Brain Science – Episode #28

Dealing with conflict

examining the framework of conflict & the skills needed for resolution

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Conflict is a part of everyday life. If you are connected to other humans, conflict will eventually occur. But what exactly is conflict? Where does it begin? How can it be resolved? In this episode, Mireille and Adam dive deep into those details to examine the framework of conflict end-to-end, to hopefully equip us with the tactics and skills we need to better navigate and resolve the conflict we encounter in our lives.


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Adam, have you ever encountered any conflict of sorts?

Well, I think if you’re living, you’ve encountered conflict. It’s part of life, conflict… But yes, definitely.

It’s a part of everyday life, to some degree or another, right?

Well, I think if you’re dealing with people, when it comes down to – I mean, we’re all dealing with people, right? It’s kind of weird to say that. But to me, it’s a misalignment of expectation and clarity. If there’s clarity and there’s expectation, you’re not avoiding conflict, you’re sort of rounding the edges there. Conflict is less sharp. If you know what I expect of our working relationship and what we do, and that’s super-clear, it’s pretty difficult for us to have that misalignment and those jagged edges that come with conflict… But yeah, conflict - it happens, let’s just say. There’s should be a shirt, “Conflict. It happens.”

[laughs] I love that. I’ve found this definition out of a management study guide, and it said “Conflict is defined as a clash between individuals arising out of a difference in thought process, attitudes, understanding, interests, requirements, and even sometimes perceptions.” It sort of wraps it all up, right?

Yeah. I wrote a version of that, my own version…

The Adam version.

Yeah, I’ve always been kind of good at defining things without a definition, without a dictionary nearby… And people are always complimenting me about it, but I’m not sure if this suits or not… I just said it’s a misalignment. Conflict happens when there’s a misalignment of expectation with another person(s), and it’s about perspective, and your response etc, but the tension that remains is I think what most people feel as the conflict.

[04:06] The tension that sort of happens between people when that misalignment or that difference is occurring, that tension is the conflict. And then the conversations that occur after that are a result of the attempts at this resolution. It’s really a tough thing, it really is. Conflict happens, and navigating it is a unique, multi-faceted approach, that’s for sure.

Yeah. Interestingly enough, the other thing that we sort of – the thread that gets pulled in is relationship… Because while we can have internal conflict, much of the conflict that is also problematic, be it in the workplace, at home, is in relationships… Because who’s the same person? And if I see conflict as this clash of interest, so to speak, or values or perceptions, I would say “Who’s got all of the same ones?” Nobody.

Exactly, nobody. Nobody has the same of anything. We’re all unique in that way, and that’s the cool thing, too; we have different perspectives. And when we say dealing with conflict, it’s more like arming people out there with certain tools. The first tool is “It’s gonna happen.” So not so much how to avoid it, but more so how to deal with it, how to navigate it in healthy ways. Because in the end, we thrive as humans when we’re connected. And so conflict is a disconnection process. If you examine the next conflict you’re in and you think “Am I more or less connected to these people or these individuals?”, then that’s what’s gonna happen. It’s about connection. So we have to navigate ways to be connected.

In having this discussion I think it’s really important that we note that we both come from different perspectives (ironically), and neither one of us is expert on the totality of conflict. I have more expertise, per se, or information as relative to what we call intra-personal conflict. So the conflict that exists within ourselves or the individual.

At the heart of the process of psychotherapy is helping people get back to a place of resonance, or sort of working with themselves, as opposed to really being stuck in two different places, two different desires or different feelings without being able to navigate that well. And Adam, you come from the school of hard knocks, right?

Yes. Bloody knuckles. Been there, done that. Lots of conflict… So much so that people who know me and love me say that I enjoy confrontation. And I think it’s because I’ve dealt with a lot. I wouldn’t call myself an expert by any means, but more so just a tried and true student at the school of hard knocks of conflict. I don’t really enjoy it, but I don’t like to run away from it, is probably my perspective. That’s why I enjoy confrontation, negotiation… And it’s not so much that I’m even really that good at it, I’m just kind of comfortable, because - hey, like we said earlier, you’re gonna have conflict in your life. So you either get comfortable, or you remain uncomfortable. And I’m more in the lane of like I’d rather be at least comfortable with dealing with and resolving it, because you’re gonna deal with it in your life.

[07:54] And I’m not an expert at all the terms, terminology, resolution processes, names for those things… But if you ask me, I will have an opinion on how to resolve it. So that’s where I say my knuckles are bloody, and man, do they hurt.

I think that it’s really interesting, especially with people who probably manage teams, that this is more at the forefront of their repertoire of skills. And what I love in having these conversations is recognizing how many things are actually more a skill, as opposed to hardwired into us when we’re born. So even if you don’t have them, it doesn’t mean you can’t learn them, right?

