Book Review-Resolving Conflicts at Work: Ten Strategies for Everyone on the Job

Conflicts are everywhere. They’re at home, at work, in our politics, and in our communities. Resolving Conflicts at Work: Ten Strategies for Everyone on the Job focuses on only work conflicts but delivers real thinking and tools that can be used in all the conflicts we face.

Triggering the Avalanche

As I sat down to write this review, I kept identifying specific kernels of how conflict operates and how people can manage it better. Each time I’d cross a topic, it would be worthy of standing on its own. It spawned a series of articles:

There are more individual pieces I started that I won’t finish until after this review. By no means did Resolving Conflicts at Work contain all the information for the articles. I’ve been teaching conflict resolution for years now. However, what it did was trigger me to put the pieces together as individual and distinct topics. It increased my awareness that, though I thought some of these things were automatic and normal, they’re far from it.

Their Ten Strategies

It seems appropriate to convey the ten strategies that they advocate for resolving conflicts:

  1. Understand the Culture and Dynamics of Conflict
  2. Listen Empathetically and Responsively
  3. Search Beneath the Surface for Hidden Meanings
  4. Acknowledge and Reframe Emotions
  5. Separate What Matters from What Gets in the Way
  6. Solve Problems Paradoxically and Creatively
  7. Learn from Difficult Behaviors
  8. Lead and Coach for Transformation
  9. Explore Resistance and Negotiate Collaboratively
  10. Mediate and Design Systems for Prevention

It’s not that these are wrong – in fact, these are the kinds of things you want to do in a conflict. The struggle for me in writing this review is that I conceptualize them very differently.

For instance, I believe that emotions are the key barrier to effective conflict resolution. In my review of De-Escalate, I explained many ways that emotions can impact us, particularly in a conflict. When we teach conflict, we start with managing emotions, and we return to it repeatedly. It’s not that Resolving Conflicts at Work doesn’t discuss emotions, but they’re far from first.

There’s nothing in Resolving Conflicts at Work that I disagree with directly. There’s great information that gives color and character to what I already knew and taught; it just feels slightly off.

Forging

The best relationships I’ve got were forged in the fire of conflict. The people I respect and trust the most are the ones with whom I’ve had disagreements and I’ve learned from. I’m built up by these conflicts, and I expect them, so that I can become a better person. The truth is that John Quincy Adams’ mother, Abigail, was right: “It is not in the still calm of life or the repose of a pacific station that great characters are formed.” We need conflict to forge our relationships and our character.

We often forget that conflict isn’t inherently bad. Conflict is only bad when it isn’t handled well, when it leads to hurt feelings or broken relationships. Conflict is the force that drives us forward into better understanding of ourselves and others.

Curiosity Killed the Cat, but Not by Conflict

If I won the genetic lottery in any way, it’s in my insatiable curiosity. My mother may not have appreciated the incessant “why” questions, but they are a powerful asset as I enter into relationships and, particularly, conflicts. The desire to learn about the inner world of the other person has helped me incalculably. (See Choice Theory for more on our inner worlds.) While curiosity may have killed the cat, curiosity is a powerful tool in conflict.

The root of conflict either comes from a difference in perspective or a difference in values. Curiosity allows you to discover whether it is a difference in perspective or a difference in values and, more importantly, the desire to explore the space that these differences occupy. If you’re not overflowing with curiosity, then cultivating it will serve you well.

Certainty

The degree to which we are certain can be both a hinderance and a help. The more certain we are of our internal values and beliefs, the more open we can be in discussing them with others – after all, there is no or little risk. However, our certainty that we’re objectively right for everyone and that there are no alternatives that are just as good or better than our approach leaves us unable to listen and understand others’ points of view.

It’s the person who is uncertain of their position and vulnerable who is the most likely to vehemently defend it. When you feel comfortable with who you are and what you believe, you have no sense of fear or vulnerability and therefore no reason to exert energy to defend yourself.

War

One of the challenges we face in our modern world is that conflict is most frequently adorned with war-like imagery. It’s seen as an epic battle, where there is a clear winner and loser. Instead of looking at conflict as a natural process that helps to shape and define us, we focus on winners and losers.

