Three Big Ideas for Conflict Management

Three silhouettes with two black and one red. Underneath are the words Conflict Management in capital letters. Conflict is larger and in red. Management is smaller and in black.

Conflict is not all bad. Conflict is very good when focused on a well-defined problem. Conflict in this sense is necessary to bring out the best ideas. The key is to be tough on the problem and gentle on the people. There are three key elements to keep in mind when you begin to feel the tension rising, and you begin or the other party begins to take it personally. This article focuses on what you can do to help yourself and others should you feel or they begin to feel it personally. These are calm the fire, listen to understand and work collaboratively on the right problem.

Calm the fire

When you begin to feel the tension rise in yourself when interacting with others, the first step is to recognize that you are starting to become angry. You have just identified that something has had a triggering effect on you.

Realizing that you have triggers is the first step.

Once you recognize that you have a trigger and that it has been activated you have six to ten seconds to either flood your brain with chemicals and hormones to go off (referred to as flooding) or to prevent yourself become angry. This takes a conscious effort. It does not just happen. Our natural inclination is to become angry

                Understanding how your brain works

Your amygdala is the primitive part of the brain at the top of the brain stem that is there to help you fight, flight or flee from real danger. This is great should you about to be eaten by a tiger. On the other hand, at work, home or with others when something irritates you it is hopefully clear that the danger is not life threatening. In this situation, your prefrontal cortex can override your amygdala. The prefrontal cortex is in the front of your brain. It is only 5% of the mass but takes up 25% of the energy. By meditation, prayer or reflection at least 10 minutes a day it is possible to clear the pre-frontal cortex (think of it as reboot to your computer) and make you calmer. Doing this on a daily basis over a period of time has been demonstrated to make us calmer. Anyone can do it and it has been proven to really work based on neuroscience. Our ancient faith traditions call upon us to do this too.

               Take steps to remain calm and focus

Knowing this you can take steps to calm yourself. As a minimum when you know you have been triggered, rather than going off and letting yourself flood and becoming angry, you can engage the pre-frontal cortex (this takes practice) to not let yourself become angry. What could you do?

  • Walk away and leave the situation behind before you say something you shouldn’t.
  • Take 3 deep breaths
  • Practice the 5/15/10 rule with breath in for five seconds, hold for 15 seconds and let it out for 10 seconds. Repeat this three times.
  • Force yourself to not let yourself become angry.

By practicing meditation, prayer or refection as indicated above for at least 10 minutes a day, recognizing your triggers, and then taking action to not become angry you can calm the fire within. Secondly you can listen to understand.

Listen to understand

Most people do not know how to listen actively. Most people understand how to have a conversation and enjoy interacting with others when engaged in pleasant interactions. However,

 listening to understand takes a conscious effort.

This means instead of listening to have dialogue, listening is all about asking open ended questions, paraphrasing, summarizing and empathizing. It requires practice and a higher level of both conversational and emotional intelligence.

                Listening Actively

When listening actively it means paying attention to more than the words being said. It means paying attention to the words, tone, facial expressions and body language being presented. Listen for and look for inconsistencies. For example, if someone yelled out in a loud voice “I am not angry”, clearly there may be a lot more to the situation. Having noticed the inconsistency, it may be necessary to inquire further and try to get behind the tone and words presented. For example, in this situation it might be appropriate to say something like “tell me more”, or “it appears to me that you are concerned, what is behind that” or something that the receiver will perceive as being neutral to learn more. Noticing feelings, asking questions to or offering statements as presented it here, it may be possible to explore further to determine the underlying problem and work on the real issue.

                Learn from a listening exercise and connect with others

When someone has been listened to they are for more likely to listen to someone else. Take the first step.

Listen to them so that the other person will be more likely listen to you. Take the initiative to listen to understand. Having presented this concept with a listening exercise many times at speaking engagements, when I ask the question when is the last time someone really listened to you, I receive blank statements and heads shaking their heads no. Then I ask “when is the last time you listened to someone you were conflict with?” That is the point. We need to listen to others first.

By checking in with others regularly and building a relationship it may be possible to be proactive to prevent negative conflicts. As soon as a potential negative conflict area emerges it may be possible to bring it to the surface before it becomes a significant issue. By connecting with others, it may be possible to uncover hidden conflicts before they grow into something very negative.

Collaborate on the right problem

As indicated above it is important to clearly define the right problem. Often our immediate reaction to something negative is retaliatory and defensive in nature.

 By calming the fire, and listening to understand it may become clearer what the real problem is.

Once the real problem can be determined it is possible to use this ten-step process to work on the problem collectively so that you can collaborate on developing an appropriate solution.

Here are ten steps to an interest-based solution

 1. Define the problem or issue and take on only one problem/issue at a time

2. Listen to understand the emotion and facts associated with the issue

3. Identify and clarify interests

4. Generate options

5. Determine the impacts of options

6. Evaluate the impacts of the options

7. Select a solution

8. Consider implementing the solution or return to an earlier step

9. Consider testing the solution before implementing the solution

10. Consider the Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) and the Worst Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (WATNA) if no solution can be found.

Since we are all different and all situations are different use situational leadership to adjust your thinking to work with the other party. Be flexible. Reframe, refocus and redirect the other party with neutral commentary to help the other party to hopefully see something as an opportunity to work together rather than as a negative, combative situations to compete against each other and to take it as a personal confrontation.

About the author

Mike is a professional speaker, and a mediator/negotiator that addresses business valuation and other issues with the IRS, and issues for clients as a conflict resolution expert. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 11 books including, The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, NSA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]