Monthly Archives: May 2011

Fighting When Neither Party Is Wrong

Most people would rather have a root canal than attempt to resolve a conflict. In fact, instead of going through the tough work of routing out the real issue and figuring out how to confront the offending party, most people will say, “Oh, it’s just a personality conflict.”   It is never just a personality conflict. That’s an excuse.

Every person brings to each situation unique information gleaned from his or her experience, perceptions, values and goals. In any situation that involves more than one person, therefore, there are bound to be differences of opinion. Therefore, the potential for conflict exists. The conflict is not due to personality differences but because the people involved are at odds over one or more of the following items.  They :

●think differently,

●are relying on a different body of personal experience,

●are missing a vital piece of information;

●are using different sources of information,

●perceive things differently, and

●have different goals.

Let’s look in on a badly matched married couple. Sarah is a second generation American whose family practiced extreme frugality in order to provide the bare basics. Alex’s family has deep roots in the American culture, and, as a child, he never wanted for anything.  When Sarah shops, she purchases the cheapest cuts of meat; when Alex does the shopping, he buys the most expensive cuts. Sarah makes wonderful meals from leftovers. Alex hates leftovers, even when disguised as a creative casserole. When mechanical items break down, Alex throws out the broken item and replaces it with a new one. Sarah will take the broken item to be fixed. She tells him, “It’s important to save for a rainy day.  You never know what might happen”.  Alex tells Sarah, “Life is short. We only go this way once. We should enjoy all that our money can do for us right now.” Sarah thinks Alex is wasteful and reckless. Alex thinks Sarah is anal and compulsive.

Instead of acting as if the other is totally wrong, this couple should explore the reasons why each looks at the world from such a different perspective.  Based on their different perspectives, neither person is wrong;   both positions have merit. Both should seek input from a marriage counselor to find a middle ground.

Here is a work example. Suppose you are the Manager of the Design Department and your opponent is the Manager of the Accounting Department. Your goals are about designing the best, most efficient, edge-of-technology, gizmos in the market place. Your opponent’s goals are concerned with keeping the costs of manufacturing down so that the price of the gizmos is competitive in the marketplace.

You have designed a new, fantastic gizmo model. Retooling to accommodate your new design will be far more expensive than just continuing to produce last year’s standard model gizmo.  However, producing last year’s standard gizmo model renders your department unnecessary.  You might therefore conclude that the Accounting Manager dislikes you personally and is devising clever ways to get rid of you.  You might also assume that you are focusing on the future  in order to keep the company ahead of the technological curve while the Accounting  Manager is just an old fuddy duddy who wants to hang on to old ways of doing things.

Neither assessment is true. What you have here is a simple conflict over goals. It is not personal.  Moreover,  it requires that those at a higher level from both of you determine what the company should produce and bring to the marketplace in the coming year – a brand new model gizmo or more of the older model.

In this example, let’s suppose you are missing a critical piece of information. The CFO told the Accounting Manager that manufacturing expenses had to be trimmed 12 percent in the coming year. The estimated increase for retooling the manufacturing process to accommodate your new model gizmo is 16 percent. This would result in the Accounting Manager having to trim 38 percent from the manufacturing costs.  It would be impossible for him to do that. Therefore, in order to accomplish his goal of trimming 12 percent from manufacturing costs, the Accounting Manager feels forced to avoid incurring any additional manufacturing costs, including those for retooling.  Therefore, he feels forced to take a position against your new design.

Whatever the other person is doing may make no sense to you, but it does make sense to them. Therefore, you must ask yourself, “What piece of information am I missing which, if I had it, would help me understand what my opponent is attempting to accomplish?”  

Suppose, for example, a couple has a young child with a huge nose. Devaney, the mother, wants the child to undergo corrective surgery immediately. Shawn, the father, believes it would be better to wait until the child is older and can better tolerate the operation.  During her childhood, Devaney was severely teased because she was much taller than any of her classmates.  When she remembers her grade school years, the pain of the teasing comes back to her full force.  She doesn’t want her child to go through what she went through.  It could, she believes, scar him for life.  Shawn, on the other hand, was never taunted during his early school years.  Therefore, he is certain that his child will be able to successfully ignore any teasing.  Therefore, he does not want the surgery now.

This is not a matter of who is right and who is wrong. Both positions have merit. What needs to happen here is, instead of arguing, these parents need to share where their views of the situation come from.  Both need to acknowledge that each wants the best for their child.  Next, they need to consult the child’s doctor about the age and surgery-tolerance issue.  Finally, they need to examine their child’s reaction to being teased. The child’s history – not the parents’ history- should determine when and/or if such corrective surgery needs to take place now.

The key to managing conflict is to focus on the issues, not on the personalities or people involved. “What do you want as an outcome or result of the proposed action?” might be a good question to ask to clarity goals.  You want to reconcile different ideas, sources of information, experiences and perceptions so that mutually and in partnership you can move ahead.

Here are other another examples.  Barbara believes that her husband Ralph ought to spend some quality time with the children each night.  Ralph thinks that quality time refers to the weekend when he’s not so tired and out of sorts.  Barbara and Shawn decide to consult their Pastor and learn that using Sundays for family activities is just as powerful for building decent, moral, respectful and well-adjusted  kids as taking time with them in the evenings when everyone maybe tired and out of sorts.

Ralph wants to research replacement windows on the internet and in magazines such as Consumer Reports.  Barbara wants to accomplish this task more quickly.  She wants to go with the recommendation of the window expert at the Home Depot.  Once again, neither person is wrong; both positions have merit.  The couple resolved this issue by consulting a building contractor who, from his experience, was able to help them select the right replacement windows for their needs.

