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Conflict Management: Eight Out of Ten Will Misunderstand

Conflict Management:

How We Act & React Matters

Mushin is a tactic in samurai warfare that in essence, means ‘still center’. It is the ability to stay calm, read your opponent, and attempt to redirect his aggression in a more productive way (Thompson & Jenkins, 2004). When we sustain control of ourselves, we are better able to control a situation. It allots the opportunity for flexibility and adaptability.

Conflict is a catalyst for change. We know that in order to avoid status quo, change is inevitable. Healthy conflict is a really good way to get things moving. Naturally, it’s how we deal with it that largely determines the outcome. Nevertheless, it can prove to be a good way to get the ball rollin’.

But we all know that not all conflict is healthy. We can recognize unhealthy conflict as a means for future change, though. It’s imperative that we lead our people through effective conflict management.

As leaders, we need to effectively influence and persuade (persuade in this instance, isn’t a bad word). Consistency is key. Upholding credibility and integrity is imperative. Attitudes can make or break a deal. This certainly holds true in the midst of conflict. The words we choose carry a whole lot of weight. Sustaining our presence is critical.

Refrain from responding when facing a verbal attack. A lot of time is spent criticizing during a conflict. A lot of unnecessary time. Avoid defending yourself in a verbal attack. It only adds fuel to the fire. You may accidentally say something you’ll later regret.

Capitalize on the power of paraphrasing.people-icon-in-grey-and-orange1-pic

In the heat of conflict, eight out of ten people will misunderstood the context (Epley, 2015). Recognize this as reality. It makes conflict harder, but realizing it is key.

Avoid relying on the other party to actually say what they mean. During conflict, the neurotransmitters in our brain are going haywire. Chances are – unless they are extremely skilled in effective communication – they might mess up. There is a greater chance of misconstruing information – sometimes critical information, when we are upset.

‘Let me make sure I understand what you mean’ can be a great way to interject this tool.

Ensure that you are understood, but take the time to truly understand the other party’s interests. Sometimes a little empathy can go a long way. Empathy in conflict does not mean giving in. It just means that we’ve taken the time to try to understand how the other person feels or where their true interests lie. It also absorbs and diffuses tension.

Plus, it gives us the chance to see the other person as he sees himself. Consider the power of that statement. We can learn a lot by taking the time to identify and understand how the other party truly sees himself.

Silence is a powerful tool. It is an amazing weapon. Especially after a verbal attack, silence can be a great response.

It gives us time to think. After a verbal attack, it is so easy to let our response roll right off our lips. It’s also the most vulnerable time, as a leader. Avoid responding when you’ve been hit below the belt – at least long enough to frame your response and keep your dignity and integrity intact.

Remember to let the other party save face. Workplace relationships are worth protecting (most of the time).

Unfortunately, we all run into some type of conflict with unscrupulous people. I’m not talking about those people – we don’t (or shouldn’t!) have those types of people on our teams. However, sometimes it feels like it during a heated conflict.

We all know that we should separate the people from the problem. However, sometimes the people are the problem. However, good, solid working relationships may serve as an umbrella for disagreements or differing opinions. But knowing when to cut the ties is just as important.

The most successful  organizational leaders have a trusted advisor to turn to. If you don’t, it is highly recommended. A good trusted advisor is another amazing tool.



Epley, N. (2015). Mindwise. New York, NY: Random House.

Thompson, G. J. & Jenkins, J. B. (2004). Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion. New York, NY: Quill/Harper Collins.