Yeah, I think for me - very personally - I think I’m very hardwired, but I think there’s also the skill level. I can totally agree there’s skill that you can acquire there. I’ve just never been comfortable with unresolved situations. So not even just conflicts, but situations. Maybe that is conflict, and we’ll define that - maybe it’s better defined - but I don’t like unresolved matters, I don’t like to have enemies, I don’t like to have unresolved disagreements… I like some level of expectation of relationship in the future, and to me, that never sat well. Maybe that’s a hardwired thing, but I totally agree that resolving and dealing with conflict is definitely a learned skill. You have to practice it. Like most things, Mireille, as you know, we have to practice these things.

And if there’s one thing to give the audience is that you’re gonna deal with conflict. If you’re breathing right now, you know; you’ve dealt with conflict, I’m sure you have… And just to get comfortable with finding ways to navigate it better. That’s the one core takeaway this show should represent - you’re gonna deal with conflict, how do you get around it? How do you deal with it, in ways that respect yourself and those around you? Because this it’s all about connection at the end.

Yeah. And by connection, you’re talking relationship, right?

Right, right. We’re connected, we’re social species etc, we’re gonna be connected… So how can we maintain that connection?

Well, I’m glad that you highlighted that you’re more prone to try to hash things out because of how it feels to leave things unsettled… Because we do all have personal proclivities as based on genetic predispositions, personality traits and whatnot, that can say “Hey, I’m more comfortable in dealing with conflict in X way, as opposed to way Y.” And that’s valuable. But going – you know, one of the things that I thought was really helpful when I coached gymnastics was recognizing the way in which vulnerability and perception of threat was amplified when my gymnast learned how to do a skill only one way, especially on the balance beam… Because if they go “This is the only option that I’ve got, if it goes awry - oh, no! I’m gonna panic, because I couldn’t adapt.” So in talking about conflict, there’s different approaches that we can utilize that actually help more so in one setting, as opposed to another.

But I wanna go back to what you said about the lack of clarity and expectation is one of the key things that can be a contributing factor to starting conflict… Because if there’s just ambiguity around what the relationship is – could you imagine if I was like “Hey, Adam, do you wanna take a trip to Fiji?” And that’s it.

Maybe someday…

Right? [laughs]

Maybe someday, for what reason…

Who’s going?


Who’s paying for it? How long am I gonna go…?

Yeah, definitely who’s paying for it… Yeah.

And that’s why it’s so significant. When you don’t have clarity, it’s like, “Um, I’m not sure that I can answer that”, and now I feel the pressure to respond to you, but I don’t know that I can give you an answer, because you haven’t given me adequate data in order to do so.

[12:09] Right. That’s actually the one conflict that I find myself – and I learned this lesson from a good friend named Matt a while back… He’s the person who taught me this lesson, and I will never forget it; it was essentially that the main conflict I have ever deal with has been somebody didn’t do something in alignment with what my expectation is or was of what they should do.

In some cases it was where I was over them as a manager, or in leadership of some sort, and… Or maybe even just lateral peers; I’m not sure that even really matters… But more so that I had an expectation that wasn’t clear to them, and they were at fault maybe to their knowledge, not to their knowledge… And I couldn’t hold that against them, because unless I made my expectations clear of what we were supposed to do, only then could I have this strife, or this conflict can occur… Because I’ve given them clarity. They understand what the mission is, and they’ve under-performed to the mission, or whatever it might be. So in a real vague way, that’s the main conflict lesson that I’ve dealt with, is where there is an expected performance or a thing to do, and the clarity was not there on what the expectation was.

The lesson there to learn is you can’t be angry with somebody for doing something wrong, or incorrectly in quotes, based upon your own opinion of what’s correct. Because that’s what conflict is. It’s like “You’re wrong, I’m right etc. You’re incorrect.” But if you didn’t make it clear, if the expectation wasn’t clear, then you’re wrong. Not them.

So you’re right whenever the expectation is clear, not the other way around.

Right. You know, I love having these dialogues, because my mental framework moves the word “expectation” over into the word “boundaries”. Because in my field, I’m working with people and going “Hey, how can you develop clear boundaries around what you expect, both of yourself, what you’re gonna bring, and what you’re expecting to receive in return… Because that’s where a lot of the conflict comes. And even sort of thinking about things in terms of dishonesty; I differentiate between lies of omission, versus lies of commission. Commission is sort of like, I totally tell you I was at the store when I was at the gym, as opposed to omission - like, I just left out that part, that I stopped by my friends’ house on the way home. I just told I was on my way home. So this lack of clarity is sort of like I just omitted what my expectation was; I’m holding it, I’m aware of it, but you’re not, and now you’re liable. It’s like, non-disclosure at its finest.

Yeah, exactly… And that’s really, I think, where maybe I would say the most common conflict occurs, is that misalignment of that sharing, I suppose even. If the clarity is you telling them your expectation, the lack of clarity is you keeping it.

Yeah. And interestingly enough too, much of external conflict or conflict in relationships comes from internal conflict.

Oh, yeah.