Your co-worker thinks your project should be accomplished one way and you believe some other way is better.  Your co-worker’s information came from a seasoned, experienced employee while yours came from the department manager who is relatively new to the organization.  Maybe your facts and information are identical but, being different individuals, you have interpreted the facts differently. Once again, we have a conflict where neither party is wrong; both positions have merit.  You both decide to approach the General Manager to gain some clarity on the situation.

In resolving a conflict with a neighbor, Barbara wants to get advice from a lawyer relative and perhaps sue the neighbor.  Ralph wants to speak with the local police department.  He thinks this is a one-time problem.  He believes that a little chat with the authorities might be all that is necessary to solve the problem.  Once again, neither person is wrong; both positions have merit.  The couple decides to approach the neighbor, share their concerns and see how he responds before deciding on other measures.

At work, a very familiar conflict may occur over values – about what is right and fair versus what is what is wrong and unacceptable. You may feel that in order to complete the project on time some margin for error is permissible. Your co-worker may believe that one should strive for a no-error, quality result and if that makes the project late, so be it.  If you try to resolve this difference on your own, there will very likely be terms flying around which will not forward the problem solving effort. These will be terms such as slipshod, compulsive, shoddy, obsessive, careless, task-oriented, expedient, over-zealous, irresponsible, inflexible, and incompetent. Once again, neither person is wrong; both positions have merit.  Only the boss can resolve the issue.  Go see the boss and find out what she wants: on-time with errors or perfection and lateness.

The resolution to these issues is relatively simple:

●first – recognize that both positions have merit.

●second – assert that neither of you is wrong.

●third – together select a person at a higher level of knowledge than either of you to help clarify the issue  (a boss or an expert on the topic).

To sum up, with these types of issues, it is not possible to find resolution at your level. You will waste time and energy trying. In addition, you will only create more hostility. The reason is, neither of you is wrong.  Both of you are working in a fog created by a lack of crucial, specific information.

Thursday Special

Last Week’s Scenarios

Scenario #1

You and your BFF are attempting to resolve a serious conflict…

You should use a collaborative strategy because you want not dark shadows to cover this important relationship.  Putting everything on the table for discussion and resolution is the best long term strategy.

Scenario #2

Your neighbor is using a competing or win/lose method……

Unfortunately you are being bullied here and so the tendency would be to use the same strategy right back (“If you do, I’ll sue you and report you to the police”).    This creates a no-win situation.  Better to attempt a compromise strategy (“I’m truly sorry if my dog has done any damage to your yard.  I am happy to pay for any damage my dog has done.  I will keep him chained up.  However, if you see him straying over there,  please call me and I will come get him.  How does that solution sound to you?”)

Scenario #3

Events have put you in a very angry frame of mind….

This is the perfect opportunity to use an avoiding strategy.  Never go into an important conversation feeling angry.  You need a clear mind and all your emotionality under control.  Putting off your discussion – even for 30 minutes – is a very smart strategy in this situation.

Scenario #4

For you, the conflict issue is trivial; for your co-worker, it is critical…….

This is the perfect opportunity to use an accommodating strategy and build up some good will.  Tell your co-worker you are happy to go along with what she wants and that you anticipate she will support you at some future time. (As an aside, males find this strategy effective and easy to use, females have a tough time with it because it reeks of manipulation.)

Scenario #5

You and your significant other are in a conflict over something trivial……

The best strategy here is the avoiding method.  Both of you have recognize the issue is not worth the effort to sort it out.  Take a break. Why waste the emotionality on it.  After a day or two, the issue may have resolved itself.


This Week’s Scenarios

Scenario #1

Trudy and Jim Donavan and their kids moved into a sparsely developed rural neighborhood one year ago.  Jim spends a lot of time on the road, away from his family.  Trudy is a stay-at-home mom.  Their sprawling home sits on several acres of woods and field. It is a great place for their four very young children to play.

There is a low stone wall that separates their property from their nearest neighbor, a family with five late teens and early twenties aged boys.  During the summer months, these boys hold huge, loud parties with rap music and such which attract kids from all over the county for fun, frolic, drinking, drugs, and, Trudy suspects, sex.  The noise not only scares Trudy and Jim’s kids, it prevents them from sleeping.

Trudy and Jim are afraid to report the disturbing noise to the authorities because these neighbor boys have a well-deserved reputation for getting even with those folks who complain about them.  After all, Jim is gone a good deal of the time leaving Trudy home alone with their very young kids.  Trudy would be defensiveness if those boys decided to cause havoc on her, the house or the kids.  This family is angry and living in fear.  What do you think they should do?

Scenario #2

You have a neighbor whose yard looks like a garbage dump.  It is filled with rusted car parts, broken barrels, busted toys, damaged camping equipment, smashed bicycles, old garden pots and assorted corroded tools.  At the edge of his property that adjoins yours, he has piled the remains of his tree-trimming, leaf-blowing and other assorted landscape rubbish.  You have asked this neighbor to please clean up his yard.  You even offered to help him do it. His response was since it doesn’t bother him and since it is his property, you should mind your own business.  You are furious and frustrated.

You and your family are interested in finding a new place to live in order to accommodate the needs of your growing family.  The real estate agent told you that your neighbor’s junk filled yard is negatively affecting the value of your property.  In fact, with so many other properties on the market, he told you that unless this situation were cleaned up, he seriously doubts that anyone would even entertain a bid on your property.   What do you think you should do?


