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 allows 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.

In the heat of conflict, eight out of ten people will misunderstand 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.

Workplace Conflict or Interpersonal Conflict?

Dealing with conflict is par for the course….  it’s a core responsibility as a leader. However, many of us haven’t had the opportunity to learn and acquire some of the tools we need to properly navigate rocky terrain in the workplace. Plus, dealing with human behavior isn’t easy. It isn’t for the faint of heart.

Our company’s intellectual capital and technical expertise is attached to a variety of personalities and attitudes. Each member of our staff has been brought on board because of the knowledge and skill he possesses for his particular position. We are confident that our staff possesses attributes such as analytic capabilities, logical reasoning, and problem-solving. Yet, we are usually attributing such cognitive traits to individual roles and responsibilities.

Most of us want to get along with our cohorts – that’s the good news. Yet, when faced with interpersonal conflict, it’s not uncommon for organizational leaders to feel like confronting a top performer is too risky. What’s even more common is when organizational leaders believe that the issue can resolve itself or worse – that confrontation will cause the situation to completely unravel.

But we’re all human.

Believe it or not, eight out of ten people will misunderstand what we mean… in the heat of interpersonal conflict.

Remember, there’s a lot of power in silence. As a matter of fact, silence is a type of answer (it’s no answer!). However, it doesn’t always cut it – especially when situations need to be settled. Some tips for settling conflict include:

  • Paraphrasing. It gives you the chance to make sure you are understanding the situation most appropriately. It also gives the other person the feeling that you care enough to try to understand
  • Avoid absolutes. ‘Never’, ‘you can’t’, ‘you don’t ever…’, ‘it will never work’ automatically turns people off. Defenses go up and they won’t hear anything else you might have to say. Plus, there is always a better way to say an absolute without using an absolute phrase
  • Say what you mean. Avoid fluff or side-stepping the issue. Even if it feels vulnerable, it will get you closer to resolution faster. And that is the goal
  • Uphold and support a sense of belonging
  • Affirm the value of multiple perspectives. Diverse viewpoints and a variety of contributions strengthen an organization’s culture. Be sure to sustain this as a core and implicit contribution during the resolution
  • Take advantage of the opportunity to build self-confidence by reserving judgment and focusing on a healthy dialogue. Support self-efficacy
  • Uphold and sustain boundaries.

People just want to be heard. Remember that anger is a front for fear, worry, or frustration. Challenges that are handled with respect for the individuals involved will reaffirm the fact that she is not a debilitating stereotype.

Emotions are usually piqued and those involved are on edge. We can’t ignore the fact that those involved are palpably anticipating some type of action. Jolting people into action isn’t going to help matters. Bolstering competence while transforming a long-standing pattern or habit isn’t easy.

From a neurological standpoint, practicing tips we’ve learned or read about on platforms like ours can and will literally help us extinguish old habits. Our brain’s automatic response or default response can be replaced by a more effective one. The great news is that once the new habit has been stabilized and consistently practiced, reverting to the old habit is unlikely (note: deeply rooted attitudes or questionable personal values or affability issues do require a lot more attention!).

Truth be told, the alternative can be costly. We know how expensive it is to replace a top performer. We’ve seen other organizations unravel to the point of no return. We know the facts and figures that support those organizations who were at the tipping point caused by interpersonal conflict – those businesses whose personnel was ripe for tearing people apart or ignoring the reality until it was too late.

From start-ups to Fortune 500,100, etc., no one is exempt from this reality. The workplace is a living system – a system that oscillates dynamism. Practicing healthy conflict resolution helps tremendously in the workplace and it’s a welcomed trait we can carry over to our personal lives. Click here to read more about dealing with conflict at work.


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.