The challenge with this approach is that it encourages us to dehumanize the other party in the conflict. (See Moral Disengagement for more on dehumanization.) By dehumanizing them, we lose all the fundamental respect that we offer every human. Instead of being a part of the brother- and sisterhood of humanity, they’re somehow disconnected from it. This, in turn, causes us to lose the value we can gain from conflict in terms of better understanding and sharper vision of the world around us.

Acceptance

Detachment (see The HeartMath Solution and The Happiness Hypothesis) and acceptance (see How to Be an Adult in Relationships) are two key components for our ability to be at peace and therefore exit conflicts successfully with good solutions and a greater respect for the other party. When you stop trying to change the unchangeable you have a lot more energy – and a lot less fear.

Accepting things as they are is the first step into a world of accepting our emotions as they are – rather than being afraid of what they may bring.

Transcending Emotions

It’s not that you ever get rid of emotions. Emotions are healthy and natural things. (See How Emotions are Made for more context on emotions.) Instead, with practice, you can get to the point where there’s a better working relationship between reason and emotions. To use the Rider-Elephant-Path analogy from The Happiness Hypothesis, the rider (reason) and elephant (emotions) develop a rapport where they respect each other and work together towards common goals.

If we can reach this stage, then we can stop seeking emotional soothing from other people. We can stop looking for them to soothe our pains – pains that we may or may not need to hold onto. A simple change in attitude from being wrapped up in our emotions to allowing them to flow through us may help us with Resolving Conflicts at Work.

Conflict: It’s Not Personal

Conflict is easy to get wrapped up in. When someone else sees the world differently than we do, it’s natural that our sense of right and wrong is challenged and, as a result, we’d become defensive – and ultimately lash out. The problem is the first conflict isn’t personal. It’s just a difference in perspective or values. It’s once someone starts attacking the other person that conflicts become personal – and they become harder to reach positive outcomes.

Idea not Person

In a conflict, there are different ideas to consider about how to move forward. One person believes the best answer is one thing, and the other party believes something different is the answer. It’s appropriate in a conflict to identify both the strengths and weaknesses in the opposite proposal or proposals. Conflict is valuable, because it has the capacity to help us see the things we might otherwise overlook.

Pointing out the limitations of an idea is perfectly reasonable. Of course, it helps to have communication skills that allow you to point them out in a way that is respectful, but regardless of the delivery of the message or how it’s taken, it’s important to stay on the idea.

Conflicts often wander into the territory of labeling the other party rather than sticking with the idea. We can explain that we don’t understand an idea but get ourselves into trouble when we start saying the purveyor of that idea is stupid, an idiot, or some other less-than-charitable name. We’ve moved from discussing an idea and its relative merits to attacking a person’s identity.

The Ego and Its Defenses

A person’s identity is sacrosanct. Most of the time, it’s difficult for the person themselves to change it. Someone coming from the outside saying the way they think of themselves is wrong isn’t going to be well received. This is doubly true if you’re trying to negatively impact their identity and self-image. The ego, which is responsible for our perception of our identity, is well defended. There are a variety of techniques that the ego can use to defend itself against an unwanted change in self-perception.

This difficulty in changing identity is why when people are given negative feedback about who they are – rather than what they did – they almost universally respond negatively. We’re surprised by the person that takes negative feedback well – not by the person who lashes back out at you. While an issue that doesn’t involve self-identity may be able to be resolved, once you engage the ego’s defenses, it may be impossible to move forward.

Guidance

The guidance may be clear, but it’s hard to pull off. Stay on the issue at hand and don’t share any inner judgement about the person who had the idea. If you’ve got to communicate about your perspective, focus on words like “I felt…” or “I think…” rather than “You said…” or “You did…” It’s too easy to trigger a response from the ego when you’re trying to speak for another person. Speaking for someone else can trigger the same identity protections as labeling them with some negative label.

When you’re working through a conflict, the best advice is to ensure that you don’t start to attack the other party no matter how frustrated you may get. Where possible, avoid using the word “you” at all – but particularly when preceded by “but.” This prevents potentially putting the other party into a defensive mode.