Scenario #3

Your neighbor has serious drinking problem.  He often goes into rages beating up his wife and sometimes the kids as well. You are privy to all the screaming and shouting that goes on almost nightly.   Other neighbors have often called the authorities to intervene.  Nothing helps because the wife refuses to file a complaint against her drunken husband.

To date, you have stayed out of it entirely.  However, now you feel you must do something.  Last night, your neighbor arrived home drunk, swerved onto your lawn, smashed into your garage and damaged your new car.  The impact was so great that your son, whose little apartment is above the garage, was thrown out of his chair and sustained a broken jaw.  What do you think you should do?

In the News

It was reported that a loving mother pushed her wimpy son into fighting with another boy who had been bullying her son for some time.  Her rationale was based on the fact that most bullies are basically cowards and once confronted, will leave their selected victim alone. However, the bully nearly killed her son.  School mates had to intervene and stop the fight.

Was this mother right or out of her mind?  Personally I think this is a great strategy if the wimpy son had been taking martial arts classes for a year or two otherwise this strategy makes no sense at all.  The wimp was defenseless.

Weekly Anger Tips

The emotions that surround conflict – hostility, anger and rage, are a perfectly normal occurrence between human beings.  It is not necessarily good nor is it necessarily bad. It is just a very common by-product of people working and living together.

Secondly, conflict and its accompanying hostility, anger and rage can only occur in situations where people care about what’s going on. If nobody gives a hoot about how things are done, who is doing what to whom and which things are more important than other things, there is nothing to get emotional about.  It is only when people are personally invested in what’s happening that these emotions occur.

Thirdly, the people involved in the conflict must be in an inter-dependent relationship in order for the conflict and its associated hostility, anger and rage to exist.  Perhaps this is why bystanders to hostile acts do not react.  They don’t care what’s going on and wish to remain uninvolved.

Anger and Family

The main difficulty about raising issues which cause you anger with relatives and very close friends is that the personal risks are always higher with these people than they are with strangers or with people at work. These are often the individuals who mean the most to you in your life. Once again, the tendency is to hold things inside and hope that time will somehow make the situation better. There are only two things that happen with time:

  • you become more aggravated and
  • the situation becomes worse.

Never do the problems just go away. You have to address the issues – with clarity, brevity and, above all, respect.

Most often we tell ourselves to grit our teeth and bear it.  In my book, I use the phrase suck it up.  All this does is creates more stress and anger (very unhealthy) for ourselves.  We become furious because:

●we recognize we are being taken advantage of;

●we know we should have set boundaries and have not done so;

●we feel helpless because the situation has gone on for some time;

●attempting to change the situation now might lose us their affection.

Because a person may not know what to do, they will turn their lives into a pretzel not realizing that confronting the issue head on will change the dynamics of the relationship into one of more respect and distance.  Affection and love will not be lost but the relationship will change.

It is always best to confront the issues.  If done appropriately, you will change the relationship such that the family member in question will discontinue their behavior that drives you into helpless hostility.

I think it is important to remember that family members thoughtlessly take advantage of you because they do not perceive there is a line they have crossed.  Maybe it is because we have failed to make that line clear.  Maybe it is because they recognize that line but, because of the close relationship, they cross it anyway.  Let’s look at a few examples.


Elise became a widow when her son Zack was nine years old.  She told him often that he was now the man of the house and gave him many responsibilities that would have been handled by her husband had he been there.  Elise even included Zack in many of the decisions she had to make regarding finances, insurance and major purchases.

Zack grew into a strong six foot, five inch 300 pound tough young man whom Elise could no longer control. Against her wishes, Zack dropped out of high school in his junior year and apprenticed himself to an electrician so he could make some real money.  He bought a fancy sports car and began to bring young women home. Often Zack would ask his mother to cook a meal for him and his girlfriend and then vacate the house so he and the girlfriend could use her bedroom. Elise always did as Zack asked.

When Elise’s friends found out what was going on, they advised her to throw her son out.  “I can’t do that,” Elise cried, “He’s all the family I’ve got.”  Then her friends told her she had to stand up to him. Tell Zack that this is no way to treat his mother.  “I can’t stand up to him” Elise explained.  “I’m really afraid of him.  Not only is he very big but, when crossed, he has quite a temper.”  Elise was feeling more and more angry and depressed about her situation by the day.  She knew she had to do something to turn things around.

One of Zack’s responsibilities was to mow the lawn. Whenever Elise asked Zack to take care of the lawn,  or any other household chore for that matter, he would either make some excuse or outright refuse to do it.  One day, Elise was outside mowing her lawn in the blazing hot sun.  Her anger was overwhelming.  Then she had an epiphany.

Zack’s favorite food was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  He would always have one with breakfast, take at least two of them with him to snack on at work. As soon as he came in the door at the end of the day, he would fix himself another.  If he spent the evening at home, he would fix himself yet another one before going off to bed. Being the dedicated mother that she was, Elise always made sure that her kitchen was well stocked with Zack’s favorite brand of peanut butter, his preferred flavor of jam and his favorite multigrain bread.

That evening when Zack walked through the door, Elise was ready with a prepared little speech.

Elise:  Although it is your responsibility to mow the lawn, you rarely do it.

That makes me very angry because I do everything you ask, even things that would be considered way out of line for a mother to do for her son.

I want you to mow the lawn tomorrow morning before breakfast.

If you continue to neglect your responsibilities, I will stop supplying the house with peanut butter and jelly.