[15:40] Right? I find myself saying this with my family a number of times, of like “Hey, I’m not upset with you. You did not do anything wrong. Mom is stressed because of X, Y or Z”, so that they can be like “Whew! Alright…” But it provides for their clarity, because in their mind, they’re going “I can sense I have the awareness of something’s not right, or upsetting, but it isn’t something that I’m responsible for. Mom’s acknowledging that she’s the one holding it and contributing to the conflict right now.” And it really helps then diffuse things, because I owned that, and said “Yup, totally. I’m the one’s who’s harboring this discontentment and upset, and you get to feel the brunt of it. You’re welcome for being my family.” [laughs]

That’s right… Which does beg a question of perception, too. So if it begins within…

So what comes from within comes out, and that’s people’s perception of you. What do you think about the perception also being – the perception you, essentially… Your teammate, your family. Your team members are your family, or your co-workers are your team, your family, in that regard. So how can the perception of you be a conflict-starter? Because if you think about where does it begin - it begins within, sure…

…in addition to also how people perceive me. Because people’s opinion of me is not always known by me, right?

And if I know that perception of me in a way that’s respectful and loving, I might be 1) open to hear it, and 2) willing to change as a result of it… Which starts to erode that conflict back down to connection.

Yeah. It’s interesting, because there’s multiple facets to that question, in going “The perception, and even if I clarify it, they do 1) have to be open, but 2) there has to be some degree of understanding of the way in which their perspective is also biased by themselves…” Because it’s not the eyes that see or the ears that hear, it’s the brain that makes sense of the processing of light and dark, and how your brain computes auditory signals.

So perception is very much this sort of puzzle interfacing our environment with our genes, with our past experience, that is ever-changing. And this is why awareness is so helpful when it comes to navigating conflict.

Yeah. Well, on that note of awareness, the reason why I asked you this question is from a story, and it’s actually somebody I have as a sales coach, and just life coach, I suppose, and business coach in general. His name is coach Michael Bert; awesome dude, but he used to be a girls basketball coach. And when he coached this high school girls team, he had a lot of drama happening, and he essentially struggled to deal with this conflict, and he thought - well, one way to get back in alignment was to sort of understand what the team thought of each other. So he handed out anonymous assessments and said “Hey, of all this, how do you rank your fellow team members, your fellow players on attitudes, skill etc?” And they did that every 90 days, so once a quarter.

That allowed everyone on the team to have sort of an awareness of what others thoughts of them, so that there was that awareness, that change, and it was very eye-opening. And they went on to win season after season after season… But it’s that lesson he learned, of like “If I know and if they know how others see them…” Because how people see you may be somewhat true. But if you don’t know it, it’s like a mirror. It’s that feedback loop. We need that. And that helped them.

Totally. Adam, you just identified how and why group therapy can be really effective.

Okay, great. I didn’t know that. Give me my doctorate, Mireille. I want it!

[20:05] [laughs] The other people in the group get to tell you about you, or sort of provide an example for how you interface with other people, and it’s like “Oh, you mean that’s how I didn’t see anything maladaptive or wrong with what I was doing or how I was interacting”, but when you do it like that and I watch it as observer, like “Oh, that doesn’t feel very good, and I don’t think I want to do that anymore.”

Well, having been a gymnastics coach, you must also know that athletes like to video themselves doing whatever they do, so that they can scrutinize themselves. And that’s essentially what that gives you; it gives you a lens from which you can be viewed in a way that’s loving, respectful, and I would say true and accurate. Because perspective for the sake of perspective, if not loving, not respectful, not true, not accurate - well, that’s biased perspective. That’s not true perspective. It’s skewed, it’s distorted, it’s all the things different than true, basically.

Exactly, exactly. So if I can broaden this, going “How do we get to conflict?” and it’s been articulated there are sort of five phases to conflict… There’s what we’d call the prelude to conflict, then there’s a triggering event, an initiation phase, a differentiation phase, and then a resolution. Because what fun is it if we just keep something as one big lump? It’s so much easier to navigate if we can section things out, so we can better make sense of them to know what to do or how to respond.

So this is essentially a map to conflict.

Yeah. Like, what are the steps or stages.

Right. Point A, to point B, to point C.

Right. Just like a map, if I wanted to get from here to Boston - these are the roads I could take. So prelude to conflict involves all the factors that could possibly arise among individuals - lack of coordination, difference in interests, similarity in terms of cultural, religious, education background are all sort of relative to an arising conflict. So I bring myself, my perspective, all those things we articulated, and then there happens

to be *drum roll* the triggering event.

Yes, okay…

So no conflict arises on its own, there has to be some sort of event or interaction that transpires, which goes “Boom! That set me off.”

Yeah, Boom is often the triggering event. Sometimes it’s a “Bang!”, sometimes it’s “Zing-pow!”

[laughs] Right? Yes. Touché! And much of this could be, in the workplace, criticism. Like, you’re giving a presentation, and somebody criticizes you, or – I mean, it could not be a criticism, but it doesn’t mean you didn’t hear it as a criticism, because that’s how your brain processes data… And so now you’re lit, while you’re trying to stand up there and give a presentation and not be lit… But you are, but you’re not. Right?!

It’s so contextual, too.