Conflicts shouldn’t be personal. Conflicts should be about getting to the best answer – there are people involved, but the people aren’t the problem. In fact, there are no problems. There are only different points of view.

Conflict: Our Beliefs About Others

We form beliefs about other people, and sometimes those beliefs aren’t right. When we have beliefs about people that aren’t correct or don’t match their beliefs about themselves, conflict is bound to erupt. The better we can manage our beliefs about other people, the more likely we are to avoid unnecessary conflict and resolve conflict quickly.

Fundamental Attribution Error

We all suffer from fundamental attribution error. We blame others for outcomes that were rightly based on circumstance not their character, but that doesn’t stop us. While we give ourselves grace, because we know the situation we were in. We don’t give the same grace to others.

Consider something as simple as someone who has had a divorce. Many people hold the value that marriage should be a sacred vow, and it should be forever. When we face our own divorce, we can rationalize that there was no way to make it work. We can point to the years of effort that we put into making it different. We can say that we reluctantly gave into the inevitable. However, when an acquaintance gets a divorce, we somehow think less of them. How is it that they could forgo their commitment so easily?

Of course, we have no idea how much effort or energy they put into keeping their commitments, and we don’t know that they weren’t faced with a spouse who was unfaithful, abusive, or absent. However, fundamental attribution error kicks in, and we think it’s something about their character.

Observations

All we ever have of someone else is observations of what they say and what they do. Of course, what they do is a better signal of what they really believe than what they say. However, we see their words and actions and from those must infer their intentions and values. We don’t know what they intended, but still we make up answers about what is going on in their inner world that may or may not have anything to do with reality.

Our observations themselves are only partial, and therefore we fail to see the whole picture. We see them snap at their child in line at the fast food restaurant but don’t see the two hours they spent trying to help their mother undo a malware attack. We see the inattentiveness at the grocery store but miss the fact that they just worked a double shift to cover for a friend whose father is in the hospital.

Values

From these partial and imperfect observations, we infer what we believe their values are. After all, if they’re willing to speak to their child that way, then family must not be very important to them. If they’re inattentive in the grocery store, then the way they eat must not be important to them.

The problem with this approach is that we don’t see the whole picture, and we don’t know what other competing values are in place. We see the person who fails to report an error because they’re worried their friend might lose their job because of it. They’re weighing their value of loyalty against the need for honesty – or righteousness. We only see the transgression, not the character strength.

Intentions

From these lofty ideas of their values, we establish what we believe to be their intentions towards us. Frequently, our belief is that they have negative intentions towards us. In most cases, the other person rarely thinks about us – and certainly doesn’t have an agenda to make our lives miserable – but that doesn’t stop our imagination.

Instead of believing the other person has the best of intentions, most of the time, we assume they’re out to get us.

Perspective on Us

What other people think of us is none of our business. It’s a fact that what other people think about us is as much about them as it is about us. They suffer from the same biases and limitations that we do, and they’re likely to not see us in as favorable a light as we see ourselves. As a result, when we arrive in a conflict, if we’re not really careful, we’ll each think less of the other person than we perceive of ourselves.

That sets the stage for a conflict based on nothing more than a misperception of one another – with or without a substantive issue to have a conflict about. If we can minimize our leaping to a belief that we understand the other person’s values and intentions and instead take a slow and thoughtful effort to validate the values and intentions we believe they have, we may just find that our conflicts disappear.

Conflict: Relational Bank Account

At some point in our lives, nearly everyone has overdrawn their financial bank account. Whether it’s oversight, an error, or the fact that there just wasn’t enough to go around, nearly everyone has done it at least once. The trick with bank accounts is to rarely overdraw them. It’s not like you can’t ever do it, it’s just costly when it happens. In conflict, we’re not talking about financial bank accounts, we’re talking about relational bank accounts. Relational bank accounts are based on what you’ve done for others and the trust and respect you’ve built up that allows you to more easily weather the storms that you face.

Making Deposits

You don’t always get an opportunity to start a relational bank account with deposits, but you often do. Coworkers, colleagues, managers, and subordinates rarely enter the picture on the first day with a conflict. Instead, they often spend hours, days, weeks, months, or even years before the first substantive disagreement occurs. During the intervening time, we can make deposits into our relational bank account.

