are sweaty,
  • Your stomach is aching or flopping,
  • Your cheeks or chest feel hot,
  • Suddenly tired,
  • Unable to mentally focus,
  • Your breath is shallow and quick.

All these physical signs are indicators that you are in a heightened state, and you may need to take a break so you can regroup and calm yourself. Keep in mind, some discomfort in conflict is totally normal. Getting comfortable with discomfort will help you cope with any reaction to conflict. However, if you are moving from discomfort into panic, it’s time to hit the pause button.

When dealing with a bully, you will likely have to launch your boundary very firmly. A bully is caught inside their own emotions, conflict habits and coping mechanisms. They are going to need a firm verbal line letting them know that their behaviour is not tolerated. It may sound something like this:

“To move this conversation forward, you are going to need to stop your comments about my intelligence. If you continue to insult me, I will stop this conversation and we will have to revisit it later.”

Remember, a boundary is not a request. You are not asking someone to change their behaviour to make you feel better. You are telling them what you will do if you do not get what you need.
Words are great. The words, however, must be accompanied by effective tone of voice, body language and facial expressions. Communicating in this holistic way will make your message crystal clear to the listener.

Let’s look at an example. Picture someone who looks unsure of themselves. Where are their eyes looking? How are their shoulders sitting? How does their head sit on their shoulders? What is the tone of voice? How are words coming out of the mouth of someone who is unsure?

You have that image?

Now picture them saying the quote above… do you believe them? Would someone who is using bullying tactics stop?

It is unlikely. Make sure your face, voice and body are all telling the same message.

Hold the line! Once you have laid out that boundary, stick to it! If your conversation partner continues with the behaviour you’ve asked them to stop LEAVE! This may seem “rude” or “disrespectful” but you are simply following up on your communicated boundary and acting with integrity.

Once you have walked away because of the boundary violation, it doesn’t mean that the relationship is over and you are never to speak to this person again. No. It is time to regroup, take some time and space and then reapproach your conversation partner.

If you do not approach your conversation partner and attempt to get resolution you are:

  • Not going to get the resolution you require to move forward.
  • Be stuck with the emotional load.
  • Confirm that bullying by your conversation partner is a useful tool in making their problems (in this case you) go away.

If the bullying begins again, you may need a neutral third party to lend a hand in coming to a solution that is less disagreeable to both of you so you can move forward together.

Tools for your toolbox today:

  • Know when bullying is occurring and when it crosses to harassment.
  • Know and set your boundaries. Clearly communicate them and act on them.
  • Pursue resolution, even if you need some help to do so.
What does perspective do to a conflict?

This is a multi-part segment on how perspective impacts the quality of your conflicts.


What impact does our perspective have on our approach to conflict resolution?

Perspective is everything - Framing your conflicts to create a better outcome

  • We have all had those days.  The ones where everything seems to go wrong.  The ones where, when your friend asks you how you are doing you barf out a long litany of terrible, horrible things in the most negative descriptive wording you can imagine.  We’ve all been there.
  • We’ve all seen that person that has challenge after challenge and never says a bad thing or acknowledges that it is a terrible, horrible thing.  They always “look on the bright side” and have something positive to say.

Each of the above examples is providing insight into the perspective of the person doing the talking.  The perspective of the person doing the living.

Now, I am sure, my Friend, asking yourself what this has got to do with conflict.  The answer to that - it has everything to do with how you feel about conflict.

Let’s look at a conflict example:

You work with James. James is always late with the report he has to give you on Friday afternoons. This means you have to work late to ensure that your supervisor has the tools they need for the Monday morning meeting.  This happens every week.  It never fails.

Frame #1 - 
  • James is out to get you.  He is an inconsiderate person trying to sabotage your work so he can take your job.
  • When you think about James like this - that he is out to get you and trying to sabotage you - how do you act?  With empathy and support or with anger and frustration?
How do you feel inside when you think about James like this?  Scared? Angry? Upset?

When in this frame of mind, you are more likely to experience emotional distress and to have a negative reaction towards James if you choose to confront him.  If you choose not to confront him, you will be more likely to fall into bad habits, looking for emotional release (avoidance, gossip, character assassination, etc.).

You have chosen to see James as an adversary with intent to hurt you in some way.

Frame #2 - 

  • James must have so much work to do.  He is always getting you the report on Friday, just late.

When you think about James like this instead of Frame #1 - do your emotions change about our fictitious colleague?  Of course they do - most of us will open a conversation, try to lend a hand where we can.

When you think of James like this, how do you feel?  Concerned? Empathetic? Camaraderie?

When in this frame of mind, you are less likely to experience emotional distress.  You are thinking of James in a way that makes him relatable and more human (as opposed to the evil James Saboteur) and this means you are more likely to have a conversation (read: conflict, confrontation) with him about your concerns around the late reports.  Not only are you more likely to open the conversation, you are also more likely to be in control of your emotions and have a better outcome.

You have chosen to see James as a person who is struggling.

It is important to understand that without confronting James (being brave enough to jump into the conflict or conversation) you will never know which of the above frames is true (or something else entirely).

So how do we start working on our framing?

The great news (as well as the disappointing news) is that you are 100% in control of your framing!

Read that again.

I am serious - you have full control over your emotions and how you think about a situation. 

It may not seem like it because:

  • You have always responded in a particular way and so it has become an unconscious habit.  Something comfortable that you have no desire to change.
  • You are more comfortable giving other people power over you, not acknowledging the boundary of your autonomy - “They make me so angry!”
  • You have not explored other skills in managing your emotions.