Yeah, it is. There are all sorts of things, and much of what I talk about with patience in the process of therapy is helping them recognize what things got hit in those sort of triggering events. Sometimes I describe it like the one broken leg/two broken leg phenomenon - somebody could have a background, or sort of be wounded because of X, Y or Z, with what they’ve been through… But then they have round two, the second broken leg, and I don’t need to say how much worse the second broken leg is… It’s just worse. So if I’m dealing with this stress or challenge at home, and then I go into the workplace and then I feel mistreated in a similar way that I’m treated at home, we go “Boom!”

[24:22] Yeah… The second event or the additional events are amplified as a result of – it’s compound pain, essentially.

Very well said, yes.

Similar to the way you compound interest, it’s probably the same… “Well, because I have pain elsewhere that’s similar to this - well, this pain is more, because I’ve got a lot of pain. I’ve got a pain when I go home, I’ve got a pain when I come to work”, and it’s just like “Do I have pain everywhere?”

Right. And interestingly enough, there’s been some research really around the overlap of physical pain and social pain. Part of the way that our brain processes that is similar. So legit, it hurts. So of course we’re going to be reactive to pain, because it’s innate in our bodies to help us navigate our world.

A lot of this stuff happens – at least the prelude and the triggering event can often be silent.

These two events could have already occurred, or point to the map if we’re using it as a map analogy, and you could have already passed these waypoints, with little to no awareness of them. And what happens then is the Boom happens, and maybe the argument happens, or the slap in the face if it’s physical, or if it’s verbal, a verbal slap in the face…

…you know, not so nice words are said, character assassinations are happening in front of other people… And it’s even worse if others observe it, too.

Right? Yes…

Conflict while in public or in front of other peers can be very bad, very bad.

Right. And so really at the heart of this is - you know, there’s energy, so there’s emotion involved, so there has to be some degree of self-regulation then in navigating the conflict. So after we’ve got this triggering event, then we’ve got the initiation phase. It’s the phase when the conflict has begun. This is what you said - the heated arguments, verbal disagreements… These are warning alarms that “Alright, game on! We’re conflicted.”

What this tells me though is that if you’re at the initiation phase and you see this, this is the visible part of the iceberg, so to speak, understand that there’s more beneath this part of the phase, and the fact that you’ve had some other things happening. So if this is around wisdom and awareness, if this is what this is about, then understanding that this initiation phase is in the middle of conflict. If conflict is sandwiched by the prelude, the triggering, and the initiation is the conflict, and then you’ve got the differentiation and the resolution - then this is the meat in the sandwich.

You’ve already got the bread and the lettuce potentially beforehand, beneath you have some ketchup and mustard etc. and some more bread. You’re in the middle.

Right, which - I don’t think any of us really wanna stay there.

And this can lead to a lot of other problems, because if I can’t continue on in these phases and I’m stuck in this sort of initiation, or I feel like it’s on repeat… You know, it could be like “I don’t wanna go back to work”, or welcome anxiety, because I’m trying to not encounter that which I feel threatened by, and yet what I’m threatened by is my job, and yet I need my job because I need to pay my rent or my mortgage… But I mean - round and round we go now.

[28:06] Yeah, absolutely.

So we’ve gotta move on to what you said, the differentiation phase, where people voice their differences, and the reasons for the conflict are raised in that phase. In the workplace this will look different than, say, between significant romantic partners. I’m gonna share a few more details if it’s someone with whom I have a really close relationship… But even with work, to say “Hey, this is culturally where I come from and how I made sense of this, and this is why I followed this map to get where I did, and why I responded X, Y or Z” or “Hey, I was really trying to value or show this that I’m concerned about”, wherein the other person would say “Well, that’s fine and all, but this is where I was coming from, and that’s what I value”, and these are not the same.

Yes, yes. Can we put on repeat though what you had mentioned about staying in the middle there? Because I think one important point to drop is that if you put the initiation phase on repeat, or maybe even the differentiating – maybe even this phase too, potentially… But if that’s on repeat, other things are gonna happen as a result of that…

Because you’d mentioned not wanting to come to work, but other conflicts…

So it’s a conflict multiplier…

…this being on repeat. This initiation phase.

If you never get to the differentiation and the resolution, it’s on repeat for you, and it’s gonna multiply conflict in other areas, with other people, in other places in your life.

Right. Well, think about something that happened at work, and then you go home; or think about the thing that happened at home and then you went to work. Everybody else or other things are just collateral damage. They’re after. Right? Because it’s like “Wooh! I felt that person coming in hot today…”

Yeah, you can sometimes see somebody coming in, as you said, hot… But you can almost see they’re looking for a fight.

Because they wanna take it out on somebody.

Well, and interestingly enough, I don’t think that people are necessarily reflective all the time around how much they need and desire resolution. That going “If I could resolve this, I could move on.” And for a lot of us, it might not have happened that we had good repair or resolution in relationships. So it’s like, “I get heated, I get frustrated, I’m not heard, and then that’s it… Here we go around the mulberry bush”, over and over. So from a conditioning perspective, learning-wise, I’ve learned that resolution doesn’t occur, so now I get stuck, and then I start to sort of become more internal, that intra-personal conflict. Now the conflict - I’m just hanging out with myself there, and everywhere I go, there I am. So I bring that conflict wherever I go.