Those deposits are the things that we do to build trust, respect, and good will. It can be something as simple as saying hi or as caring as sending flowers when they’ve lost a good friend or family member. It’s doing simple things that build relationships, so that trust, respect, and good will are the natural outcomes.

Making Withdrawals

Everyone makes withdrawals from their relational accounts, too. Sometimes, it’s a hard word. Other times, it’s a hard decision that the other person doesn’t perceive as fair or caring. We’re not going to have relationships from which we make no withdrawals; that’s not how relationships work. The important aspect is to recognize the withdrawals and, where possible, make additional deposits to cover the withdrawal, just like you might do with a real bank account.

Accruing Interest

The good news about relational bank accounts is that they generally accrue interest when they’re not being withdrawn from. Take the childhood friend whom you’ve not seen in a decade or more. Your response to them is likely to be even more positive than it would have been when you last saw them. The standard flow of time will make the relational bank account grow, not shrink, over time.

Of course, there are ways the passage of time has a negative effect on a relationship, but most people’s experience shows that time is on your side.

Certificates of Deposit

You won’t be able to get a certificate of the deposits you’re making into the relational bank account. However, you will be able to get a sense of how you can lean on a relationship when you’re in a conflict with the person. The greater your relational bank account balance, the greater the likelihood the other person will trust you, respect you, and have a substantial amount of good will that may make the actual conflict trivial.

Having large relational bank account balances allows you to put conflicts in perspective and realize that, though there’s a disagreement – a difference of opinion – in the broader picture, you and the other person are both good and have the best intentions. That’s often nearly enough to neutralize the conflict.

Conflict: Humility

We live in a time of arrogance. We live when people believe they’re better than other people, and they’re entitled to more of the world’s riches than anyone else. In this kind of a world, we’re left with conflicts, as people fight for more than their fair share (despite believing they deserve it). We’re left with a world where people struggle to have respect for one another. The result is more pointless conflict that doesn’t serve to make people better or more whole.

Power Held in Service to Others

The best definition of humility I’ve ever seen is “power held in service to others.” It’s a statement of how the humble person should position themselves. They’re not to become meek or powerless. They’re not to roll over to any breeze that comes by them. Instead, the humble person builds their inner strength to the maximum extent they can. They simply direct that inner strength towards helping others rather than helping themselves.

Instead of worrying about how to finish the race first, they worry about how to first ensure everyone finishes the race.

Humility Is Not Weakness

In Western societies, humility is often seen as weakness. “It’s easy to be humble when you’re powerless” resonates. However, humility shouldn’t be weakness. It should be selfless. Being selfless allows you to leverage your personal strengths for others.

Said differently, humility is not about thinking less of yourself, it’s about thinking about yourself less – thus creating more room to think about others.

Conviction

The opposite of humility is arrogance – thinking about others less. However, the root of confusion about humility seems similar to the confusion that we have in the Western world about the difference between conviction and arrogance. While arrogance is not caring about others, conviction is being clear about how you care for others.

One can be completely convinced about the thing that they must do and therefore not seek input from everyone. This, on the surface, seems to be arrogance and the opposite of humility, but it only appears this way until you dig deeper and see that there’s no longer the need for input because of the clarity that already exists about how best to help.

In Conflict

If you enter a conflict with conviction but not humility, you’re blinded to how your conviction may be wrong or may conflict with the needs, hopes, and dreams of another person. You may be convinced that every person should have a computer and be blinded to the fact that people are dying of diarrhea and that this may be a more pressing need. (This was the revelation that Bill and Melinda Gates had.)

Humility – the willingness to hold your power for others – is the tempering for conviction that keeps you open to the needs of others while being convinced that your objective is the right one. Whether you decide to change your beliefs because of the conflict or remain firm in your conviction, humility is the tool that keeps us open, listening, and ultimately succeeding in our conflicts.

Conflict: Detachment not Disengagement

Most people don’t really want to have a conflict. It takes time, effort, and mental energy to even be in the conflict, and in our busy worlds, it’s more than most people want to deal with. Too often, conflicts seem to disappear before they can be dealt with only to reappear someplace else in the future. Too often, we disengage from a conflict rather than gain detachment from it.

