Conflict Resolution

22 Jun

When the occasion arises, there is definitely a right way (or at least betterway) and a wrong way to resolve any point of contention.  Here are some basics to help you smoothly and amicably attain comity.


   First rule of communication is knowing your audience.  Know who you are dealing with, what they want, what upsets them, what they will readily give you, what they are not willing to give, and where (with proper persuasion) they will make an exception and bend their own rules for you.  It is here in this grey area that so much is either lost or gained based purely upon your approach. 

   Basically, you want to know anything about this person that could help you identify with them and make your best pitch.

   Where there is no prior relationship, pay particular attention the first few exchanges.  Try to find some similarities or connections they may have with you in order to use those in forming a bond (however superficial).  The more someone feels they are alike to you, the more they are willing to be helpful.  Therefore find those linking factors.  It could be their home-state, the college they went to, the NBA team they cheer for, the scotch they drink, the car they drive, the charities they support, a mutual hatred for insurance companies; whatever it is, find it and use it!  Poke around and see what lights their fire. 

   It isn’t difficult at all to draw out a few helpful details about the person you are dealing with even through minimal contact.  You may notice an accent, a zip code, a last name… the world is small folks.  There is always something we can point to in order to connect with a fellow human being.  And I re-iterate, it is in establishing that connection that you have won 75% of your battle when it comes to successful communication and negotiation.

   Keep this Golden Rule in mind with EVERYONE that you deal with.  It does not hurt to keep notes either.  Everyone wants to feel special.  Everyone wants to feel that they are important and paid attention to.  No earth shattering revelations there, but this basic principle is forgotten all too often.

   So again, I reiterate because it truly is so important, KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.



When going on the offensive…

BE CLEAR AND DIRECT.  Nothing is worse than when someone pussyfoots around an issue.  It makes for an awkward, unclear encounter and begins to resemble passive-aggressive behavior.  A most reprehensible means of communication.

“Yeah um, like I know you guys are friends and all, but uh, I guess I just kinda don’t want her coming over all the time…I mean it’s cool, it’s no big deal, you know.  Just like sometimes, you know? Like I understand if you guys are going out and stuff.  So, I mean you know, I’m not trying to be weird about it or anything…”

   Ok, I’m sorry, what did this person just say to me?? What was the message here??  Can you feel the awkwardness?  Yikes!!!  The illustration above is given to demonstrate how taking a circuitous cowardly like approach to making your point is both off-putting and confusing.   ”Man up” in other words.  If what you have to say is worth bringing up, then do so in a clear, unapologetic manner.

SOFTEN THE BLOW.  Envelop criticism with compliments.  You know, the “velvet hammer,” ”compliment sandwich.”  Like any persuasive argument, you want to highlight the good while still addressing the bad.  A good way to win your audience over from the start is to preemptively give credit.  Whether you believe it or not, no one will contradict your assuming that they have only the best of intentions.

“I think you’re extremely smart and capable, but when you do ____ it makes it difficult for me to _____.  I feel comfortable saying this because I know that you really care and want us to do the best job possible.”

   Bubble wrapping any potentially offensive remarks make them easier to receive and then respond to in a productive manner, and the criticizee much more receptive to listening.  Outright attack is almost never going to work if your goal is peaceful resolution and change.  In fact, that is the first way to NOT get your point across as it automatically puts any red-blooded American on the defensive.  When the defensive shields deploy, listening ceases as your subject then becomes preoccupied by feeling a need to defend himself.  So, step one is to get your point across without losing your audience.

BE MATTER OF FACT, AND NOT OVERLY EMOTIVE. The less emotional/reactive you are, the less they are likely to be.  Confrontation is something that nobody enjoys.  However it doesn’t need to turn into a soap opera.  Half the time, emotions or feelings really have nothing to do with the issue at hand anyway.  If rent is due, rent is due.  It shouldn’t hurt anyone’s feelings to point out this fact.  That doesn’t make any sense.  However if you start the “rent is due” conversation by being emotional about it, human nature is to react in kind.

   Hence, set the tone.  Be as rational and stoic as possible.  This will put the other person at ease, and the more control you will have.  This all goes back to the concepts behind the chapters on appearance and perception.  If you appear cool and not worried about something, those around you will often take on the same attitude.  If you act uneasy and dramatic, you invite that kind of reaction.