Yeah, I thrive in life when resolution is possible… And the reason why I say “is possible” is because sometimes resolution is not possible. You might have conflict with somebody who’s just not willing to resolve the conflict. They almost thrive… People who thrive in conflict, I try to avoid. It’s not that I don’t love them or wanna care for them in some way, I just compartmentalize them. They have boundaries in my life.

[31:48] Yeah. And we’ve referenced this in the other episode on empathy - to go “If somebody isn’t willing to see my perspective, there’s a wall, and I need to then make changes in that relationship, because the resolution phase is probably not going to occur.” Because that is two people going “How do we resolve this conflict?” From a legal perspective isn’t that you can go to sort of – oh, what’s that called…? Before you even get to arbitration of sorts… Mediation!

Yeah, mediation.

Right? Like, “Can I have somebody help us resolve the conflict? Because we’ve gotten to a point that we can’t resolve it.”

Right. Somebody who doesn’t have a stake in any side of the gain; they can see both sides, and in a calm manner, with no emotion or lack of emotion in terms of both sides, state the obvious and the facts. And potentially, some options for resolution, and maybe they’re limited. Like, you’ve got three options; you have to choose one of these three options, and that’s how it works. I don’t know about mediation, I’m just totally winging that; I don’t know if that’s exactly how it works, but that’s how I imagine it working.

Right. It’s interesting, because in this conflict resolution the focus is on the resolution and not the emotion… But I think we’ve referenced this before - when I get heated and elevated, I’m more prone from my internal perspective to see things far and narrow, as a self-protective sort of measure, as opposed to that panoramic view, which would not – if I’m far and narrow, there could be a life preserver sitting beside me and I’m gonna be like “I’m dying. I can’t swim, and nothing’s going to save me. I’m stuck.” But if I can calm down and manage the emotion, then I can see more panoramic and be like “Oh, okay, this person isn’t out to really hurt me. They just are a different human being, with different background thoughts, feelings, values, perceptions, and so they get to have as much credibility as I do. What is the goal that I’m trying to achieve, be it in the workplace or at home? Where are we trying to get to? Where is our North Star?”

Right. The resolution phase is like, you’ve got options, exploring those options… But the key there is that the conflict itself is a dead end road. It doesn’t go anywhere. But the conflict is – you don’t wanna hang out there. It’s a cul-de-sac, it doesn’t go anywhere; round and round you go. The idea is to establish some communication points and find options… Not so much in “You’re right, I’m wrong. I’m right, you’re wrong”, but resolve not so much the emotion, because there’s always gonna be emotion, and you may not even be happy with the options given… But it’s about compromise. Patience, compromise… And compromise - I don’t know the definition of compromise, but I’ve gotta imagine it’s essentially “I’m not exactly happy with the resolve here, but I’m okay with it.”

That’s my layman’s version of compromise.

Right?! Well, you got at some really important things though, Adam, in terms of “What are some skills relative to conflict management?” We’ve got active listening… I love this; this is like psychotherapy 101, like “Can you listen and accurately perceive where another person is at?” This would look like if somebody is crying and really emotionally upset, it would be like “Wow, that must make you really sad.” Not like, “Gosh, you must be ecstatic. You must be so happy!” That would not be active listening.

That’s right.

So you can pitch to where someone is at. So active listening… Emotional intelligence, patience… You talked about impartiality, and this sense of positivity, and open communication. If I’m not open - very much like a drawbridge; there’s a moat, and you’re not coming over. See ya.

There’s not gonna be a connection or a coming together. There’s just going to be irreparation.

Yeah. For a resolution to happen, you need to listen, you need to have some patience… The openness is sort of a wide and diverse version of that. You have to be open to reconnection, because sometimes conflict is about remaining disconnected. The conflict goes round and round whenever – and the phases of conflict might even be around not so much these as simply skills, but options. If an option to you is not to be open and connected, then you’re gonna keep being in conflict.

You have to be open to connection again. It’s a reconnection event.

Right. I love even my mis-words, but irreparable - there isn’t any repair option available, so it’s sort of like there is no solution… And that never feels good, because there can’t be the connection. And because we’re designed to be in relationship and be connected, then it’s sort of like “Nope, we’re just gonna hang out on opposite sides of the cliff, and there’s this chasm or canyon in between us… And yet, I’ve gotta work alongside ya.” It’s awesome… Not so much.

Yeah, I think there’s gonna be different variations of closure to an event like this. And it may not always be the happiest or the most enjoyable version or variation of it, but… And that’s my question to you - what do you do when you can’t resolve the conflict? If it can’t be resolved… Maybe back in particular to someone who’s not willing to – like, if they thrive in conflict and they prefer to be in phase three, round and round they go in the conflict, if you’re dealing with that kind of person you can’t really resolve that personal conflict… So there’s gotta be some sort of closure or resolution, even if there is no closure or resolution.

