Five Tips For Better Conflict Resolution

People who talk to each other talk less about each other.

Last week I addressed the workplace issues of STUPIDITY, RUDENESS, and BADMOUTHING. All of them destroy morale and motivation.

But it’s a fact of life that you will encounter these behaviors amongst some of your coworkers and customers. And yes, you may be tempted to let them have it. You may want to put them in their place, and you may want to give them what they give you.

The problem is that approach doesn’t work. You have to decide, would you rather get it off your chest, or would you rather be effective?

I presume the latter, or you wouldn’t be one of my hundreds of thousands of readers. So here’s what you should do.


When I see someone behaving badly, it’s easy to tell myself that I would never behave that way. And I probably wouldn’t. So it’s easy to feel a little superior to him or her.

Unfortunately, when I come at someone with a superior attitude, I turn up the other person’s defenses. He is bound to see some areas in my life where I behave badly, and he is certain to feel superior to me in those areas. We’re in deadlock.

You’ve got to avoid the superior attitude. As Elbert Hubbard said so well, “There was one who thought himself above me, and he was above me until he had that thought.”


When you decide to correct someone’s bad behavior, look at yourself first. The other person’s faults are so glaringly obvious that you may overlook your own faults.

You’ve got to be aware of your faults. If you’re not aware of them, you may be guilty of the very thing you don’t like in the other person. When looking for faults, use a mirror, not a telescope.

And you’ve got to admit your faults. If you don’t admit your faults, your confrontation will lack believability.

Besides that, if you acknowledge your faults, you deprive others of the pleasure of pointing them out. Not bad.


In other words, try to be a bit more understanding and a bit less judgmental. After all, some people are not having a bad day; they’re having a bad life.

That doesn’t mean you excuse the other person’s behavior. And it doesn’t mean you have to accept it. Bad behavior is simply not appropriate, acceptable, or professional — no matter what.

But if you realize the bad behavior is not intentional — at least most of the time — you realize you’re dealing with an unskilled person, not an evil person. Virginia Satir, one of the foremost family therapists of the twentieth century put it this way. She said, “Everyone is doing the best they can at any given moment, and when they can do differently, they will.”

Her insight is right on. And when you really grasp its meaning, it’s easier to offer a bit of grace as you approach the other person.

Susan, a government employee, and one of my Tuesday Tip subscribers, told me how she offered grace. She wrote: “For the past several years I’ve worked with a woman who is frequently critical, and I perceived her as undermining things I was working on, doing things behind my back, and being just plain rude.”

“I was starting to hate her. Then I read somewhere that you can’t hate someone you pray for. I couldn’t bring myself to pray for her daily, but in church on Sundays, during the silent part of the general prayer, I started including her name along with loved ones and friends that I was concerned about.”

“After a couple of months, my feelings about her became much more neutral. I don’t expect that we’ll ever be great friends, but I no longer detest her, and our working relationship has become much better.”

Thanks, Susan. It works.


Often times the offending person isn’t even aware of the impact of his behavior. He may even think his behavior is none of your business.

So you’ve got to tell him how his behavior hurts you, the team, the company, the customer, or anything else. Open his eyes.

If, for example, you’ve got a coworker bad mouthing your company, you probably should confront him. Try this language. I’ve found it to be very effective.

Tell your employee, “I don’t want you trashing our company, because we’re proud of what we do. If you’re not proud, then tell us, and we’ll do all we can to make things better, and if that’s not good enough for you, please leave. We don’t want your negative message broadcast to the world.”

If it’s a coworker you need to confront, your language would be a bit different. You might be in the cafeteria, eating with a coworker who goes on and on about how bad things are in the company. You might say, “Excuse me. I don’t mean to offend you, but I need to eat somewhere else. I just can’t listen to anything negative today. This company and our work is very important to me. And it takes every bit of energy I’ve got to stay upbeat and do my job.”


Once you’ve done all the previous things I’ve suggested, you need to tell the truth. Tell the truth as you see it. Be honest.

As Margaret Heffernan, former CEO at CMGI, states, “There is no more powerful weapon for change than honesty.” You can’t expect the bad behavior of others to simply disappear without some honesty from you.

Heffernan goes on to say, “Time after time, I’ve witnessed the paralysis that sets in when people are afraid to tell each other the truth.” You’ve got to speak out — face-to-face — and not behind someone else’s back.

Her advice even applies to the organization as a whole. She says: “I’ve seen deals hang in midair because no one had the honesty to say out loud what everyone was thinking privately: ‘This is really stupid’ and ‘It will never work.’ And so millions of dollars and countless hours of work have been lost somewhere between intent and execution, with people in the know hoping that the whole mess will simply go away, but remaining unwilling to address the problem head on.”

If you want to see some change in someone’s behavior, sooner or later you’ve got to step up to the plate. You’ve got to be honest with the other person.

Action:  Think of a difficult person in your life. Are you talking to that person? Or are you talking about that person?

If you’re guilty of talking about that person, take 10 minutes to think of how you might approach that individual using the five steps I’ve outlined today.

Then do it. But make sure you have a plan before you speak. This is not a situation you can “wing” and expect it to work out.