The following morning, Elise awoke to the sound of Zack mowing the lawn. Although Zack remained the same big obnoxious person that he always had been, this little incident dramatically changed his relationship with his mother.  Zack recognized he had crossed a line he didn’t realize was there.   He no longer asked his mother to vacate the house when he planned to entertain a girlfriend. He rented a hotel room.  He was more responsible about the household chores as well.  Elise changed too.  She was no longer so afraid to confront her son.  An element of respect and social distance had entered their relationship.

Here is another example.

Ken and Marie were madly in love when they married and set up housekeeping in a small starter house.  Almost immediately, Ken’s mother, Doris, manipulated her way into their tiny household.  She missed her only child and convinced her son Ken that she would be an asset, helping with the cooking and cleaning.
From the very beginning, there were problems. If Ken and Marie were discussing the color scheme for the living room, Mama would get into the middle of the discussion and before long the couple would be arguing about the color of the drapes. If Ken and Marie were talking about establishing a savings program or an insurance limit on their home-owners policy, there was Mama, right in the thick of things, telling the couple what they should do. Inevitably, Ken and Marie would get into an argument over Mama’s ideas.

Dorisalso found fault with the way Marie organized things in the house and complained about it to Ken behind Marie’s back. Doristook every opportunity to lecture Marie about giving up her career.  She was insistent that Marie give up her well-paying job as a computer programmer and stay at home.

The couple realized that,  if they didn’t do something drastic, and do it soon, their once happy marriage was headed for the rocks. So, they put their little home up for sale. They explained to Mama Doris that they really could not afford a house at this time. In the process, they took a sizable loss on the house. Then they moved into a tiny apartment where there was absolutely no room for Mama Doris and barely enough room for them.

The couple lived happily in their tight quarters for two years. Then Marie discovered she was pregnant. The couple recognized there was no room in their tiny apartment for them and a baby. Once again, they went house-hunting. Now, of course, they were presented with the problem of Mama Doris wanting to move in to help with the baby.

At this point, Ken and Marie sought professional help. They explained to the psychologist that they both felt under tremendous pressure. He was contemplating moving his little family toAlaska   (Mama Doris hated cold weather).  Marie was threatening to abort the child if Mama was going to become a part of their little household.

Marie and Ken solved the problem by attending a workshop in Anger Management.  Together they developed a brief speech which Ken delivered to his mother over the telephone.

Ken:   Mother, although Marie and I appreciate your desire to live with us,

we have decided that it is not a wise decision at this time.  It makes us fee

l uncomfortable to deny your request because we both love you.

However, the stress of a new baby and all the changes that will bring plus

having another person visiting is just overwhelming right now.  We want

you to plan for a short five day visit in the future perhaps when the baby is

six months old.  How does that sound to you?

Mother Doris never realized the amount of stress she had caused Ken and Marie but she did get the message that she has crossed a line and was not going to be allowed to cross it again.  Although she argued fiercely with Ken, mother Doris finally gave up her battle to move in.  For the first time in his life, Ken finally stood up to his overbearing mother. Dorisdid not move in and agreed to wait for an invitation to visit at some time in the future.

Thursday Special

Last Week’s Scenarios

Scenario #1

You have brought your new boy friend, whom your parents do not like, home for dinner…..

●Assuming this is the love of your life, you must absolutely stand by your guns.  Do not destroy this relationship just because your parents are attempting to guilt-trip you into giving it up.

●You might say something like,” Gee Mom. I’m really sad that you don’t like Jeff.  However, he is very important to me and no amount of guilt will make me give him up.”

Scenario #2

Your doorbell rings. You open the door to find two people holding bibles……

●Thank them for their prayers

●State in a firm voice, “I do not wish to give you any money.  Good Bye.”  Then close the door and snap the lock as loud as you can.

Scenario #3….

Your neighbor has a dog that is a cross between a horse and an elephant….

●Grab your neighbor by the elbow and propel him from the room and away form the kids.

●Let your spouse  deal with the kids and the dog momentarily.

●Tell your neighbor, in no uncertain terms, that you do not appreciate him attempting to hijack the kids into guilt-tripping you into taking his dog.

●Insist he go back into your dining room and tell the kids he has decided to take the dog with him to his new home and will never put the dog down.

Scenario #4

You borrowed a very expensive blouse from your sister…..

●Your sister is using the manipulation known as beating a dead horse to make you feel guilty over ruining her blouse.

●Since you have already offered to pay for a replacement, which she found to be an unacceptable solution, you have done everything a reasonable person could.

●It is time to tell her to stop her guilt manipulation.

●You might say something like, “I offered my sincere apology many times over; I also offered to pay for a replacement.  You rejected both as a means of resolving the issue.  Since I have done all I could to satisfy you and you refuse to be satisfied, please do not mention that blouse to me again.  I am done.


This Week’s Scenarios

Scenario #1

You and your BFF are attempting to resolve a serious conflict.  Your BFF is using the collaborative method. You should therefore use the ________________method.

Scenario #2

Your neighbor is using a competing or win/lose method for conflict resolution with you over your dog messing in his yard  (“I will poison your dog if you don’t keep him out of my yard.”)  You feel as if you are being bullied (you are!)  You should use the ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­___________________method.

Scenario #3

Events have put you in a very angry frame of mind. You are due to have an important discussion with your boss in 30 minutes. Your wisest strategy is to _________that discussion.

Scenario #4

For you, the conflict issue is trivial; for your co-worker, it is critical. This is the ideal situation for you to utilize a _______resolution method and build up some good will.

Scenario #5

You and your significant other are in a conflict over something both of you recognize is trivial. Your most effective conversational approach will be ________________.

