Posts Tagged: conflict resolution

How to Have that Difficult Conversation: Part 1

Are you avoiding a difficult conversation? Maybe you are afraid of an explosive reaction, or of being minimized or turned down. It is normal to have disagreements and hurt feelings in close relationships. Even the strongest relationships must address painful issues. Difficult subject matter like hurt feelings, broken promises, or dishonest dealings have the potential to ruin a relationship. But skillful communication can help a couple face the difficulty together.

The next two blog posts, I will give you a template on how to have a difficult conversation. I want you to have the SECRET WEAPON to trans-formative conflict resolution so that all your relationships, whether at home, work or school, can benefit.

When you have to set a boundary, challenge a behavior, or get more information in the relationship, you may stress about how to do it with the least amount of discomfort to both parties. If you are in a strong and mutually respectful relationship, this tips and skills may be hard, but doable with practice. If you are in a rocky relationship, these skills are still helpful, although, you may get disappointing results from the other party.

  • The truth can hurt. The honest truth, when presented with love and respect can hurt a little, but it should never harm. Like a flu shot that stings and leaves your arm sore for a day- it hurts, but is protecting you from something much more painful and giving you a gift of immunity. No matter how loving you present the truth during a difficult conversation, it may sting for the other person to hear it. Your goal is to be thoughtful, gentle, and firm.
  • Wait until you’re ready. If you think the conversation could turn volatile, make sure you prepare yourself for the worst case scenario. Take some time to think, journal, pray and research your topic. Pay attention to how you feel, and what you need. Maybe you need a third party to be with you, maybe you need to drive your own “get away” car. Maybe you want to talk by telephone only. Wait until you have these details worked out.
  • Know what you want. It’s one thing to complain about what hurt you, and it’s quite another to identify and verbalize what you need instead. This takes some thought, practice and bravery. Think about what it is that you really want, what would make a difference to you, and why it matters.
  • Find a Good Place and Time. Think about the venue that would make you most comfortable and provide you the most support. Maybe you want to have it over coffee in a public café, or in a private office away from others. Maybe you want to have it when the kids are at grandma’s house. The place and time doesn’t have to be perfect, but preparation is very helpful.
  • Think about your own contribution. It’s good to take a look at your role in the situation and see how you contributed to the break down in communication or unhealthy dynamic. Be able to verbalize that in a way that honors both of you. Something like, “I handled our conversation poorly the last time we talked, and I want another chance to resolve this,” or “I see that I avoid conflict sometimes, and this time, I want us to solve this together.”

Once you have thought about 1) the truth of the situation, 2) what you need and what you want, 3) place and time, you’ll be ready for the next blog post that will tell you the HOW. There is a specific communication formula used to help partners/friends/spouses communicate through difficult situations with the best possible results. See you next week!




Conflict Resolution: Three Essentials to Turn Your Conflict Around

Recently I was asked to teach a Conflict Resolution class, to which I immediately said “YES, PLEASE!” Geesh, what a fantastic topic, fraught with drama and energy! Just think of all the sparks I can create. And you know how I like sparks. I’ve found that the growth, healing, and CHANGE we all desire comes out of the SPARK. So let’s talk about how to positively contain and maintain the energy created by the SPARK of conflict.

There are three presiding principles that I want my students to come away with. These principles will guide the entire class for the semester. They are easy to recall when you’re in the middle of a heated conflict and they have the power to change the way the conflict is going.

IT’S ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP, STUPID. During Bill Clinton’s 1992 successful presidential campaign, strategist James Carville coined “The economy, stupid” to focus the campaign volunteers on the main message. I think “It’s About the Relationship, Stupid” helps us focus on the relationship instead of the conflict. Sometimes we view the conflict as a face-off with the other person. But really, it is a natural, normal function of a relationship that both parties can face together. The couple faces the conflict, instead of the couple facing each other in the conflict.
Whatever you do, keep the focus on the relationship. Ask yourself what does the relationship need to make it through this conflict? An apology? A third party mediator? A compromise? It’s critical to remember that the relationship is much more important than the issue. After all, It’s About the Relationship, Stupid!


IT’S NOT ABOUT THE WHAT, IT’S ABOUT THE HOW. Often I will see corporate folks in my office who want to work on their communication and EQ (Emotional Quotient.) They have received some feedback from their supervisors and peers that they need help relating to other people on their team. They understand, plan and execute their work well (the WHAT,) but they have trouble communicating, collaborating and influencing their team (the HOW.) They tunnel-vision their way through life, for the sake of being right, isolating themselves from the people around them. Resolving conflict is often less about the CONTENT of what is being debated, and more about the PROCESS of how resolution is achieved. When you have a conflict with someone, you may be as right as rain and completely justified in your stance. However, if your style of communication makes the other party feel demeaned, inferior, dumb, or on the opposite side, you have lost the relationship. And remember, it’s About the Relationship, Stupid.

