Let's face it. Anytime you work closely with anyone, conflict is bound to happen. It is an unfortunate, normal part of teamwork. Countless articles, books and conferences have been devoted to the subject because it is so commonplace. Most likely, you've already chosen your preferred method from the plethora of conflict-management strategies offered. Does it always work? Sometimes yes…sometimes no? What makes the difference? Conflict can happen for many reasons:

  • Someone may be completely and intentionally out of bounds, trying to do an end run for their own benefit and to the detriment of others.
  • Someone may know the right thing to do in the face of a challenge, but they are having a hard time leaning into it and pushing through—leaving everyone else high and dry in the meantime.
  • Someone may know what needs to be done, but they are truly facing a legitimate road block they cannot overcome themselves.

Regardless of the reason, conflict is created and progress toward the goal is hindered. But how do you know which it is? Do you respond to them all the same way? Should you respond to them the same way? If you do, that's the most likely culprit for the mixed-bag results you may be experiencing. That's why this 6-step hack, from Harold Bullock of LifeShaping Resources, is so important to use before you implement your conflict management strategy.

Normally when someone says or does something that doesn't make sense to us or isn't what we expected or anticipated, we tend to give a particular order of responses.

First, we Judge. Then, we Teach. After our brilliant sermonette, we Probe a little deeper. Probing often starts to reveal some miscommunication that causes us to Clarify. Upon further clarification, we realize we may have jumped the gun and blown a little rabbit-sized problem away with an elephant gun. Out of guilt, we begin trying to Communicate Care & Concern. Finally, we attempt to smooth things over and back out of the situation by Identifying with the person.

The Wrong (but Usual) Way...

To really get the full impact of the effect here, let's take the example of getting a ticket for running a stop sign. You are now on the receiving end of this sequence. The following are the police officer's comments:

  1. Judge
  2. Well that just earned you a ticket.

  3. Teach
  4. You have to come to a complete stop before continuing.

  5. Probe

  6. Do you understand what a complete stop is?

  7. Clarify
  8. Let me put it to you this way; if I were punching you in the arm, would you want me to stop or just slow down? Well then, why didn't you stop at the stop sign?

  9. Communicate Care & Concern
  10. If you get in the habit of rolling through stop signs, one of these days you're going to get hurt by an oncoming car. I'd really hate for that to happen.

  11. Identify
  12. I know what it's like to be running behind, but you really can't use the stop signs to make up for lost time.

How do you feel about the police officer right now? Even if you really were at fault, would this correction be effective? Would it lead to lasting change in behavior as it relates to stop signs or any other rules of the road? Or has this exchange just increased the likelihood of conflict?

The reality is the order of responses listed above is the natural way most of us react any time someone responds to a situation differently than we assumed they would. Instead, we should intentionally choose to turn this paradigm on its head.

The Right Way...

Below is the exact same scenario…but this time with a much wiser police officer:

  1. Identify
  2. It seems like you were really in a hurry back there.

  3. Communicate Care & Concern
  4. Is everything okay?

  5. Clarify
  6. Do you know why I stopped you today?

  7. Probe
  8. Did you see the stop sign at that intersection? Was there a particular reason you rolled through it rather than stopped?

  9. Teach
  10. In the future, a good rule of thumb is to wait 3 seconds and then look both ways before proceeding.

  11. Judge
  12. I'm going to go ahead and issue a citation today. Please be more careful next time.

The scenario is the same in both cases. In fact, even some of the results are the same. The police officer still corrects the offense and does so, arguably, with more authority than the first. You, as the driver, still get a ticket.

But in the second scenario, aren't you much more likely to accept and put into practice the correction given by the officer over the long term? Even though you got a ticket, aren't you much more likely to recognize that the officer was correcting you for your own good and for the well-being of others sharing the road? Is that verbal exchange and even correction as likely to lead to conflict that must then be managed?

This same type of scenario plays out again and again in the workplace, in school and at home. Many times, if we respond in the right order and ask good enough questions during the Clarifying and Probing steps, the person will often end up Teaching themselves and Judging their own actions. This is all a part of changing people's perspective and values—which is the only lasting way to change their behavior. And a change in each person's behavior is the only real way to find the compromise necessary to truly resolving the conflict.


What are some of the conflict management strategies that have worked well for you? Tell us about them in the comment section below!