Planning For a Confrontation

If you have been following this blog, you know by now that if you are having an issue with someone that is causing you stress, anger and frustration, before things get out of control (your anger becomes rage) you must speak to that person.  You want to see if the two of you can come to some agreement which will resolve your hostility.

Confronting another person takes some skillful planning. Like the song says, “You can’t always get what you want” but if you plan a strategy, it is much more likely that you still get most of what you want.

Conflict is complicated because it is actually four problems all rolled into one:

●the issue itself;

●deciding who owns the issue;

●to whom you should address the issue;

●what you should specifically say in addressing the issue.

For example, let’s say you sit next to a person at work who hums or sings softly while working.  It is always the same tune and it drives you nuts.  It is a distraction which causes you to lose your train of thought and makes it impossible to concentrate.  Now, exactly,  whose problem it this?  Even though you would like to separate your co-worker’s head from her neck, this is not her problem.  It is yours.  She is happily working along completely oblivious to your mental anguish.  Therefore, you have to ask her to help you solve your problem.  In other words, you own the problem and are therefore responsible for resolving it.

●buy some ear plugs and say nothing

●ask her directly to stop humming and explain why

●request that your work location be moved away from hers

Let’s look at another situation. Suppose you are in an expensive “fine dining” restaurant with your significant other and a few friends having dinner.  You ordered roast beef rare and it comes to the table well-done.  You are furious because you were very clear when you gave your order to the server.  Your significant other whispers, “Now don’t make a scene and embarrass us.”  However, this is your stomach into which this piece of shoe leather will go.

Obviously, you need to address the server about the issue.  In this case, the server owns the problem and must be told to correct it.

Your significant other has somehow taken ownership of the issue and has attempted to guilt-trip you into silence.  He or she is not involved here.  This is between you and the server.  You must whisper back to your significant other, “I regret that my speaking up will embarrass you.  However, I do not intend to stress my stomach by attempting to eat this elephant hide.”

What is happening here is that your companion is attempting to change the problem from overcooked food into some social embarrassment issue around the concept of what will the other people will think if you speak up.  Your response should be, “Who cares what they think.  This is my stomach we are talking about.”

Let’s look at one last example – one of my favorites.  You have purchased an expensive piece of equipment which spewed out sparks and smoke when you plugged it in at home.  You go to return it and ask for your money back.  The store clerk tells you, “Your problem is not with us, it is with the manufacturer.  Contact them.”

Here we have an example where the store owns the problem and they are attempting to shove it back onto you.  You have to quickly remember that it is the store that has your money and say, “You contact the manufacturer. I want my money back.”

The next thing you want to look at is the speaking format or communication method you will use to address the issue.  There are actually five communication methods to choose from when addressing a conflict issue:

●You can take a win/lose stance, hoping you will be the winner.

●You can work at compromising your differences.

●You can collaborate with the other person to find a solution acceptable to both of you.

●You can acquiesce to the other person’s view of things.

●You can avoid the situation altogether by denying it even exists or by running away from the resolution process.

Although there are five different communication methods available for resolving conflicts, most people will choose the same one or two methods every time. Rarely will a person utilize all five. In general, the selection of methods is a combination of habit, personal reference, comfort level and personality.

The unconscious limiting of methods creates two problems. First of all, if you always use the same method for every conflict situation, you become predictable. Your opponents will always know exactly what you are likely to do. Secondly, if you depend on habit, personal preference, comfort level and personality as a strategy for addressing a conflict, you have denied yourself serious thought regarding which of the five methods might work best for you in a particular situation. Therefore, if you intend to become proficient at resolving conflict, you must be able to utilize all five methods.  This is because some methods work well in some situations and are not very effective in others.

What follows is a brief explanation of each of the five methods and some information about the situations in which each method is especially effective.

The win/lose method        

Before using this method, it would be prudent to consider whether you will ever again need the help and cooperation of the others involved. At work and at home, a conflict may simply be a brief event in a long life of many interactions. A competing approach often creates a desire for reprisal in the loser.  However, if you feel you are being taken advantage of or are being put in a situation of great physical or mental danger, this is the format to use.

The collaborating method

With this method, you attempt to satisfy both your own needs and the needs of the other person. The underlying desire is to find a solution that satisfies both parties so that, in the end, both feel like winners. The collaborating method is a useful strategy in cases where both sets of concerns are too important to be compromised.  It is also useful in situations where people need a consensual decision or a strong commitment to insure that the agreed-upon outcome will work. The collaborating approach forces the parties to dig into an issue and identify or uncover all underlying factors. Negotiation attempts in foreign affairs, such as the peace efforts regarding theMiddle Eastturmoil, are always done using the collaborating method.  This format is very time-consuming.  Often we are not in a situation that requires an excavation of problems but rather just a little weed-pulling.


The compromising method is both very direct and cooperative. The underlying desire is to find some expedient, mutually acceptable solution what will partially satisfy both parties. It is a temporary solution usually arrived at by each party giving up something he/she wants in order to arrive at a middle ground. Compromising   is about splitting the difference in order to move on.  It is a great method to use when the parties involved have equal power, as in a marriage, and both people are strongly committed to mutually exclusive goals.  With most problems in daily life, this is the most useful method.  However, if you intend to use this method, think about where you are willing to give a little and where you will stand firm before using this format

The avoiding method is both antisocial and uncooperative. The underlying desire is to avoid pursuing one’s own concerns or the concerns of the other party. In fact, this is a strategy of not addressing the conflict at all – of diplomatically side-stepping the issues. The avoiding method is useful when the conflict is trivial or of minor importance.  Avoiding is a practical method in situations where people are emotional and need time to cool down before productive discussions can take place. Sometimes a person may just be having a bad day. You use an avoiding method today and the next day the person tells you, “I don’t know what got into me yesterday. I apologize if I said anything that upset you.”