Right. My favorite word, a favorite question that I offer often with patients is sort of legit - if that’s where this person is while they’re still doing that and acting that way, what are you gonna choose to do? Because I’m only ever always in charge of myself, and so if someone isn’t going to participate in the resolution… I mean, that’s always idyllic - if two people can hash it out, or two groups can work it out. But when that doesn’t happen - okay, what now? In spite of the way this person is acting or choosing to respond, what are you gonna choose?

Yeah. Well, it goes back to that show we did on the power of your choice…

Yeah, yeah…

…which we’ll put in the show notes. We highly recommend that. That’s eye-opening to me even, to go back and listen to it… Hey, I go back and listen to our shows, by the way. It’s good to understand the power of your choice. Things happen in this world. FOMO happens in this world. Events happen that matter to you, that really don’t matter to you. You think they matter to you, and you’re just sort of in that space… It really comes back to the choice you make for you, your self-care, your mental health, your personal space, your preferences in life, whatever they might be. You have to understand the power of your choice for you.

[39:53] Yeah. And one little caveat with that is going – you know, sometimes we all have been through things that make it harder for us to see that we do have choices… That might mean “Hey, I need to get some additional help, or professional help, or support etc.” But people want to discount that forced choices are choices. But they are. So you might be very much aversive to the constraints within which you’re working, but - okay, you could still choose something else; it just means that there’s consequences to that. And that’s not good or bad, right or wrong, but going – if you believe it to suck less or be less upsetting, okay. It’s your life, and when you participate in what you have on a routine basis, it changes how you feel about those things, because you own “I chose. Even though I didn’t prefer it, it was the better of the bad… But I still got to participate in what I’m experiencing, and that is empowering and equipping.”

So with that, I think there is some resolution skills that we can talk through… But before we get there, I want to sort of – I thought this was really interesting, when we were discussing the show… There’s actually styles of conflict management, which is pretty predominant in the world of human resources… So there’s this instrument called the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode instrument. It identifies five major styles of conflict management. Have you heard of these?

No… So cool though. This is such a multi-faceted problem that it’s got styles of management. Not resolution, but management.

Right? Like, how do you respond to conflict. And when we talk about “name it to tame it”, when we’re able to have words around dynamics and emotions and phenomenons, we can manage them differently, right?

Yeah, absolutely.

So the five styles are collaborating, competing, avoiding, accommodating and compromising. Interesting, huh?

So this collaborating style is this combination of being both assertive and cooperative. People who collaborate often try to work with others to identify a solution that fully satisfied everyone’s concerns. This is not like avoidance, but this one is really best when you’re looking at this sort of long-term relationship and outcome that are most important. Within a workplace, this would be a collaborative style over two different departments.

I think about it in the sports realm, of going - you have the owners of teams and then the coaches… And while they both want success, the route they get to success and what they’re valuing most might differ, maybe (just maybe). And so there could be conflict around “How can we collaborate so that our players are healthy, and there’s still possibly profit.” Just maybe.

Yeah. That’s definitely a team management scenario for sure, because you need to solve the conflict in a way that there’s a healthy compromise for everyone… And that’s what collaborating does - it recognizes everyone’s stake in the game, so to speak, to keep going back to the analogy.

[43:47] Yeah. So you brought in compromise, but this collaborating - I think of it like braiding. Like, “Okay, yours gets to count, and yours gets to count, and we’re gonna figure out a way to braid these together, so that everyone’s happy.” Then that compromising style is “This is just trying to find an expedient, mutually acceptable solution that sort of half-heartedly satisfies both parties, while maintaining a little bit of assertiveness and collaboration.” It’s like “Meh…” Sort of like one down.

“We have to go one way, so can everybody deal with this? Okay, okay, okay…” It’s kind of painful to some, but not everyone.

Right. And that style is super-helpful, where time is of the essence. It’s like, “Look, guys, we’ve just gotta get a deal done. Come on, throw me a bone. You throw me a bone. Alright, moving on.”

But the important thing with that compromising style is that really unfortunately nobody’s ultimately satisfied, because neither person got what they want. They’re like “You conceited, and you conceited, and we’re moving on.”

What I like about this though - and I’m seeing a theme here - is that for each style there’s a priority. One may be the relationship, one may be the time, one may be the lack of the relationship… So it’s like, if you’re gonna deal with at a group level, an HR level in this case in particular - if you’re gonna deal with conflict, what’s the priority? Relationships, time… I don’t know what else is gonna come from there, but that’s the two themes I’ve gotten so far. If you have an understanding of priority, then you can pick the style. Because if you care about the relationship, then collaborating is probably the key one. If you don’t care about the relationship, maybe the one next competing might be the one you prioritize. Or if time is of the essence, maybe you’re gonna look for compromising.

Right? I’m glad you’ve talked about relationship [unintelligible 00:45:44.02] is a different focus for each style. The accommodating style is really the one where you’re trying to preserve or build the relationship. So this is opposite of competing. There’s an element of self-sacrifice when you accommodate to satisfy the other person. It might come across generous, but it could take advantage of the weak and cause resentment, because it’s sort of like “I’m just going to give you what you want”, right?