NEVER OVER-WIN AN ARGUMENT.  Don’t play all of your cards when unnecessary.  Use a modicum of points necessary to win an argument.  If you play all of your cards upfront, that leaves your adversary on the offensive and you without a shield. Not to mention, simply show some good sportsmanship, don’t go for that last touchdown when you are already up by 28 points.  That’s just insulting.  Hopefully you are dealing with a mature and thoughtful person who, upon reflection, will realize the other obvious reasons for your being right and then both appreciate and respect that you took the high road and didn’t prove up your case by using every shred of evidence you had.

 In addition, the more you offer, the more there is to disagree with.  Argument invites counter-argument, so stick to the basics.  That way, if it becomes necessary to defend your position, you still have more material to work with as you have not preemptively exhausted all of your resources.  So win with as little as possible.  If you create a solid argument while keeping a few aces up your sleeve, it will be that much more convincing should you be forced to throw ALL of your cards on the table.


Neutralizing the Affront…

DON’T CROSS THE BRIDGE BEFORE YOU COME TO IT.  If you think someone may be upset with you, don’t act until you are either sure or they say something about it.  Simple psychology.  The bigger a deal you make of something, the bigger deal THEY will make it.  Conversely, maybe they weren’t even upset with you, and you’ve been driving yourself crazy for nothing. OR, by bringing it up they may figure that since you are making a big deal out of it, maybe they should be mad.   Suggestible entitlement is an ugly but a common human response that you should be aware of. 

   Now, if you know you’ve done something wrong, by all means take responsibility and make things right.  What I am talking about here are the situations where due to excessively reading into things, you have concluded that a person may *potentially be upset with you for some fairly obscure reason.   It can be difficult to refrain from wanting to preemptively resolve a point of contention; especially for people who prefer to be honest and upfront (as everyone should).   However you must accept the fact that you are not a mind-reader; and that by over-analyzing the trivial and potentially meaningless actions of another so as to conclude they must be upset with you is a losing proposition all-around.

    First, you may be wrong.  Their behavior could have nothing to do with you.  Second, if there really is something going on, that person will likely let you know if it’s important enough. Third, know that apologizing profusely for something that maybe was originally small, will often backfire when the recipient gains a sudden sense of entitlement and righteousness.  It happens.  We’re greedy by nature and taking the upper hand when so offered an opportunity that will rarely be passed up.

NEVER CONCEDE MORE THAN NECESSARY.  Just like not playing all of your cards, only concede and give deference where you have to.  If they don’t bring something up, don’t necessarily fess to it; especially where the situation can be perfectly resolved with out it.  Over conceding just like over apologizing makes one seem more guilty than they are.  Of course, we good-natured people have the proclivity to blab out all of our faults and misdeeds.  However, more often that not, this only serves as a selfish and stupid way to relieve our conscience.  Experience and maturity teaches us that the world is not black and white, and not all misdeeds need to be publicized or accounted for.  So deal with it on your own time, because it brings nothing to the table.

DON’T PRE-ASSUME FAILURE IN YOUR APPROACH.  Whether during an argument or just in life, don’t assume undesired conclusions in your questions. 

 ”Oh, it’s probably too late for me to order takeout huh?” 

“You probably don’t ever want to see me again, do you??”

   In a court of law these are called “leading questions.”  That is questions that already suggest the answer.  This is a favorite on cross-examination of an adverse witness.  “You were too drunk that night to really remember what happened weren’t you??”  The reason these questions are so useful is because they contain the desired response and are highly attractive because they are easily answered by a yes or no. Thus making it all too easy for a witness to just agree with you. 

   Knowing this, lawyers use leading questions to propose favorable conclusions.  It defies logic then, to ask a leading question whether in court or in any other realm that suggests an unfavorable conclusion.  You are not only suggesting the answer you don’t want to hear, but are laying out the red carpet for it.  If a person is going to take an adverse position to impede the goal you are striving to attain, at least make them work to defend it.  Certainly do not concede defeat before you’ve even allowed them to answer.  And for goodness sakes, don’t hand over justification for their position against you–Easiest way to NOT get what you want.