Avoiding is an essential tactic when the gathering additional information is critical to a good decision. A parent may say to a child, “Let me look into it.  When I have more information, we can talk about this again.”  Finally, the avoiding method is a good choice when you perceive that you have no chance of satisfying your own concerns because of your lack of organizational power or the situation would be impossible to change no matter what happened. In other words,  he who runs away lives to fight another day.


The accommodating method is unassertive and cooperative. The underlying desire is to neglect your own concerns while fully satisfying the concerns of the other person. With this method there is an element of self-sacrifice and selfless generosity; giving into another person even though you would prefer not to do so. Often it is used as a good-will gesture to insure a continuing cooperative relationship. Sometimes people use it to prove they are reasonable. Accommodating is an effective method when the issue in question is very important to one person but of trivial concern to the other. Often the accommodating method is used to build up credits which can be cashed in later on issues of greater importance. When this is going on, you will hear such remarks as, “Ok, I’ll support you on this one, but you owe me.”

Accommodating is a great tool to use when, in the midst of a conflict, you realize you are wrong. Instead of saying, “Sorry; I guess I was wrong”, you might say,   “Well, Sarah, if it’s that important to you, we’ll do it your way.”  Sometimes in a conflict, a person realizes that continued confrontation will only hurt their cause perhaps because he or she is outmatched or is losing badly. At such times an accommodating method is a graceful way of bowing out. Finally the accommodating method is useful when you want someone to learn from their own mistakes. Parents make use of this one when they say to a child, “All right!  Do what you want!  You’ll learn the hard way!”

Of the five, you probably have a favorite which you use most of the time and one other which you use as a back-up method when your favorite isn’t producing results. To be truly effective at resolving conflict, however, you must be able to use all five methods. As in everything else, including clothing, one size does not fit all.

Strategies People Use For Unloading Their Hostility

Anger (rage) is a commonplace emotion that strikes often and un-expectantly in our daily lives.  A simple event can be the trigger. Maybe it is a person who sneaks into a parking lot space for which you have been waiting.  Perhaps it is a co‑worker criticizes you falsely in front of others.

Immediately you make a mental evaluation of that event based on whether or not you can manage it effectively. This evaluation has to do with your sense control over the situation.  If you believe the situation is within your control – that you can handle the event easily – your anger is not generated. For example, you may feel annoyed but you decide to simply go looking for another parking space.

There are folks, however, who would just go ballistic over someone taking their parking space. Such individuals experience a sensation of total loss of control over their own lives.  So, immediately feelings of fear and irrational anger or rage explode inside them.  We have what’s known as the urge to kill.

In the situation of the criticizing co‑worker, suppose this happens at a meeting where your boss and several co‑workers are present.  In such a situation you are definitely not in control.  You are presented with the problem of what to do in order to maintain the boss’s good opinion of you while looking strong in the eyes of your colleagues.  Should you try to defend yourself and deny the charges?  How about criticizing the person right back?  You feel blind‑sided, trapped and muzzled from saying anything. Your fury is almost overwhelming. Here, again, we have what’s known as the urge to kill.

Perhaps you ask yourself, “Why can’t I say something so very clever that my critic will immediately look like a fool?”  You are not only angry at the critic, you are also extremely angry with yourself for not being able to deliver a sharp retort. What you would really like to do, probably, is punch the critic right in the chops because you have been embarrassed and are seriously pissed off.

We learn early on that an outright display of hostility scares others and gives the impression that we are emotionally unstable. However, our daily lives are chock‑full of incidents that leave us feeling hostile. The truth of the matter is we all need a way to discharge that hostility.  Basically, each of us has only a limited amount of psychological space for holding aggravations inside. Eventually we must unload and vent or risk becoming psychotic.

In our society, there are five socially acceptable and typical methods we use to unload our hostility. They are:

1. Turn hostility and anger inward and blame yourself.

2. Grit your teeth and bear it; do nothing at the moment; look for an opportunity to get even at some later time.

3. Become cynical, sarcastic and humorously insulting.

4. Project your feelings onto someone or something else (like spouse, the kids or the family dog).

5. Direct your anger directly at the person or situation that generated your anger in the first place.

Here is how the first method ‑ turning your hostility inward ‑ works. With the office situation, maybe you begin thinking, “Why am I always the first person everyone dumps on when anything goes wrong around here?  What a loser they must all think I am. Not even my boss came to my rescue and I worked so hard on that project.”

Should you choose this avenue, you’ll become depressed and begin feeling like a victim in your own life. When people become depressed enough, they become very disillusioned and may think of committing suicide. Unfortunately, there are times when people do commit suicide. While some introspection is necessary to determine your role in a problem situation, obviously, this is not a good method to use when dealing with anger.

Depression is the result of holding a lot of angry feelings inside. Not only is this unhealthy, it is also dangerous. Young people who turn out to be serial killers are described by friends and neighbors as such “nice, quiet boys”.  It is only then, after the killing spree, that we realize how much anger those kids must have been holding inside.

Co‑workers who go postal are said to have just snapped. Well, all this hostility and acting out didn’t just happen out of the blue. You can bet that the situation had been building up for a long time. Then, when the person’s internal pressure cooker couldn’t hold any more, he or she acted out their anger (rage) by coming to work with a gun and killing people.