Disengagement

You can call it retreat. You can call it avoidance. You can even call it stonewalling, John Gottman’s favorite term. Gottman, in fact, names stonewalling – or refusing to engage in a conversation and conflict – as the death knell of relationships. Disengagement is like taking your ball and going home. Disengagement has the same kind of relational impacts as literally taking your ball and going home. It shuts off connection to the other person and blocks or prevents relationships.

Disengagement comes in the silence or in the “okay” responses that are uttered without emotion or with a sullen face that indicates there’s no point in continuing the discussion. It comes when it no longer seems worth it to continue the fight. When it happens, there’s a real problem that requires the other party to try (even if unsuccessfully) to re-engage.

Detachment

Detachment and disengagement seem similar on the surface. Not only are the words phonetically similar, the responses are even objectively similar. A detached person is likely to accept what the other person is saying by answering with the same word – “okay” – as the disengaged person. The difference is in the attitude. The difference is in what the response does to the person themselves and their willingness to stay in the conversation.

Detached people are “okay.” Literally they don’t see themselves in the ring having the struggle. Any outcome is acceptable. The other party isn’t an enemy combatant. Instead, they’re just someone with a different point of view or perhaps different values. This distance from the conflict allows them to respond instead of react.

Responding not Reacting

Reacting is normal. We react to loud noises, and we often react to the things that we think are going on with other people. However, when we react, we don’t allow the space for our neocortex to come up with an intelligent response. When we react, we don’t take the time to consider the consequences on our discussion or our relationships.

Detachment allows us to view the conflict as “okay” and therefore not a threat. This allows us the capacity to thoughtfully respond rather than trying to respond quickly.

Cultivating Detachment

Detachment, though desirable, isn’t always easy to get to. To reach detachment with a situation, you must shed the idea that you’re at risk. By cultivating a sense of safety, you create detachment from the outcomes. Cultivating safety can be as simple as playing a fair game of worst-case scenario, in which you evaluate what’s the worst that could come from the conflict – and realize, in most cases, it’s not life-threatening or even all that impactful in the long term.

Learning to take a step back from the emotion to recognize that the conflict isn’t really that harmful can be the difference between unhealthy disengagement and healthy detachment.

Conflict: Personal Agency and Compassion

If you want to make conflict easier – and you don’t have the ability to build trust and relationships with the people involved ahead of time – there are still things you can do. You can work on you. Working on you means developing an appropriate sense of personal agency and cultivating compassion.

Personal Agency

Your sense of personal agency is your belief that you can get things done. It’s about believing you have the strength and resources it takes to overcome obstacles, and it’s very handy in conflicts for two reasons. First, feeling like you have personal agency makes you more resourceful for coming up with solutions that require you to offer up some skill, talent or resource.

Second, and more importantly, believing that you have personal agency allows you to weather the conflict more easily. In a conflict where you believe you have few resources, every inch you give to the other party’s position feels like something you’ll never be able to regain. Every inch of lost ground is a major issue. However, the greater your personal agency, the less concerned you become with winning every point. This allows you to concede some points while knowing that the end of the conflict will be ok.

Recognizing your personal agency makes the conflict safer. Making the conflict safer opens up riskier options that sometimes have the greatest value.

Compassion

Rising out of a place of strength in personal agency is the capacity to be compassionate. Being compassionate requires that we’re willing to feel the pain of others and have a desire to alleviate that suffering – even if we can’t do that directly. The willingness to feel another person’s pain is the response of someone who has the inner fortitude and personal agency to know that allowing themselves to feel what the other person feels will not overwhelm them. Compassion requires feeling what others feel, and if you don’t believe you have the kind of strength it takes to do this effectively, you simply won’t.

While many believe that compassion comes from a place of weakness, it does not. Even after connecting to the feelings of another, there is more strength required. The desire to alleviate the suffering of the others requires a willingness to sacrifice. While not every case of compassion requires a sacrifice, every act of compassion has the potential to require some sort of sacrifice – and that sacrifice takes strength.

