Dealing with Conflict

(Covey, 2004)

Conflict exists when one person has a need of the other and that need is not being met. One person has to change for the relationship to stay. It is the friction between individuals due to differences in opinion, ideas, beliefs, values, needs or objectives.

First mind-set is the fundamental attribute bias. We take a ‘dispositional’ rather than situational view of others. We argue that most people act the way they do because of uncontrollable personality factors (their disposition) as opposed to doing what they do because of forces on them in their environment (their situation). Consequently, we believe that others do bad things because of personality flaws whereas we do bad things because the devil made us do it.

Fundamental Attribute Bias:

“Where ever possible, we explain other people’s behaviour in terms of internal causes, and our own as external“(Jones & Davies 1975)

Quite often conflict is about them and not about you. And when you think it’s all about you and not about them – then it’s all about you

(McNab, et al., 2014)

Don’t have an issue with you About Them   About Them Have and Issue with you
About nothing   Possibly About You
  Not Rude  

How do we create conflict?

  • Not listening
  • Not prioritising each other
  • Not taking other’s needs seriously
  • Not taking own needs seriously
  • Not recognising own need
  • Not checking or validating opinions
  • Projecting unmet needs on others
  • You vs. I statement
  • Not being true to self
  • Not being honest to self
  • Avoiding! not dealing with conflict
  • Wanting to be special
  • Not expressing true feelings
  • Taking others’ comments too personally
  • Making comments without considering impact on others

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Our Approach to Conflict

The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) looks at each person’s behaviour around conflict situations—and looks at the styles we take.

HIGH. High on self. Low on others. High on self. High on others. Cares about Themselves. Medium on self. Medium on others. Low on self. Low on others. Low on self. High on others. LOW. Cares about Others. LOW. HIGH.

Keeping a disagreement from becoming an argument

(Carnagie, 1970) from Bits and Pieces, The Economic Press, NJ

  1. Welcome the disagreement
  2. Distrust your first instinctive impression
  3. Control your temper
  4. Listen first
  5. Look for areas of agreement
  6. Be honest – admit to your errors and say so. Apologise for your mistakes
  7. Promise to think over your opponent’s ideas and study them carefully
  8. Postpone action to give both sides time to think through the problem

How to avoid getting hooked into an argument:

  1. Spot the triggers
  2. You may be in your rights to respond forcefully, but before doing so, what is in your best interest?
  3. Focus on the facts of the issue rather than the emotion that may lie behind it
  4. Avoid interpreting what they say about the issue as what they may or may not think about you. Also make sure that you don’t say anything which could be misinterpreted as declaring what you think about them

Refrain from

  1. a) Accusation and recrimination; shouting and yelling
  2. b) Criticising the person, rather than their behaviour
  3. c) Labelling people, or calling names
  4. d) Moaning and groaning to others
  5. e) Bringing others in

When dealing with conflict we can take 3 approaches: (Alasko, et al., 2008)

  1. Avoidant – hiding feelings, running for cover. Either you ignore your needs or find a covert, hidden way to satisfy them
  2. Aggressive— attack. You can’t let go of anything
  3. Unpredictable – you partner is always on edge on how things will go

Typical conflict components

(Mindgym, 2005)

1.  The Caustic Opener


In tone and words

  • “What’s up with you?
  • So, what are you actually saying?
  • What on earth gives you that idea?
  • Don’t you know me better?
  • Are you going out of your way to be unhelpful?
  • Are you trying to be ridiculous?
  •  Are you trying to upset me?
2. Mind-Reading What assumptions are you making – and clarify them – When you say ‘we’ do you mean ‘me?
3. Generalisation
  • “Technology is always a disaster
  • I’ve never had to do something so impossible in so little time
  • I’ll never be able to cook
  • Is this really always?
4. That’s you all over – Labelling


o “Look, the washing up is just left in the sink. That’s typical of you – you don’t care what state what state we live in”

o “Eating another piece of cake? No wonder you’re such a fat slob”

o “Why can’t we just relax”

o Stick to specifics. Move from labelling the person, to the situation. Not ‘you’re lazy’ but ‘I thought you said you would do XYZ’

o Test this ‘Do you really think I’m useless around the house or is it just my skills with shelves that aren’t up to much?

5. The Blame Game
  • You’re a hopeless map-reader
  • The directions are pretty useless
  • What have you been doing to the CDs
  • You made me late
  • Whatever your views on where the blame lies, it usually pays to be generous.
  • Blame inanimate objects or bodies of people – alternatively take responsibility on the chin, and the other may admit their mistakes
6. Exaggerate
  • “This is a catastrophe”
  • “This is the worst thing that anyone has done”
  • This unnecessarily raises the stakes into a crisis. Not only does it take a negative effect on the argument, but it has the potential to really irritate other people. Just as dangerous is the dismissal, when we minimise the importance of something.
  • We exaggerate the causes – the reason why something happened might not be relevant, but exaggerating is like to bring it to centre stage.
  • Exaggerate the consequences – so that our view will be taken more seriously
  • In exaggerating the conditions for resolution – this is where we put extreme conditions on what we need from the other persons to resolve the conflict.
  • Resist the temptation and focus on the outcome of the conflict
7. Looking with difference lenses on the situation
  • “We’re running late for a party, how rude is that?”
  • “We’re going to be late arriving at the party, as any in-the-know person would know”
  • There is not disagreement on point of substance but it’s about the rules of the world
  • Check how the other person sees the world, and whether you have the same values
8.  You’re fighting a proxy battle
  • You’re annoyed about something else, so this situation gets the brunt of the feeling. You haven’t capacity for grace.
  • Firstly, recognise this is happening. Park the old emotion. And then apologise for the outburst “I think I owe you an apology. I had just had XYZ and I took it out on you. I’m sorry. No egg shells needed, honest”
9.  What I mean, not what I say
  • You say the wrong words – “You look much older than your photograph. Sorry. I mean …’
  • Firstly, let the words past, as they might not mean it and ask to clarify with open neutral questions.
10.  Irreconcilable Differences
  • “I can’t work with music on”
  • “I need music in the background in order to work effectively”
  • A prime reason for disagreements to continue is that we focus on positions rather than interests. So, find the common purpose
  • Understand the other persons interests and motivations by asking why they have the position they do. What is it about the position that matters to them

