I Need to … But I Don’t Want To! Our Conflict with Conflict


Introduction to My New Conflict Resolution Guide, “Walking On Eggshells?”

When it comes to conflict resolution, we are more similar than different. We all want conflict to disappear. We all think we know how to make this happen – we need to get that “other person” to “see the light” and change.

Most of us don’t want to talk about conflict (at least, not with that “other person”!). We also wish we didn’t think so much about it. But we do. All the time.

Most people “walk on eggshells” when it comes to conflict. We are stressed about living with conflict and equally stressed about having to do something about it. 

It’s a Catch-22 familiar to many.

Perhaps we are a workplace leader expected to speak with a staff member about a serious complaint that has come forward. Maybe we are someone who needs to talk to our colleague about an inappropriate, embarrassing or offensive comment or mistake they made at work. On the flip side, we might have recently been asked to meet with a colleague, supervisor or human resources advisor to discuss concerns about our own decisions or behavior.

Whether it is a complaint about others, a complaint about us or a complaint that we are expected to resolve as part of our role, most individuals “walk on eggshells” in having to navigate conflict-related conversations. No one finds these conversations easy. Yet they are absolutely necessary if we wish to build and maintain productive and respectful workplaces and relationships.

I wrote my recently published book, “Walking on Eggshells? A Practical Guide to Resolving Stressful Conflict at Work and Home” in an effort to make such difficult conflict conversations far less difficult.

I do so by helping anyone involved with conflict to first understand and then accurately describe: (1) what is specifically happening to or around them; (2) why that isn’t working for them; and (3) what they’d like to see or experience instead. This could be about personal boundaries, professional practice issues, work-related decisions, story-telling or humor in the workplace, rumor-mongering and so much more.   

Many conflict-resolution guides and courses often end the analysis here. What is your concern? How should you describe it? 

However, in my many years of practice as a mediator/arbitrator, I have seen many conversations go sideways, not only because of the way people speak about conflict, but also because of the way they listen (or don’t!) when faced with concerns about their behavior.  

In light of this, I ensured that my Guide considered the very real and important perspective of those on the receiving end of conflict conversations. Anyone who’s been there knows that it can be a scary place to find oneself.  As the accusations unfold, it is common for our hearts to beat faster and our minds to loop with excessive questions: What am I being accused of? How should I respond? What if I disagree? What if they don’t believe me? What if I get fired? This fear can often cause people to “get in their own way” and react defensively and at times inappropriately, which only serves to make things worse.  

To prevent this from happening, I offer practical and tangible tips on how each of us can become better listeners in order to truly hear and understand where others are coming from, without panicking, going on the offensive, becoming defensive or feeling an automatic and inauthentic need to “agree and apologize” simply to make the matter go away (at least on the face of things).  

I have been privileged to support thousands of people resolve their disagreements in over 25+ years working in conflict, first as a lawyer and now as a workplace investigator, mediator and arbitrator. I have learned so much from others sharing their experiences, fears and stressors with me. In my Guide, I have incorporated these lessons into an easy and accessible framework so that everyone can engage with conflict in a calmer and more constructive manner.

In the Guide, I answer the following, frequently asked questions: 

  • What do I do if someone has triggered me, by speaking to me disrespectfully or touching me inappropriately?  
  • Should I speak to them immediately to get it off my chest? If not, then when? 
  • What are the most common types of disrespect at work and home?  
  • How can I describe disrespectful behavior in a way that doesn’t anger or offend the other person? 
  • How should I have the conversation? Who should I invite? Where should it take place?  
  • What do I do if I’ve been asked to participate in a conversation?  
  • Does the conversation have to be 1:1 or can I bring someone with me?  
  • How do I respond to accusations about my behavior with which I disagree, without coming across as defensive, argumentative or difficult?  
  • How do I speak so that others can better hear what I have to say? 
  • How do I more effectively listen so that others feel safe when speaking to me? 
  • What should I do if the other person becomes angry, highly emotional, or engages in personal attacks? What if they change topics altogether? 
  • What if the other person refuses to meet with me? Or leaves as soon as they don’t like what they hear? 
  • What if someone gossips about our conversation after the fact? 
  • What if we’ve had a conversation but the behavior doesn’t change? 
  • When should I involve a third party to help resolve the situation? 

This Guide is for everyone – including employees, supervisors, senior leaders, board members, volunteers and others – currently experiencing conflict and wondering what to do next. It answers your most pressing questions about conflict, conflict resolution and conflict-related conversations. Most importantly, its simple and straightforward approach will help you resolve conflicts that are consuming far too much energy, time and space – in your heads, in your offices and in your homes.  

We all need to find a more peaceful and practical approach to navigating conflict.  Let this Guide help pave the way. 

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