Yeah, “I really don’t care about you… But sure, you can have this. Fine.”

Right, but you think you’re giving someone. And interestingly enough – I see this a lot in significant relationships… And like we mentioned at the beginning, about lies of omission - “I’m not really gonna tell you that that’s not really what I wanted, but I’m gonna give that to you. But you don’t know that I gave you that, so now I’m resentful”, and then I’m gonna do that over and over for like seven years, and then you’re gonna come to therapy, and then you’re gonna say “Therapy doesn’t work”, but you waited seven years before you did anything about that…

Whoa, hang on now, hang on now… We’re getting some behind-the-scenes here of how a therapist feels after seven years of doing these kinds of things for people, and what they see… [laughs]

No, the reason I say that is because the research actually says that couples wait on average seven years after problems start before they go to therapy… And then they say therapy doesn’t work. But that’s just it. The conflict started so long ago, and part of the challenge, especially with those significant relationships, is it’s not all bad. It’s not that bad, and so you get these sort of riffs and you’re like “Okay, that stunk” but then there wasn’t a resolution… And then that continues to happen, and now you’ve developed a sort of continuous way of interfacing, so it becomes more gridlock over that much time. And it doesn’t matter if it’s just in a marriage or a significant relationship, but the same thing can happen even in the workplace.

Look, if you’re staying late and doing extra-work and you’re taking hits for the team all the time because you’re like “Hey, I’m just trying to get it done. I just want to make sure boss is happy, and this is what the boss needs”, but you don’t tell your team members, and then you’re ticked because you’re there on a Saturday, or staying late… That doesn’t help you or your team or the organization, because it just builds more of that resentment. And you think you’re doing it for the benefit of the relationship.

[48:15] Hey, that’s misalignment of clarity and expectation, right? Going back to that.

But also what you described was just simply compounding conflict. In a relationship standpoint, if you keep smacking your head against the wall, over time you’re gonna be like “Man, that really sucks. I’m never doing it again.” And that’s essentially what seven years builds up to - smacking your head against the wall. Trying to do something in a relationship, constantly hitting some sort of hurdle, some sort of wall, some sort of stop point, and there’s pain associated with that… And given enough time and repetition, you will wanna stop it forever.

Yeah, right? Because it’s painful. That’s just it. The other style that can be really challenging is – well, both of these aren’t super-effective, but competing style or avoiding. Competing is really people who are assertive and uncooperative, and they’re just like “Hey, I’m gonna do whatever I need to do, and I don’t really care what it costs you.” So this style of conflict management is just “I don’t care about the relationship. I’m just trying to compete with another company for a new client.” This just really doesn’t work in close relationships, because the competition, when you compete –

Somebody’s getting hurt, essentially…

Yeah. Somebody’s walking away with a black eye, or something. Or a broken bone, or a slap in the face. Red cheeks.

So then lastly is this avoiding style. These people who avoid conflict tend to be both unassertive and uncooperative, while they diplomatically side-step or withdraw from threatening things. It’s like the procrastination style at its finest. You just avoid. “I didn’t see it, I didn’t hear it. Whatever. We’ll just move on.”

That’s what happens. Just move on then. That’s a really tough one, because I can see two sides of that… Without digging into the super-details, but somebody might want to be observant, and so their silence is their observance, or their observation… But I suppose if – without understanding the timeline, that could be seen as like avoiding.

But sometimes it’s not really avoiding, it’s just sort of like “I’m observing what’s happening here, and my silence is seen as avoiding.”

Well, with that I would say there’s caveats around the length of time, right?

So if we’re going “A part of effective conflict management and resolution involves managing myself, maybe I need to step away for ten minutes. Maybe ten days… That might be a little long.” But that there is a return to it. But it can get muddled again if other people are present, witnessing the conflict, and then they’re not present for any resolution… Right?

So then other people had this, but nobody else was privy to it, so other people are left with the residual effects of the conflict, but they didn’t get the repair like the other people or teams. It changes it.

It’s just like, “Can we punt this for a bit? Everybody cool, can we punt this for a bit? Okay, we’ll avoid this for a bit.”

[51:52] But the conflict is still there, it is still occurring, it has effects… But maybe that’s sort of a portion of compromising, the fact that you’ve all agreed to punt it for a bit… And that is the resolution. But either way, the resolution isn’t occurring today, so therefore the pain continues.

Right. So if I swing back over to then what are some of the skills involved with resolving conflict, one of the most significant things you can do is not jump to the defense.

It’s hard, because you’re sort of taking in something that might not fit for you, that might not be where you are coming from, but this is why - going back to listening - active listening is so important. So if I really can hear and then clarify… Gosh, this really does feel like a bit of a marital therapy session… Of going “Can you repeat back to me what your partner said to you?” and then go “Did I get that right?”

Right. “What I think I heard you say was…” Etc.

