Curbing the Curse of Conflict – Part Two


This is part 2 of 3 in thinking about one of – if not the greatest energy-sucks in organizational and family life:  Conflict.

Last week, I suggested a three-part foundation (if you missed last week’s RFL, the three parts are described in a little more detail at the end of this):

Last week’s lessons:

1: Heighten your awareness of conflict.  Awareness creates new choices.

2: Conflict is always mutual.

3: I am responsible for the way conflict affects me. Nobody makes me mad or anything else.

If you’re aware you’re in conflict, know it’s mutual (whether the other consciously knows it or not), and know you’re responsible for your own feelings, then you’re ready.

Each step is simple and each step is HARD.  Knowing is easy.  Doing hard.  Every time I have done these it has worked.

1. Don’t try to solve it . . . in one sit-down.  (If that’s really impossible, see footnote *).  Instead:

2. Make it your goal to completely understand the other.    Conflict means you have two different pictures. She believes “sell.” You believe “buy.” He wants to discipline the kids, but you think they need slack. He wants to pull the trigger, but you think other strategies are available.

This is an important truth that we almost always lose sight of:  UNDERSTANDING the other does not mean giving up your view, doesn’t mean you’re wrong, doesn’t mean they will have the upper hand. It just means understanding them. See point 1: Don’t try to solve it in one sitdown.  Your chance to be understood will come. But for right now, you are learning, and you are building trust. Remember all conflicts are mutual, so having them be heard is working on the problem. (Yes, it would be nice for them to say: “No don’t ask me about my view, let me hear your view, because you’re probably right, and I’m probably being an idiot.” What a wonderful fantasy, but life doesn’t work like that.  If you’re unsure about that, think about the last time YOU took that standpoint!)

3.   To understand: Ask open-ended questions.  And use their words to deepen and broaden your (and often their) understanding of what they’re thinking and feeling.  I teach students to think of the computer icon below. Get their exact words.

In conflict, people often feel misunderstood. So, using their words closes the gap, so they feel understood and you are causing yourself to understand.  If you want to really become a Professional at this, learn to use these two words, “Say more.” Remember, you’re not making them right, except about what they understand and believe.  So you can understand.

To completely understand – now, I’m really upping the ante – understand their feelings.  Use their words if they share them, “So, you found it frustrating when I went ahead without you?” Or, if they haven’t verbalized their feeling, you might ask, “So, it sounds like you were frustrated when I …?”  And, if you can possibly and authentically do so, validate those feelings, saying for instance, “I can see why that was frustrating for you.”

Try it!

As my wife Jennifer and I joke with each other about conversations sometimes, “Okay, when do we get to the part about me?”  That’s next week.  Really.  If you can do the above, you have done a ton!

You can conclude by thanking them for sharing, for giving you something to think about.  Tell them you’d like to let it sink in.  If you’re human, doing such listening probably triggered arguments and feelings in you.  But you’ve done heroic work.  Let it steep.  If they insist on hearing your point of view, and if there is timeliness to reach resolution, have at it. But don’t stop listening. If they push back, listen more! But if you can get them to give you time to think about their thoughts and about your role and your perspective, take the time.

I am INTENSELY CURIOUS to know if you try it, and I’d love for you to share your experience in a Comment or in a direct email to me at  Of course, if you disagree in ways, share that, too, as you

Lead with your best self.

* On urgency:  We live in a state of constant urgency it seems. But what is really urgent? Often our urgency is subjective, deadlines we have set, or anxiety that presses in on us and seeks resolution. My 28 year old and I lived in near-constant conflict. We forced ourselves to the “bargaining table” because things felt urgent.  But the urgency was so often a subjective matter, and the same feelings that gave rise to urgency made it so hard for us to be patient with each other (and with ourselves). Her fears that I was not understanding her, and mine that she was disrespecting me, kept us from being able to hear the other’s perspective.  If there is urgency, then exercising the heroic restraint of listening first becomes 10 times more important.


Elaboration of last week’s 3 lessons:

Lesson 1: Heighten my awareness of conflict.  If I don’t, I’ll perpetuate it. It exists. Admit it. Awareness creates the possibility of learning and choice.  Denial?  Not so much.

Lesson 2: Conflict is always mutual. I don’t have to punch someone in the nose or call them an asshole for them to feel that I am in conflict with them. And you know how others can squash, hurt, befuddle you – even when they don’t know it and don’t intend it.

Lesson 3: I am responsible for the way conflict affects me. Nobody makes me mad. They may stimulate the rise of anger, but it’s my anger.  Nobody makes you sad. They may say or do things that trigger sadness, but they don’t make you sad.  Own your feelings. It’s the essential beginning point.