Constructive conflict

(Alasko, Emotional Bullshit)

Most problems in relationships develop
because the people don’t follow any rules of conflict resolution

Carl Alasko

  1. Decide what you need from the situation to have the right attitude
  2. I need to build my relationship and bring this person closer to me
  3. I always need serenity
  4. Before beginning the process ask for permission
  5. You must first ask if they are available for a discussion
  6. Don’t ask if the other is (HALT) – distracted, tired, hungry, upset, or unavailable
  7. Starting a conversation without asking permission is the equivalent of getting into a car and driving off without saying where you’re going, how far away it is or the purpose of going there
  8. Ask directly for what you need using one sentence that can be asked with a yes, no or maybe
  9. Avoid questions starting with ‘why’
  10. Avoid generic ‘I want you to be honest’
  11. Maybe is an okay answer
  12. Control your emotions throughout the process
  13. Tolerate discomfort. Deep breaths
  14. Take turns in discussing the request, without interruption, using only respectful words

If someone says, ‘I don’t have time to sit and do this’, but they have plenty of time to dedicate to other pursuits, then remind them that “going through the negative alternative (separation or divorce) will take a lot more time”

You need to feel safe at all times.

This is away from the fear of not being loved, or not being respected or the fear of losing the relationship.

“Nothing will work, no information or emotion can be communicated if the person offering or receiving doesn’t feel safe”, it needs 3 promises:

  1. The promise that no one will be emotionally attacked or abused
  2. The promise that both parties’ feelings will be respected
  3. The promise that there will be no retaliation for what is said within the context of constructive conflict outside the session

How to keep rapport in difficult situation

Focus on listening Don’t talk more than you listen
Simplify your language Don’t confuse with jargon and make sure language is not open to misinterpretation
Talk positively Stress what you can do, not what can’t be done
Give space physically and metaphorically Don’t push the other into a corner and allow them to save face
Minimise ‘trigger’ language Take care of words that might escalate the situation
Don’t argue This will become a no-win situation

So, to address conflict remember: (Ready, et al., 2004)

  1. Rapport comes first. Without rapport, no one listens to you. Match their body language and pace their behaviour
  2. People need to trust you before they’re ready to open up on difficult issues.
  3. Make sure you’re clear about what you’re trying to achieve your outcome- while you ask questions as you can become overloaded with irrelevant information and cease to be helpful.
  4. Soften your voice and be sensitive to your questioning. Feed questions gently into the conversation rather than firing

How to have disagreement with your partner and remain friends

Source Life Skills International

Fair behaviour Unfair behaviour
  • Speak one at a time and allow equal time.
  • Stick to the issue
  • Look for compromises
  • Try not to generalize
  • Allow for time-out
  • Observe the rules that you set
  • No force, hitting or threats
  • Show the person respect
  • Be honest about yourself and with them
  • Give your reasons
  • Admit when you are wrong
  • Make your conclusions clear


  • Interrupt & don’t let them express their feelings
  • Open up old wounds and dredge up the past
  • Expect there to be a winner and a loser
  • Get off on tangents
  • Go on and on until someone explodes
  • Change the rules without telling them
  • Intimidate and threaten of violence
  • Use name calling or sex as leverage.
  • Deny the facts
  • Read the other person’s mind
  • Gloat over your victory
  • Make them guess what the decision is (if any)

A Time-Out means that you go away for 30 to 60 minutes to process and return calmly to finish the discussion or whatever you have agreed upon previously. Many times, the conflict was too small to even have to finish or discuss further.

Many of the unfair behaviour patterns are things that we learned as children against other children and our parents. Learning fair rules is a part of growing up. 

Tactics for dealing with differences

(Clarke, 2012)

Area of Conflict When it’s you  When it’s others
Chemistry – ‘I don’t like you’ Do they also think it is a problem? If so, you need to speak to them

If not, then convince yourself you can get on with them

Get time in each other’s company
Behaviours/ style – ‘I don’t like the way you do things’ See their strengths Give feedback and profile to show the differences
Philosophy / Values – ‘I don’t like what you stand for’ Recognise the difference, and that they believe in their values as much as you.

If beliefs don’t match the community / organisation you were with = then it’s a problem and monitor when it breaks

Look for the common ground
Conflict of interest – ‘I will work to prevent you being successful, because a gain for you is inevitably a loss for me’ Often this is about structure or process in the community or organisation you are in

Look for compromise

Look at reciprocity

Look to change the systems

Help show the different perspectives

Injury – ‘I don’t like what you did’ Allowing things to fester will only store up trouble

They might not know they’ve done wrong

Look for support if you don’t like

Get both parties to work together with an objective mediator
Prejudice – I don’t like your type of person A prejudice is an unreasonable judgement based on little knowledge or experience of the individual or group of people concerned. It becomes harmful when it creates negative actions against others It is difficult to prove or deal with

Be alert, explain how it appears to you and the other people involved, using examples.

Remind people of the law


Jealousy – ‘I don’t like you’ It is a natural emotion. What precisely are you envious of? You have strengths too, and others could be jealous of those Try to get to the root cause