Therefore, the next time you are feeling down about some situation, ask yourself, “What am I so angry about?” because that’s what’s really going on with you.  Then, when you get to the answer, ask yourself another question – an action question such as, “What am I going to do about this situation?”

The second method is grit-your-teeth-and-bear- it. Do nothing at the moment but look for an opportunity to even the score later on.  In the work setting, this is the most popular method of conflict management.  My first blog explained this method which is known as passive aggressive behavior

For example, an employee may be very angry at his boss because the boss did not recommend him for promotion. The employee, then, limits his work output, dedication and productivity as a way of getting even. The employee may feel it is too risky to confront the boss about his dissatisfaction. In reality, however, talking to the boss is the only way to deal effectively with the situation.

Here is another common don’t-get-mad-get-even situation.  Mother comes home from the hospital with a new baby.  Although she makes many speeches to her five year old that she is still number one in the household, the five year old can plainly see that all the parents’ attention is squarely focused on the baby and not on her at all.  So, the older child who had long ago stopped wetting the bed, starts to wet the bed again.

In the parking space situation, the grit-your‑teeth‑and‑get‑even‑later response might look like this. You park your car in such a way as to block the fellow who stole your space and disappear for several hours. Perhaps you let the air out of his tires. With the criticizing co‑worker, maybe you forget to give them some important information or you give them incorrect information.

The third method, being-cynical-and-sarcastic is beautifully illustrated by the humor of Don Rickles. Watching him, we sense what an angry person he is because there is always such a cruel edge to his jokes. Contrast that with someone like Jay Leno. His jokes are all in good fun. Remember the TV program MASH where the actors spent lots of time and energy playing tricks on one another?  As observers, we recognized how very angry they were that the US Army had them patching up solders only to have those solders go right back into harm’s way. So, to unload their anger, they played cruel jokes on one another.

If you wanted to take the cynical‑and‑sarcastic approach with the criticizing co‑worker, you might tell him or her, “That’s a nice dress/suit you’re wearing. Too bad they didn’t have it in your size.”  A relative who is jealous of you, at a family gathering and in a loud voice, he or she might say,  “Did you say you were looking forward to your thirtieth birthday?  Well, sister, you’re looking in the wrong direction.”  These people are always quick to say, “Oh, I was just joking.”  But their so called joke hurts nevertheless.  Cruel jokes and sharp-edged nasty comments mask a lot of hostility.

Method four is project‑your‑anger‑onto‑someone‑or‑something‑else might look like this. When you get back to your office after the meeting where your co‑worker criticized you, you scream at your administrative person over some minor oversight. In the parking lot situation, you might go over to the Mall Information Desk and give that poor clerk a piece of your mind regarding nervy people who go around stealing other people’s parking spaces.

Let’s look in on what happens when Joe Husband uses his wife for project-and-deflect after really bad day at work.  Joe has had a series of really unpleasant occurrences happen to him today. The company canceled the project on which he’s been working for the past several months. His boss gave him an unsatisfactory performance appraisal. On his way home from work, he got a traffic ticket. He walks into the house bellowing, “You know what happened to me today?”

Wife:   Why are you yelling at me?  What did I do?

Joe:     Don’t start with me. I’ve had a really miserable day.

Wife:   So why take it out on me?  If you’re going to come home in a lousy mood, maybe you shouldn’t come home at all.

Many people use sports for deflecting and projecting their anger. Think of the guy on vacation playing golf. As he’s teeing off, he has a major heart attack. Obviously he was thinking of the golf ball as his adversary and kaboom, he blew out his aorta.  If you have runners in your office, recall what they are like during a stretch of bad weather when they cannot get out for their daily run. They’re wild; the least little thing sets them off.

So, you ask, if I ‘m not supposed to….

●turn my anger inward against myself;

            ●grit my teeth and bear it now but look for an opportunity to get even later;

●be cynical and sarcastic; or

            ●project my anger onto someone or something else

What should I do?

The answer is use the fifth method. Direct your anger directly at the person or situation that generated your hostility in the first place.  For example, you might say to your co‑worker, right at the moment of the criticism, “Ben, if you have something negative to say about me or my work, I would prefer that you say it to me in private.”

With the parking spot incident, you might put your car in park, walk over to the offending person and say, “Excuse me. Perhaps you didn’t notice but I had been waiting for that parking space. My directional signals were flashing my intention. Therefore, I would appreciate it if you would vacate the space so that I might have it.”  Directing your anger at the person or situation that generated your anger in the first place is the only way to prevent that internal pressure cooker build-up of hostility.

You might be interested to learn just how effective these five strategies are in terms of unloading hostility.  Turning your anger inward against yourself will leave your anger at 90%.  Gritting your teeth and looking for an opportunity to get even will leave your hostility at 75%.  Making cynical, cruel jokes and nasty comments will leave your hostility at 50%.  Using project and deflect, especially sports or physical effort of some kind will bring your hostility down to 25%.  However in order to completely reduce your hostility to 0% you need to speak directly to the person whose action generated your hostility in the first place.

When you direct your anger, you do not have to do so in a screaming, hostile, out of control manner. You can speak calmly and in a straightforward manner. This allows the other person to really hear your words, not just the hostility.

In the parking lot situation, the other driver may not relinquish the space.  In fact, they might give you the finger.  Nevertheless, you will feel good because you stood up for yourself.  Moreover, you will not be left feeling as if you are deficient in some way, telling the next twenty people you meet about what happened to you in the parking lot.

