Last week I talked about the value of conflict…including how to discern if a confrontation is needed. When the answer to that question is yes, make sure it’s done right.


You can handle conflict, or it can handle you.

Here are seven suggestions to fighting fair:

  1. Assume positive intentions

Before you even enter into a discussion, start with assuming the other person’s intentions are positive. You may not like their actions, and past experiences may be telling you the other person’s intentions are not the purest, but this assumption is critical.

You must be able to say that the person you are struggling with is not malicious and intentionally harmful. If you start with positive intentions and are wrong, you can then deal with that. But if you start with the idea that their intentions are negative and you are wrong, it is hard to recover.

  1. Go to the person and bring up the issue

Don’t gossip or share your concerns with others. Go directly to the person, be willing to confront the issue, and be committed to make a change and seek resolution.

  1. Outline (briefly) the tension

Explain the “tug-of-war” that you are experiencing. Share the tension and put words to it. You may say, “I want to talk with you about the deadlines on our project. When you change the deadlines and outcomes for your part of the project but make me stick to my original goals, it is frustrating and demoralizing to me. Can we talk about the tension I am feeling?”

Or you might say, “I want to talk with you about the staff meeting yesterday. When you called me out in front of everyone and said I was sucking up to the boss, I was humiliated and confused because from my perspective that’s now how I see it at all. I don’t appreciate the way you talked to me, and I am curious if you see how that could embarrass me.”

  1. Ask, shut up, listen

Asking the questions is the easy part. The hard part now is to simply shut up and listen to the other person. Ask the question, then shut your mouth and listen for the answer.

  1. You don’t need to tell your side of the story (always)

Perhaps the most difficult of these steps is this one. In conflict you don’t always have to tell your side of the story. I’ve seen it hundreds of times. Joe and Lisa are having conflict. They finally have the courage to talk about the problem. Joe brings it up with Lisa, asks her about it and listens to what she has to say. All is good, until Joe decides he needs to tell his side of the story.

This doesn’t close the wound, it opens it. I’m not saying you never share your side of the story, but I am saying that you don’t need to tell your side every time. You don’t always have to go point, counter point. Sometimes you can simply let your side of the story die and say you are sorry. Seek to preserve the relationship and move on.

  1. Confirm your understanding and commitment to the relationship

Make sure you understand where the other person is coming from. Repeat back to them the frustrations, emotions, and challenges they are facing. Make sure you confirm what they just told you. At the same time, confirm your desire and commitment to the relationship. Share your desire to have unity and clarity. Share your appreciation of the other person and your commitment to them, their team, their project, etc.

  1. Take steps forward

You can’t just have the conversation, you must move forward. You have the responsibility to take action and make steps forward to show your commitment and investment in restoring the relationship.

Following these suggestions doesn’t ensure conflict will be easy. It’s your responsibility to know when to embrace conflict and use it as an opportunity to clarify. Spend your energy trying to understand the other person’s perspective more than resolving your conflict and you will gain insight, patience and intimacy.

Without conflict, there is no growth. #LeadStrong