Some tips on how to start to improve your framing

Catch yourself - quick! When you find yourself dipping into the negative framing of a situation, grab a hold of it.

  • Look at why you’re framing it that way. 
  • Evaluate the facts you have.  
  • Evaluate the emotions you are having. Your feelings are valid.  Hold space for them.
  • Then make the decision - what do you want to do with this situation… how do you want to frame it?  Then - make it happen!  

Imagine your future relationship - When you start to drop into framing that may not be the best for your emotional and mental health, project yourself into the future.  

  • If this situation resolved the way you want it to resolve - what would your relationship look like?  There is no right or wrong answer here… just a way to look at what you really want.
  • Once you have that vision in place, figure out what steps you need to take from where you are now, to get to that relationship future.  (Coaching can help with this!  Let Oculus Inc be your next call!)

Establish your boundaries.  Know what you are willing to accept  and what space you need to feel your best self - then communicate your boundaries (yup - time to engage in some conflict management).

This requires you to determine what your boundaries are first.  Then you move to communicating and maintaining your boundaries.

As I like to say, all it takes is perspective - a perspective that is unique to you and one that supports the best version of future-you!


How can reframing our perspective on conflict improve our mental health?

 I am going to give you a huge opportunity to reframe how you think about conflict:

You don’t have to like the other person to be able to work with, or exist along side, them without emotional stress.

We have all had people in our lives who we just cannot stand to be around - that parent at the school volunteer committee, that colleague at work, that one person who triggers a physical reaction in you every time you think about them or even just see them. Great news here - not liking that person is okay.  You don’t have to. What you do have to do is:

Protect your mental health

Over thinking about someone because you don’t like them or changing your mood or behaviour whenever this person becomes involved is doing you no favours.  It is going to stress you out and make you unhappy.

How do you protect yourself when this person drives you crazy?  Reframing, of course!

Hang with me folks…what if, instead of thinking all the ways this person drives you crazy, you thought about how you want it to be?  What do you want the outcome of the situation  with this person to be - focus on your outcome and plan to act accordingly. 

This flips your brain switch from “how am I going to react to this person” to “how am I going to respond to the situation to achieve the success I want?” Let me give you an example.

You dislike working with Anwar.  He is always taking credit for team work and presenting himself as the only person on the team.  You now have to work on another team with Anwar.  You are getting upset - you want credit for your work (and you should have it) and you want to share in the success (and you should).

So you start thinking about all the ways you may be able to control Anwar’s behaviour… if he does this, you will do that… over and over again.

News flash - you cannot control the actions of another human being. If you are planning to try, it’s futile.

Instead, start looking at what success looks like to you - being appreciated as part of the team (the team is more than Anwar); gaining experience in a new field so you can put it on your resume (something this project will give you)… notice that, as you start focusing on what is important to you and your success, the smaller and smaller your perception of Anwar’s power over you gets.

(If you need help with this a mentor or life coach can help! )

Evaluate the benefit

This person is doing an activity with you because they have benefit to the overall success of the project.  Look for that value and appreciate it.

To do this, you don’t have to like the person but, inherently, this person has value in the situation. Sometimes, we over focus on the impacts this person is having on us and not the impacts this person is having on the success of the activity.  Building on the example above of Anwar…

Anwar works in the Marketing Department.  He is highly skilled at bringing the product to the customers and driving sales. Anwar is the only Marketing representative on your project team.  Now you see his value.

You don’t have to like Anwar, but you do have to leverage their skills to get your success.

Focus on the interpersonal transactions that will achieve your team’s (and thereby your) success.

Evaluate the trigger

This person is on your emotional list of dislikes for a reason. While it is easy to say “I don’t like them” it is harder to articulate why you don’t like them.

Until you understand why you are having the reaction to their presence in your life, you are going to circle around and around the feeling without resolution. Let’s go back to our example with Anwar.

Yes, Anwar takes credit for everything and disregards his teammates - but why does that bother you?

What are your thoughts and feelings surrounding “fairness” or “teamwork” or “success” that is driving your strong emotional reaction? I can guarantee you, Anwar's behaviour will trigger me for different reasons than it would trigger you, and that is a different than it would trigger your neighbour... we are all different people with different histories.

What is your need surrounding “recognition” or “participation” that is offended by this behaviour?

It is far too easy to blame the other person for your emotions.

You are responsible for your emotions - so own them.

Look at your expectations

We all have concepts surrounding our boundaries, morals, expectations, and definitions of concepts like “fairness” and “honour”.  The challenge we encounter here is that your concepts and definitions are personally and uniquely yours and unless you have spoken to the other person about your concepts and have an agreement on definitions, you are going to forever be in a state of conflict. 

People will continually step over boundaries, violating what they did not know were there. People will regularly violate your definition of “fairness” because they don’t share the same definition.

A lot of our conflict is based on our challenges with communicating our wants and needs with one another and then holding space so we can negotiate a collaborative way forward.

Define your concepts.  Communicate your concepts and boundaries.  (It sounds so simple, but is so very hard to practice…)

I am going to leave you with a final point to consider with our fictitious friend, Anwar: If you have never spoken to Anwar politely and with confidence about your concerns, how are they supposed to adjust their behaviour to work with you (and possibly others) more harmoniously?  How is Anwar supposed to know?  Is he supposed to read your mind?

Without having a confrontation (respectful conversation) you are:

  • Causing yourself emotional stress, and
  • Doing a disservice to Anwar who continues to go through life, possibly, unknowingly hurting other people.

You don't have to like them, but you do have to be respectful of them.

You don't have to like them, but you do have to take care of your mental health.