Ever think about why you do that?  There isn’t a person on the planet to whom this has not happened. Why should you feel compelled to tell and retell the story? It is because you are trying to rationalize your non-response to the situation. Deep down you believe you should have done something to take back control of the situation. Somehow you should have made it work out so that you did not come off feeling like such a deficient human being. You have, however, no idea of what that might be.

From personal experience, I must tell you that speaking directly to the person who stole my parking space actually got good results about 50% of the time – they relinquished the space with a verbal apology.  The other 50% of the time, I got nasty responses.

There was a woman with two teenaged daughters. Everyday there would be a screaming argument between Mother and daughters about the girls cleaning up their rooms.

Mother:           I want you to clean up your rooms right now!

Girls:               Just close the door and you won’t have to look at it.

Mother:           That’s not the point. Your room is in my house. Get up there and take your clothes off the bed and the floor, hang them up, throw away those paper plates from pizza and those empty coke cans and get it done before dinner.

Girls:               If our mess doesn’t bother us why should it bother you?

Mother:           Because my hard work paid for those expensive clothes which are now on the floor.

And so it continued day after day after day. Then one day, probably because the Mother was simply too tired to fight, instead of screaming at them to clean their rooms, she made her request in a normal voice. Both girls looked at one another and said, “OK Mom”. They immediately went back upstairs and cleaned up their rooms. The Mother was astounded. After dinner she asked her daughters what had made today so different from the months and months of arguments which had produced no cleaning-up results.  One of the girls explained, “Well, Mom, I guess we never really heard you before. We got that you were angry.  Your anger made us want to leave the house as quickly as possible. Today you didn’t sound so upset.”

Anger and hostility are commonplace. Everyone, however, needs some way to discharge or unload their hostility.  There is nothing positive or negative about this process.  As human beings, we each have only a limited amount of psychological space for holding our anger and hostility inside.  When we reach our own critical mass, we simply explode into rage. The essential question is, what method will you choose to unload your hostility?

When you think about  those nice, quiet people who abruptly go ballistic, killing others.  You can understand how, after literally eating their anger for some period of time, the person had reached a breaking point and like a pressure cooker, the lid blew off. These nice, quiet people were living lives of quiet desperation feeling trapped in their situation.

Take the famous story of the wife who was continually being beaten up by her husband.  This meek and mild woman lit a fire to the mattress on which her abusive, drunken husband was sleeping and burned him to death. She felt she had no other way out.

Remember the young man who killed so many at Virginia Tech?  He was a child of war and had been brought up in fear and scarcity.  Now he was surrounded by young people who had been brought up in freedom and plenty. He became envious of all those around him who had so much while he was living on a shoe string.  He believed he too should be living an affluent life and that that life was not available to him. The more he believed such a life was unattainable for him, the angrier he became.  (Recall:  The other person’s perception of the issue is their reality.)

After so long at grit-your-teeth-and-bear-it, this boy’s sanity ruptured and all people could say was

“He was such a nice, quiet boy.  So polite. I simply can’t believe…”

“He kept to himself most of the time.  A bit of a loner, you know….”

“He was withdrawn, distant and non-communicative ….”

“He seemed depressed most of the time….”

“He didn’t have any friends…”   or “He only had this one friend….”

“He didn’t belong to any particular group; he was an outcast…..”

We need to watch our children and monitor ourselves remembering that it is not healthy to hold anger inside.  Make it legitimate to express, discuss and communicate anger before it becomes rage.  Then, make it possible for people to unload their anger in appropriate ways.

In my next blog, I will discuss how to help really young children deal with their hostility.

DeAnne’s Anger Tips

Let’s say you tell someone with whom you are in a close relationship (spouse, child boy or girl friend) that something they do really drives you nuts and that you would appreciate it if they would stop doing it.  And, they continue to do it anyway.

Please understand that what you are facing here is hostility.  Here is a person who claims to love you and they are doing things which they know give you enormous amounts of stress.

The person is very angry at you for –  who knows what –  and are using this bit of information ( “It really drives me nuts when you leave your underwear in little piles all over the bedroom and bathroom instead of putting it in the hamper.”) to purposely annoy you.  What you need to do is have a one-on-one conversation with the person.  Relate the problem and state that the fact they are still doing this when they know it annoys you, must mean that they are angry with you about something.  “So, please tell me what are you angry about?”

In the News

Several weeks ago, a mother killed her two teenagers because they were “mouthy”.  At first reading, this account may seem to you that the mother just simply went nuts.  However, if you put this into a context of the daily aggravations people can face in their daily lives, you can begin to see how such a thing could occur.

Let’s suppose this mother just received word that she was being laid off; her husband phoned her from work to say that he too was being laid off.  Then her best friend, to who she had loaned a considerable amount of money, E-mailed her to say, “Times are really tough for us financially and so I am not going to be able to pay you back.  Sorry, Gen.”

Now this woman is at home attempting do some laundry before preparing dinner and her washing machine goes on the fritz.  Next, her teenagers arrive home telling this woman that they want to spend Spring Vacation inFort Lauderdale.  The mother explains, “We can’t afford that. Both your Dad and I have been laid off.  We’re going to have a tough time just feeding ourselves.”  The kids start giving her an argument.  “Ah gee, mom, everyone’s going.  You’re not being fair.  Just because things are rough for you doesn’t mean you should make things tough for us.”  That’s when the woman just lost it.

My point is, for normal people, uncontrollable rage doesn’t just happen out of the blue.  There are always a lot of “events” that lead up to it.  The concept of the straw that broke the camel’s back is extremely valid when looking for an explanation to such occurrences. Or, as has been discussed in previous postings, the pressure cooker simply explodes.