Dr. Jennifer Beaman
Dr. Jennifer Beaman
FOR over 25 years, Jennifer has served as an executive consultant helping organizational leaders streamline processes and strategies by enhancing skills and practices. Serving as a strategic consultant to industry-wide businesses throughout California, she soon recognized the unparalleled value of human capital. In turn, she introduced leadership and executive development services, thereby providing a more holistic opportunity for clients. Cornerstone to helping leaders recognize the power of their actions and behavior, she weaves the art of emotional intelligence into all interactions, thereby promoting thorough value to the entirety of organizational systems. Joining ranks as a business owner in 2004, she partnered in a California-based sign manufacturing business. This business served a variety of clients, primarily larger corporations, franchises and Fortune 100-500s. In 2008, she participated in partnership in southern California specializing in project management and leadership development services. This corporation served clients ranging from Fortune 50-100s. The Association for Leadership Practitioners is a subsidiary of a parent company opened in 2010 and serves clients ranging from small businesses to Fortune 500s. Dr Beaman also serves as a partner at Chasing Limitless, Inc., providing strategic consulting and executive leadership development services to catapult organizational revenue and growth and primarily serves Fortune 500 companies. She holds a Doctorate in Management with a focus in Organizational Leadership; Master's degree in Organizational Management; and Bachelor's degree in Organizational Development. She is an active member is several professional affiliations and volunteers on a consistent basis helping entrepreneurs and doctoral students working toward publishing their dissertations.

SOLD OUT! JOIN OUR WAITING LIST! It's not a virtual event. It's not a conference. It's not a seminar, a meeting, or a symposium. It's not about attracting a big crowd. It's not about making a profit, but rather about making a real difference. LEARN MORE HERE



    • Well said Sylvester, well said. Staying calm in the heat of conflict requires acute attention to striving to control our actions and reactions. You are so right! At the most primal level, we are programmed for a flight or fight response – so this is definitely an art that needs to be continually practiced, so it can become a bit easier to contend with.

      Thank you for suggesting Maxwell’s wonderful book! He is one of my favorite authors and certainly a renowned thought leader in the field 🙂

  1. Great article. I always prepare my state of mind to a very calm state and often will put the ball in their court by presenting the facts and asking them what steps can we take to resolve this. Often they say pretty much what I would say.

    • Excellent – most excellent Larry. This is exactly the mindset I was aiming to posit. It requires a deliberate effort to transform our state of mind to one of calmness – when we can achieve this level, we have not only reduced our own level of internal stress [by pushing the ‘hold button’], but when we hand the baton over to them – we’ve positioned ourselves to be able to actively listen.

      Silence carries more power than one can imagine (and I don’t mean that in a negative or controlling assertion), rather one that allots the opportunity to achieve that mindset prior to moving forward…

      I love the fact that you used the word ‘we’ here, too. It’s amazing to realize that when we are dealing with some type of conflict, that positing the reality that we’re in this together opens the doors in more ways than one 🙂

      The beauty here too is that discovering that their reaction is usually along the same lines of where we’d go too – is indicative of preexisting healthy workplace (or personal) relationship.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words. I have always found that if you have an environment of open communication people know what they’ve done right and what they’ve done wrong.and in that environment it’s like they want to tell you. They want you to listen. And they want to find a better way.thanks again for such a great post

  2. In conflict, our rational minds shut down. When my mind has shut down, I say “I’m at a point where I can’t speak rationally on this. Let’s take a break.” Mostly, that works. With some they position what I say as proof they are right, and I am wrong.

    • Oh my – so well said Chris! Exactly! It can be a challenge to recognize/realize/admit that our rational minds have shut down – especially for [both] those parties involved.

      I believe with acute attention to tending to this (because as leaders – as human beings – conflict is par for the course. It’s a natural way to grow, when we accept the reality of what is taking place. Even if the end result isn’t what we expected or the conflict arose from a situation or individual we didn’t expect – there is oh-so-much we can learn from the experience.

      In further support of your assertion that – ‘… they position what I say as proof they are right and I am wrong’ (Pehura, 2017) is what I believe to be one of the most difficult aspects of resolution because we can always discover something new (even if it’s realizing that the individual isn’t who we thought they were) when we take the time to listen. Shutting down like that and ‘forcing’ the other party to accept ones statement as truth is like locking the door to opportunity for growth.

      It’s not always fun [far from in it in many cases!], but healthy conflict can result in increased cohesion, a stronger united front, and stimulate a deeper level of trust and transparency…. when we let it.

      For those of you who have read my huge response here ;), how do you deal with a colleague/direct report/individual whose defenses have locked a position of ‘what I say is proof that I am right and you are wrong?’