And in that way, it’s like “Well, kind of right, kind of wrong. What I really was saying was this, and this is where you didn’t hear what I said correctly…” And it’s less like “You’re wrong and I’m right”, but it’s more like “What’s true?” Because sometimes you can say something, and somebody hears the exact opposite, or the wrong thing. Or not what you meant at all. And like “Well, hang on… I didn’t say that and mean it that way. I can understand how you heard it that way, and I’m sorry, but that’s not really what I meant.” And if you can clarify that portion of it, it’s like - well, now you’ve got this open dialogue, and there’s connection and communication, so the conflict is being resolved by explaining and clarifying what is true.

Yup. Not too far from that, another awesome skill is keeping things in the form of I. So use I statements. “What I thought.” Not “You did. You/They”, but rather “Me/I heard it this way. This is what we were thinking” etc. Because it’s ownership, and I’m then conveying from my perspective; I’m not mis-assigning my perspective to you and then saying it to you, and you’re doing that to me. Did you follow that…?

Yes, yes… Well, you have to be willing, too. Like we said before, the open communication - you’ve gotta be open to reconnection; you have to be willing for resolution to occur. So a skill has got to be like – if you’re not willing, then you’re still gonna be stuck back at the whole initiation phase of this conflict, in phase three of it; you’re gonna be stuck there if you’re not willing to find an opportunity or a compromise or a chance to collaborate around the problem. If you’re stuck there, you’re stuck there.

Right. And we talked about that panoramic view - prioritizing the resolution of the conflict over being right. I think I’ve said this in other episodes, about relationship and going “You could be right, but you might be alone.” So if I’m prioritizing resolving the conflict, to some degree I’m also vicariously prioritizing relationship, because I’m saying “Hey, we’re working together. You matter, I matter. Let’s find a way.”

Yeah. Well, Dr. Siegel has that book - it’s only in audio form though… It’s The Neurobiology of We. It kind of bums me out it’s not in text form, because I wanna cite it easier than scanning an audio file… Which is fine, but – something he’d mentioned as part of that book was “The key to a thriving mind”, which… Who doesn’t wanna have a thriving mind, right? A thriving mind has so much opportunity. He says “The key to a thriving mind and a strong sense of well-being” - again, who doesn’t wanna be well? It’s a good thing. “…it’s to stay open and connected to others, and to various parts of our own mind.” It’s this connection.

[56:10] Connection is what enables. Disconnection is what… Disconnects. The reason why we’re on this subject at large is because connection is key, connection is important. And because we’re a social species, we have to understand the need and the role of others in our lives.

Yes. And we need everybody to do themselves as best they can… Because everybody’s a singular human, and when each person does their role and where they’re at, at whatever point in time, we all do better together. I think about it like learning how to dance - rhythms change, and music tempo switches, but being able to dance is really figuring out when things slow, or music crescendos or decrescendos, and what is my partner’s skill, and what is my level of comfort? Relationship is that overlapping circle of the you and me, so we both participate in the we.

I like your analogy of the music, because if you listen to a song and you isolate one single instrument, is it the song? No…

It is not…

It is not the song. Life is an orchestration of many sounds in synergy, in unison, in rhythm, in harmony… And that’s what I think is important to understand about conflict - we are all instruments in this game of life… A composition of life is probably the better analogy to say. This composition that we’re in called life is made up of many, not one… And so resolutions occur when there’s connection. Opportunities occur when there’s connection. And it doesn’t mean you’ve gotta be in love, or love, but there’s gotta be a thing of love and respect, which doesn’t have to be – what do you call it…?

Romantic love.

Yeah, thank you, romantic love. It can just be simply “I care enough about that person. I respect that person to want well for them.” That’s what it’s really about.

So connection is so important… In fact, there’s a psychiatrist who I think we’ve referenced before by the name of Dan Siegel, who came up with this theoretical framework about ourselves and others, who wrote this book or did the audiobook for The Neurobiology of We… But he developed this whole theoretical framework that’s rooted in science about the brain, and it’s called “Interpersonal neurobiology”. What research has shown is that in developmental psychology our neural systems in our minds require relationships involving attention and contingent interactions in order to develop well.

Like we’ve mentioned before, our brains - we are born to wire, to relate to others. And like I said before, social neuroscience studies show that our neural circuitry responses for both physical pain and social pain overlap. So the idea of having a person, a human, a comforting relational presence can actually decrease physical sensation of pain on self-report, as well as in brain activity. This is so important as we try to figure out how to work well with other people, because if we can start by looking at the lens within ourselves and go “How do I manage my own mind? What can I do as an individual in my own relationship and in my own organization to help create and maintain healthy minds, to facilitate health in the microcosm of my world and even broader?”

This is where and why this can be so, so valuable, because leadership can look at how can we use mindsight, this awareness of what Siegel calls openness, objectivity and observation as critical components to being able to be aware of myself and another person, so that I can integrate my own internal state, and then use that to influence the states in others… Because if we are connected, how I feel affects you, and how you feel affects me, and when I am cognizant of that and have the skills to manage the crescendo and decrescendo of my own affect, I bring a better person to each and every one of my relationships, whether it’s in the workplace or at home… And ultimately, that’s our hope - that we would learn how to human better in everything we do.


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