Lesson 12 – Dealing With Conflict

Dealing With Conflict

Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” – Stephen Covey

Conflict occurs when the emphasis is on the differences between people. The more divided you seem to be, the sooner you fall. You get along better with people when the emphasis is on the similarities between you. The difference between conflict with a friend and conflict with a difficult person is that with a friend, the conflict is tempered by the common ground you share. Obviously, then, reducing differences is essential to your success in dealing with people you can’t stand.

Two key tools for reducing conflict are blending and redirecting.


Blending is any behaviour by which you reduce the differences between you and another in order to meet them where they are and move to common ground. Blending increases your rapport with others. For example, have you ever been in conversation with someone when unexpectedly you discover you both grew up in the same place? In that moment of discovery, differences were reduced and you felt closer.

Or you go to a restaurant with a friend, looked at the menu, and asked, “What are you having?” Your question may have had little to do with menu choices and a lot to do with sending a signal of friendship.

You blend with people in many ways. You blend visibly with your facial expression, degree of animation, and body posture. You blend verbally with your voice, volume, and speed. And you blend conceptually with your words.

As natural as it is to blend with people you like or with people who share similar objectives, it is equally natural not to blend with people whom you perceived as difficult.

The failure to blend has serious consequences, because without blending, the differences between you can become the basis for conflict.


Redirecting is any behaviour by which you use that rapport to change the outcome of your interactions and reach a more satisfactory outcome. Blending always precedes redirecting, whether you are listening to understand or speaking to be understood.

Identify Positive Intent

We define positive intent as the good purpose meant to be served by a given communication or behaviour. Our failure to recognise and appreciate positive intent can have lasting consequences.

A powerful key to bringing out the best in people at their worst is to give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume a positive intent behind their problem behaviour. Since your difficult person may be unaware of this, ask yourself what positive purpose might be behind a person’s communication or behaviour and acknowledge it.

If you are not sure about that positive intent, be creative and make something up that could be true. Even if the intent you ascribe to the behaviour isn’t true, it will allow you to blend and develop rapport.

Identify Highly Valued Criteria

Criteria are the standards by which we measure whether ideas are good or not, the means for determining what a thing should be, the benchmark by which people gauge whether they are for or against an idea. Criteria become especially important when differing ideas or points of view are being discussed.

Money, bonding, teamwork, or increasing knowledge are some of the things that may be important to us.

Whenever a discussion starts to degenerate into conflict, try to ascertain the reasons why people are for or against something. Then look for an idea or solution to the problem that blends these criteria together. That is another way to turn conflict into cooperation.

When Discussions Degenerate Into Conflict

When your problem person is talking:

  • Blend visibly and audibly
  • Backtrack or echo some of their own words
  • Clarify their meaning, intent and criteria
  • Summarise what you’ve heard
  • Confirm to find out if you got it right

While blending is an important skill to use when dealing with others, never blend with a hostile gesture directed at you. Don’t meet aggression with aggression. If the other person raises his/her voice, or shakes his fist, the key to blending here is to underplay it assertively.

Your action plan for angry, aggressive people should include:

  • Hold your ground, and use deep breathing to stay calm.
  • Interrupt the attack, by repeating their name several times.
  • Quickly backtrack or echo their main point to show them you have been respectfully listening
  • Aim for the bottom line by taking ownership and expressing the situation from your point of view.

Some more important points to keep in mind when you are dealing with difficult people:

  • No one cooperates with anyone who seems to be against them. In human relations there is no middle ground. Unconsciously people want to know, “Are you with me or against me?” That’s one of the things you have in common with your difficult people.
  • Express your truth in a way that builds someone up rather than tears them down.
  • Use “I” language.
  • Be specific about the problem behaviour.
  • Show them how their behaviour is self-defeating.
  • Suggest new behaviours or options.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to being honest with someone is concern about hurting their feelings. But you do no one a favour by withholding information and allowing them to continue behaviours that don’t work for them either.