It may be a financial contribution, a mission trip, a connection, or something else to attempt to reduce the suffering of others; but whatever it is, it represents an expenditure of your personal agency for the benefit of others.

The Impact

Taken together, personal agency and compassion provide the best framework for listening to the other party. Personal agency forestalls a sense of defensiveness that can enter into a conflict when we feel like we have no power or recourse. Compassion provides the power to connect with the other party to understand their needs, their pains, and their perspectives.

Together, these create a set of conditions that make it more likely that the conflict will end with both parties feeling good about it – and less chance that the conflict will end poorly.

Conflict: Is it Fair?

The parent sets a boundary, says no, and the child retorts, “But, it’s not fair.” The parent certainly thinks it’s reasonable and fair, but the perspective of the child is different. So, who’s right? How do you define fair in any situation? The gap in perceptions between two people and what they believe is fair is generally right at the heart of the conflict.

Impartiality

When we comment that something isn’t fair, we believe it wasn’t handled impartially. It’s not fair that she got the job, because she’s the favorite. He’s not the best fit, but he plays golf with the boss, so he got the job. We expect judges to be impartial, and that’s why there are so many rules about what they can and can’t (or rather should and should not) do as it relates to the parties in the case. We expect that they’ll recuse themselves if they believe they can’t be partial. (To recuse oneself is to say that you’re unfit because of potential partiality.)

In our real lives, rarely do we get the option to recuse ourselves from the decisions that we must make. Whether it’s deciding between one child or another’s activities or choosing which family to visit for an important holiday, we can’t just let someone else make the decision. What we can do to minimize conflict is to communicate the criteria that we used and make it clear why we made the decision that we did.

Different Criteria

Ideally, the criteria being used by the decision maker and the criteria of the person who feels slighted should align, but rarely do they. When we’re saying that it isn’t fair, we’re often complaining that the criteria we are using wasn’t the criteria the other person was using, and so the decision didn’t turn out the way we expected it to. The reality of our brains is that we make our decisions and then we rationalize them. Maybe she smiled a bit more or he made better eye contact. Neither objectively has impact to the matter at hand, but it shifted things in their favor nonetheless.

Even if we can align on criteria, we may not align on the way the measurement of that criteria is done. One person may believe the criteria of scholarship is best expressed through the works they’ve read, while another party may believe that the best criteria is what they’ve written. Conflicts can persist even when the criteria is the same if the way it is assessed is different.

Perspectives

The truth is we all have our perspectives that are based on our prior experiences, including our experiences while growing up. Our perspective is not wrong, they’re just incomplete. We see things from one point of view, and the other party sees it from a different point of view. The parent in the opening example believes it’s important for the child to learn to eat their dinner. They’ve made a value choice about learning good eating habits. The child is focused on the here and now and their desire for immediate gratification with some candy. In this case, the criteria that the parties are using are radically different.

Parents might say that the parent perspective is “right,” while children may side with the child in this example and wonder what’s the harm in one sucker. By operating on two different levels, the conflict persists, until the child gets to experience the authority of the parent in the situation. In peer relationships, it’s not so easy to resolve the disagreement with “I said so.”

To find fairness in the situation, we must establish the criteria we’re using and then the standards by which we’ll evaluate that criteria. Done well, this can resolve conflicts quickly – or avoid them altogether.

Conflict: The Value

There is a tendency to view conflict in a negative light. After all, we typically only focus on the conflicts we have that have gone poorly. We only lament about those that didn’t end well. However, the truth is that conflict is a necessary part of all our lives. When we look at conflict through a more wholistic lens, we can see how it’s neither positive nor negative.

Friction

Friction is also seen negatively. Friction in our doors calls for WD-40 to help eliminate it. Friction in our cars makes them less fuel efficient. However, without friction, our cars would skid helplessly across the road, never stopping – and they’d never get started in motion either. Friction allows us to get going and change direction, but when we’re focused on efficiency, we don’t always see that. We need the right kinds of friction to allow us to move and control our situation.

However, the wrong friction can be a real problem. Run an engine without oil to lubricate it, and eventually you’ll find that the parts are fused together and no longer work. If you have the wrong kind of conflict, and you don’t lubricate it, you’ll find yourself stuck.

