The Two Mistakes That Create Conflict

Keep your words soft and tender because you may have to eat them.

What does it take to be successful in today’s business world? In today’s team? Or even today’s family?

Of course, there are a lot of GOOD answers to those questions, but the BEST answer might be … “the ability to win the willing cooperation of others.” When you master that skill, you have the competitive advantage in any situation.

The Nierenberg Group confirmed that in their national survey of sales professionals. When asked which five skills had the biggest impact on their success, they listed the following: 95% of them listed interpersonal communication skills, 94% of them listed self-motivation, 90% said conflict resolution techniques, 86% said selling expertise, and 79% said the ability to give presentations. By placing “interpersonal communication skills” at the top, they were saying — in effect — that the single most important ingredient in success is the ability to “connect” with your customers, coworkers, and friends, and family members.

Unfortunately, people are seldom taught how to do that. Their cooperation skills have simply come by chance or trial and error. So it’s no wonder that lots of teams don’t work and lots of families don’t make it.

It’s like the comedian who quipped, “Women are always asking me out … get out of their house … get out of their life.”

Or it’s like the woman who held a seance in hopes of getting in touch with her late husband who, during his life, had been a waiter in a big swanky restaurant. The candles were lit and the room was silent. The medium went into a trance, and soon the table began to make knocking sounds.

“Phil,” the wife cried, “is that you? Speak to me.”

“I can’t” said a ghostly voice. “It’s not my table.”

Some people just don’t know how to get the willing cooperation of others. In fact they block out the very cooperation they’d like to get by making one of two mistakes.


It happens when a salesperson thinks there’s no sense in calling on a certain prospect … because he presumes the prospect wouldn’t buy anything anyway. It happens when a manager fails to approach her director with her new idea … because she’s convinced the director wouldn’t be interested. And it happens when a spouse — who’s living in a lackluster relationship — never suggests a marriage enrichment course … because his wife would probably say “no.”

It can be a huge mistake to PRE-JUDGE someone else. You may be turning away the very thing you want the most.

Such was the case in 1884. A young American man died while on a trip to Europe. His grieving parents returned with his body.

After the funeral, the parents discussed what kind of memorial they could give their son. They didn’t want a tombstone or ornate grave but a living memorial that would help other young people like their son.

After considering several alternatives, they decided to do something in the field of education. It would be a memorial that would go on year after year helping to educate young people.

The parents arranged an appointment with Charles Eliot, the president of Harvard University. He received the rather ordinary, unpretentious couple in his office, asking what he could do for them.

They told him about the death of their son and apologized for taking up his valuable time. They explained that they wanted to establish a memorial to his memory. Something that would help others like their son to get an education.

President Eliot looked at the plain couple with some impatience and a certain degree of aristocratic disdain. “Perhaps you have in mind a scholarship.” he said crisply.

“No,” said the woman. “We were thinking of something more substantial than that — perhaps a new building or some …”

“I must explain to you,” said Eliot with a patronizing air, “that what you suggest costs a great deal of money.” Obviously, Eliot did not think that from their appearance they were capable of such a large donation.

There was a pause, and then the lady rose slowly and said, “Mr. Eliot, what has this entire university cost?”

Eliot shrugged and impatiently muttered a figure that amounted to several million dollars.

“Oh, we can do better than that,” said the lady, who had felt the brunt of his prejudgment. “Come, dear” she motioned to her husband. “I have an idea.” And they left.

The following year President Eliot of Harvard learned that the plain couple had contributed $26 million for a memorial to their son. The memorial was to be named Stanford University, in honor of their son Leland Stanford, Jr. Eliot’s PREJUDICE, PRESUMPTION, and PRE-JUDGMENT had cost him dearly.

Let me ask you. Have you paid the price of prejudgment? Have you closed off the cooperation you want and need because you thought the wrong thoughts and behaved in the wrong way?

You cannot get someone’s cooperation unless you keep an open mind, listen, and ask. And even if you’ve asked a hundred times before, people change and their responses change. So don’t pre-judge their response.

Just keep on asking for the cooperation you want. Follow Colonel Sanders’ example. When he was trying to build his fried-chicken empire, he had to ask 1011 people to go into business with him before he got a single “yes.” But today, there’s at least one KFC in every single town in America of 10,000 or more people.

But there’s a second way that people block out the cooperation of others.


That sounds crazy, but it’s true. I’m sure you’ve come across a salesperson who keeps on talking, despite the fact you’ve already told him that you’re ready to buy. And the more he talks, the less interested you become in buying.

Or it’s the child who says, “Okay, I’ll do it,” but the father keeps on lecturing about the child’s previous lack of follow-through. And it’s the woman who asks her husband for help in getting a task done, but he never does it well enough to suit her. So he figures, “why bother?”

In each case, the once ready and willing individual — the buyer, the child, and the spouse — withdraws his “willing” cooperation. All he has left is resentful compliance.

What about you? Do you make it easy for people to go along with you? Do you let people buy when they want to buy, or do you make them wait until you’re done selling? Do you have to remind others of all the other times they failed you? And do you let your spouse feel good about helping you, or do you have to criticize every step he/she makes along the way?

One person sent me an example as to how some businesses make it difficult for their customers to cooperate. Perhaps you’ve seen it.

And no, don’t write me. I’m not slamming the entire airline industry. I’ve spent my entire professional life flying, and for the most part, I’ve received very good service. But the example does point out some silliness that gets in the way of customer cooperation.


Customer: Hi. How much is your paint?
Clerk: Our lowest price is $12 a gallon, but we have 60 different prices, up to $200 a gallon.

Customer: What’s the difference in the paint?
Clerk: It’s all the same paint.

Customer: Then I’d like some of the $12 paint. And I want to paint my hallway tomorrow.
Clerk: Sir, the paint for tomorrow is $200.

Customer: How do I get the $12 paint?
Clerk: You buy the paint now, but you cannot paint for three weeks. And you must paint over a Saturday night.

Customer: You’ve got to be kidding!
Clerk: Oh, the price per gallon just went to $16.

Customer: The price went up as we were talking?
Clerk: Yes, sir. We change the prices and rules hundreds of times a day. So I suggest you purchase your paint as soon as possible. How many gallons do you want?

Customer: Five gallons. Make that six, so I’ll have enough.
Clerk: Well, sir, if you buy paint and don’t use it, there are penalties and the possible confiscation of paint you already have.

Customer: Forget it! I’ll buy what I need somewhere else.
Clerk: I don’t think so, sir. You can buy paint for your bathroom and bedrooms from someone else, but you can only buy paint for your connecting hallways from us. That’ll be $300 a gallon.

Customer: That’s crazy.
Clerk: Thanks for painting with us, sir.

Action:  Take an honest, unemotional look at yourself. Take an inventory of all the things you do that might turn off someone else’s cooperation.

And ask three people at work and three people at home if you do anything else that might turn off their cooperation.