If being RIGHT trumps RELATIONSHIP, prepare yourself for a life of broken ones. However, if you learn to take the HOW seriously, there is nothing you can’t accomplish. The HOW is learning to communicate with humility, with inclusivity, and with open ended questions that draw people in, instead of pushing people away. Being willing to bend, to morph, and to expand your point of view communicates to the other person that you value what they bring to the table.


IT’S NOT A PROBLEM, IT’S AN OPPORTUNITY. Often, people are afraid of conflict because they associate conflict with something bad. Because of experiences within the Family of Origin, conflict could mean yelling, hitting, silence, withdrawal, break up, or cut off. These negative experiences with conflict can make people treat conflict like a major problem, instead of the opportunity it really is. Conflict is merely an opportunity to take the relationship to a new level of understanding, cooperation and even intimacy. There is no growth, no change, no success without the SPARK, and every relationship needs the SPARK. Conflict doesn’t have to be avoided, denied or obliterated. It should be recognized, and yes, even embraced as an opportunity to come closer. Conflict, when managed with the RELATIONSHIP and the HOW in mind, is merely a means of sharpening your character, your EQ, and your world view. It is an opportunity to widen your perspective, hone your empathy skills, and make you an expert in communication. The SPARK is not DARK! It is a GIFT with potential for great good. Conflict can be scary, just like a SPARK in dry grass. But once you know how to handle that SPARK, you can use its energy to create something new, different, and better. Whether it be a marriage, a team, a client relationship or a family, your ability to do SPARK MANAGEMENT with the RELATIONSHIP, the HOW, and the OPPORTUNITY in constant focus will energize your relationships for greater good.


Conflict at Work: Who Started it?

Is it them, or is iyou? Who started it anyway? 

Resolving Conflict takes skill, time and effort. If you can do it well, you can save marriages, business partnerships, and huge organizations from emotional and financial divorce. But how can you resolve conflict when your personally invested? How do you manag

e the emotions enough to keep the trust in the relationship strong?

Nothing can rev the engine like a hearty disagreement in the office. Whether sparks are flying or it is stone cold silent, conflict is a part of normal office life. You may not be able to resolve all conflict, but you can learn to manage it in a way that keeps you from losing yourself (and your shirt too).

Zack was a partner in charge of sales of a midsize company. His strengths included building relationships, product knowledge, and taking the attitude that, behind each sale was a real person. His team liked him and he liked his job. But he felt at odds with his business partner, Pete. When Pete offered a suggestion or ask about progress, Zack got defensive. The more this happened, the less he and his partner talked. This lack of communication affected everyone in the company, and it felt like the company was going in two different directions. Zack came into my office asking, “How can I talk to my partner without getting negative and combative?”

I consider Zack a superstar exec for two reasons; 1) he valued his business relationship more than saving face, and 2) instead of blaming his partner, he sought to resolve the conflict by owning his part.

It turns out, that Zack was acting more like an employee than a partner. Zack respected Pete’s expertise and sense of command so much, too much in fact, that he felt inferior. Zack was a partner in writing, and a subordinate in action. Pete’s self-confidence triggered Zack’s self-doubt. His insecurities resulted in passive anger, defensiveness and un-aligned vision for the company. This hurts the bottom line.

Zack and I talked about the value of the strengths he brought to the business. Zack developed a new script for himself that included “being an equal” and “having valuable input”. Zack was able to accept Pete’s strong style of leadership without taking offense to it, and was able to validate his own contributions to the business without considering them to be “less than”. This didn’t happen over night, but it did happen, and the partnership started to thrive again.


Consider the value: there is great value in the synergy, effectiveness and creativity of working relationships. Relationships are worth their weight in gold if kept healthy. How important is it for your success to make the relationship work?

Own your part of the conflict: it is easy to blame the other person. However, a good leader takes ownership of his contribution to the conflict and seeks to make a mends, make peace, and make resolution.

Ask for Help: often two people need a mediator to help resolve an issue. The working relationship between the two may be important enough to seek outside help.

Take a Break: if you are committed to finding a solution, take a break to think things over with a time and place to reconvene. Give yourself and the other party time to consider the problem and options for solutions.

Win Win: Any good resolution will cause both parties to feel as though they have won something- that the results were good for both parties. Work to identify and communicate your needs. If you are able to trust the intentions of the other party, then working to maintain the relationship is a priority.

Cut Ties: If the working relationship has come to the point where trust is gone, there may not be the time and the willingness it takes to build that trust back for future relationship. You may need to go your separate ways if 1) your conscience is pricked for ethical reasons, 2) the other party is self-interested to the point your requests are ignored, 3) threats/bullying/hostility means you trusted the wrong people and it’s time to let the Titanic sink without you on it.

More times than not, cutting ties can be avoided if proper understanding between two good willed parties is expressed.

Now it’s your turn. What Conflict Resolution Strategies have worked for you? Have you ever stayed in a working relationship long past the date it STOPPED working? What did you learn from it?

My “Relationship Savvy” blog gives you tips, advice, and flippin’ fantastic feel-goods to help with your most difficult relationship challenges.

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