Positive Attributes of Conflict

While conflict can be difficult to get through, it forces us to understand our own thoughts and the thoughts of others better. Consider C.S. Lewis’ perspective on disagreement and debate. He loved it. He and J.R.R. Tolkien were both better for their disagreements and debate. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” The reality is that we make each other sharper and better. We do that through our conflicts.

We’ve come to learn that animals and humans need challenge and struggle to fully develop their potential. A chicken who is “helped” out of its shell will almost certainly die, because it never conquered the challenge of breaking free of its shell on its own. New hatchling sea turtles who are “helped” to the sea become helplessly lost, having never calibrated their ability to map their world.

Time and time again, we find in nature that we need struggle, challenge, and conflict to make us better people.

The Outcome

Conflict need not end poorly. When you develop the skills to detach, stay curious, seek understanding, and find new options, you can get to the other side of conflict having learned more about the world, including its objective reality, and about other people. We don’t really want to eliminate conflict, because to do so would rob us of the ability to grow and become more of the people we need to be. However, we want to get to the other side of conflicts, where we’ve grown instead of being harmed or damaging relationships.

Learning how to have conflict the right ways, in which we nurture respect of one another and find greater strength in ourselves and in those around us, is the goal.

Conflict: Creating the Best Conditions

It’s not like you get to choose when conflict erupts. Conflict can happen unexpectedly, like a tornado. There may be a little warning – but there’s not much. That’s why, in conflicts like in natural disasters, it’s important to be prepared for the worst and hope for the best.

Best Conditions

If someone told you that you were going to be in a conflict with a colleague, and you wouldn’t know when or the topic the conflict would be about, what would you do to prepare? You can’t “bone up” on the content, because you don’t know what the topic of the conflict will be. You can’t lie in wait, because you don’t know when it will be. All you can do is to try to create the best possible conditions for the conflict.

The best possible conditions for a conflict are to build a relationship with the other party, so that you trust and respect each other enough that you already have trust and respect before the conflict starts. Finally, there’s the issue of finding your own inner peace so that you can enter the conflict without being triggered by it.

Trust

Benjamin Franklin knew the best way to develop rapport was to make a small ask of someone else and treat that request respectfully. He’d ask to borrow a book and then return it promptly. Trust works the same way. We make small requests of the other person and respond appropriately, and they’ll start to trust us a little more. By doing this repetitively, we build trust with the other person and ultimately build a foundation for successful resolution of conflicts.

Trust allows us positive affinity for the other party in a conflict and provides a reassurance that the commitments they make will be met – thus allowing for more creative ways to address the conflict.

Respect

While trust may require personal interactions, you can develop a respect for someone even if you don’t have the ability to interact with them directly. You can observe from afar how their decisions are determined or their actions convey their care and concern for a value, cause, or person. Respect is fundamentally admiration for someone or some aspect of them.

Respect therefore requires that you cultivate that feeling of admiration. In some ways, it can be actively looking for the aspects of their personality that you can admire and respect. For instance, you may not respect a manager’s temperament towards workers, but you may be able to respect the commitment to quality, the company, or some other aspect of their makeup that is virtuous or notable.

Inner Peace

Inner peace is working through our disturbing thoughts, our past hurts, and the pains we’re holding on to, so that they’re not accidentally stumbled over during a conflict. If conflict was always scary and risky as a child, it’s desensitizing yourself to conflict so that it can become more ok. If you are triggered by someone who seems to be ignoring you, it’s finding the root cause for this and working on it until it doesn’t trigger you as much – or doesn’t trigger you at all.

The goal is more inner peace – not absolute inner peace. Richard Moon, an Aikido master, said, “It’s not that the great masters never lose their center, it’s that they discover it sooner and recover faster.” The point isn’t perfection. The point is that, the more self-aware you can become, the less likely you’ll be triggered by a conflict and the more quickly you can do something about it.

All Together

If you can put these pieces together, you’ll find that your next conflict is easier to get through. Not that any conflict is completely easy, but the more you can build on trust, respect, and inner peace, the less effort that conflicts will require.