Diffusing the Pre-Existing Acrimonious Relationship.

    In certain situations, usually in the work-context, we are forced to interact with people that we would otherwise choose not to.  That being said, the best approach is minimal but cordial exchanges that maximize that person’s utility for your purposes.  In other words, get as much as you can from the person while staying in their good graces.  This of course, is how you go about creating and maintaining a good relationship from the start. 

   Like anything and everything I ever write about, the following is always true: Simply having good manners, being respectful, showing understanding when they need it, and appreciation where they deserve it (even for the small things) goes a LONG, LONG way. 

…This isn’t rocket science guys.  How would you want to be treated??

    If however, you started off on a less than amicable foot, there are ways to salvage the necessary association.  Namely, abide by the following tenets of communication and negotiation:

1. Make Amends.  Apologize for past misunderstandings and other points of contention as appropriate.  No, it doesn’t matter if you were right, and you are not going to specify about which matters you are particularly apologizing for. The point is to broad-stroke it and let the other person know that you are a) Acknowledging some amount of fault, b) Ready to make amends and move forward. 

    Don’t necessarily expect a return apology because that is not the point.  This isn’t about your feelings or being right.  Let it go.  The point is to neutralize your target, and get them on YOUR side.  Now makes two people working toward your goals.  Capisce??

2. Let them be heard.  Whether they need to vent their grievances or simply are long-winded by nature, nothing turns a person off faster than feeling as if they are being ignored and disrespected.  Conversely, nothing has more of a calming effect and makes a person feel better than when they are afforded a patient, respectful, and understanding audience. 

For Christssakes DO NOT cut the other person off, interrupt them or attempt to argue every single point.  Pick your battles.  Calmness and congeniality are contagious.  Display these traits and you will receive them in return.

3. Form the Missing Bond.  It is never too late to be “friends.”  People are ridiculously forgiving when confronted with a sincere apologetic gesture.  The more genuine and personal you can be about it the better.  Again, give them something with which they can easily identify and in this case, empathize.

   So in the wrong or not, sometimes we have to fall on our sword in order to get the enemy to lay his down.  And again, that’s fine.  Because who really cares who’s “right” or “wrong”??  Bottom line is getting what you need from this person.  Once you disarm your foe, you can re-direct your efforts to forming the missing bond.

    An easy short-cut is to familiarize yourself with the phrase, “I understand,” it is the magical phrase that does wonders!! Whether you do or don’t, whether you’re listening or not, just tossing out an “I understand” creates the sense of camaraderie that you want in any relationship.  The more someone identifies with you, and feels that you understand and identify with them, the more amenable they become. 

   Along those same lines, try to find mutual connections or shared interests that you can play upon for the same effect.  No matter how tangential or unrelated they may be to the task at hand.  “Wow, that’s so funny!  I was in my high-school marching band too!”  The point is to get this person on your team and playing ball.  (See “Know Your Audience” above).

4. Maintenance.  So, now that you have a good working relationship again, simply maintain it.  Give extra where you can, at no cost to yourself, and your good faith efforts will be handsomely rewarded.  Keep in mind the above rules for communication and remember that the absolute most important things are the most basic: MANNERS, UNDERSTANDING, & APPRECIATION.



   If you can manage to be direct, calm and open-minded, there is almost never a situation that can’t be resolved peaceably and to both parties satisfaction.

6 Responses to “Conflict Resolution”

  1. Anonymous June 11, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    isnt this kind of manipulative? why not just always be honest??

    • J.D. St. Michaels January 26, 2014 at 12:11 am #

      Honesty is imperative. But only on matters of import. Lord knows no one wants anyone to be honest with every critical thought. Maturity is knowing where to draw that fine line. You’ll get there. All the best, ~ JD

  2. TFMLaw June 1, 2011 at 2:57 pm #

    Very well written!

  3. kourtnie February 19, 2011 at 10:48 pm #

    your good

  4. Anonymous October 26, 2010 at 12:23 pm #

    Amazing advice.


  1. Some Very Basic Do’s and Don’ts When Relating to the Opposite Sex. « Dating, Debating & Recreating: Los Angeles - September 25, 2010

    […] See also: Man Protocol, To Women: How to Effectively  Communicate with Your Man., Conflict Resolution. […]

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