When I facilitate leadership programs I often ask who likes conflict. Maybe one hand goes up and that is even very tentative. Most of us hate it.

It makes us feel vulnerable and there is often a concern about loss of face or loss of a friendship. Some have said in worried tones that it may even cause loss of a job.

While conflict is inevitable it can be used to your advantage and even solve problems in less the time. Let’s work with words that work to keep you grounded, so that you have both feet on the ground instead of in your mouth!


Can this situation be saved?

You have a direct report who is always coming into the office 25 minutes late. Day after day and you can set your watch by it. He smiles sheepishly and says the same thing in the same sheepish manner “The traffic is a snarling mess. Sorry.”

You smile back just as sheepishly and say “Well, at least you are here so we can continue to work on that project.”

As the day goes on you think to yourself “The work is getting done and who cares about what time he gets here. And it really doesn’t matter what others think. After all this is 2015 and no one watches the clock anymore.”

Weeks turn into months and now, every time you look at him you have the urge to make a nasty comment. Do you go to complain to your boss, go to HR or just keep returning that sheepish smile when he passes your desk?


Time to speak up.

Finally you know you really need to stop sweeping this under the office rug that is getting lots of ruts from your upset and silence.

How would you handle this? What would you say to him? I’d love to get your responses.

Here is how I have learned to handle these frustrating situations without making them become a boxing match. Let me say this works about 80 per cent of the time. “What about the other 20 per cent?” you ask. That is when you get help or be prepared for all the excuses; the defending, explaining and justifying that goes nowhere.


Give this a shot first.

After a few pleasantries tell him you have had some things on your mind and you would like him to just listenThen take a deep breath and begin.

“Hey Joe when you…show up late every morning (or whatever the situation that is bugging you)…

“I feel…disappointed. (Just one word). Here are a few other examples: annoyed…discounted…frustrated…pissed. (Pick the word that best describes YOUR feelings).

“And then I…usually stuff what I am really thinking (make a joke…smile and pretend it’s no big deal. Describe what you actually do in one short sentence).

“What I am willing to do is…talk about how to resolve what is going on…suggest a mediator from HR… (Describe what you are willing to do, again in a short sentence).

“What I’m not willing to do is…ignore the situation any longer…pretend it doesn’t bother me. (Describe in short sentence what you are NOT willing to do).

Last critical sentence here is “And now I would like to hear from you.”


Silence is still communicating.

At this point it is vital that you just be quiet and listen. That’s right. Don’t say anything else. You have said it all. Short and sweet.

When there is conflict you need to be super clear and not indulge in long winded sentences. The shortness is part of the power.

Now let me peel this type of conflict communication down to its basics.

First you paint in words what the other person is doing that upset you. These are just the facts. No emotion here. Then you describe how the behavior makes you feel. Now you are creating a situation with honesty and transparency.

It is about a situation, not your whole life. You do, however, give another glimpse into who you are by saying what happens inside you when you feel disappointed or whatever word you chose. That gives the other person permission to also express their emotions appropriately.


Then comes the action plan.

You show that you will not be ignored and that you will not back down and then you give room for a response.

It really works. That is unless you start to add qualifiers and jump in to talk before the other person is done.

And just for what it’s worth it is amazingly good when talking with family members. This could really make your holidays more relaxing and fun. Let me know how it works for you.


Originally published at Inc