Dennis Beaver

Dennis Beaver

Conflict is part of life. How we deal with it — or how it deals with us — can mean the difference between job promotion or being sacked, a happy, loving marriage, or one where you dread coming home from work.

At one time or another we have all opened mouth before putting brain in gear with predicable results, some permanent.

And who hasn’t wished for a guidebook on handling conflict in a constructive manner?

When I look back at my life as a lawyer, I so wish that someone had taken me aside before I spoke and gave me the lessons found in a marvelous just released book from Harvard Business Review, “Dealing with Conflict” by Amy Gallo.

I had the most interesting chat with Amy, and asked her to set out the steps that will lead to disaster when faced with some conflict on the job or at home.

1. Assume that your version of the events is the truth.

Consequences: You end up debating what happened instead of focusing on a resolution.

A trap we often fall into is assuming that we see everything clearly and the other person is mistaken. Likely, they are doing the exact same thing. Therefore, consider that you might be wrong and that there is another explanation. By making that possibility clear, the chances for resolution increase dramatically.

2.  Focus on being right instead of reaching a solution that works for everyone.

Consequences: You will fail to reach a resolution and alienate the other person.

Instead, think clearly about what you want from this conversation. Where possible, focus on a shared goal, something that you both want.

3. Assume this is simply a personality clash.

Consequences: You get stuck debating aspects of personality rather than focusing on what needs to be accomplished, such as getting the project completed on time.

Therefore, try to determine what the underlying issue is beyond personality. Is it about the timing of when the new product can be rolled out? Is it a disagreement over the goal — what we are trying to achieve? By making the discussion purely about how to solve the problem, personality is removed from the equation.

4. Have the conversation without asking yourself:

  • What do I need?
  • What does our company need?
  • What are our common goals?
  • What is it they want to achieve?
  • Can I help them accomplish it while facilitating my goals?

Consequences: It will take longer to resolve if you have not thought through what is at stake and what the conflict is truly about. You accomplish this by making a good faith effort to see things from the other person’s point of view.

5.  Fail to prioritize the relationship over the disagreement.

  • Convince yourself they lack good faith and positive intent.
  • Insist on being in control.
  • Do not worry about hurting feelings.
  • Do not consider all the good the other person brings to your life.
  • Ignore the positive history you have had with them.

Consequences: You will damage trust and rapport with your co-workers, or spouse.

You will be seen as inflexible, uncaring, having to be right, lacking empathy and concern for others’ feelings. You are laying the foundation for losing your job or driving a wedge between you and those who are most important in your life.

Rather, see yourself and the other person as on the same side of the table and the issue a threat to you both requiring collaboration. By demonstrating a willingness to see another perspective, to change your mind, to reconsider your opinions, this signals the other person that they are dealing with someone who cares and is reasonable. It gives them permission to change their mind.

11. Fail to control your emotions. Scream. Yell. Make clear to everyone that you are a bully.

Consequences: The conversation shuts down! Your credibility and reputation risks being permanently damaged. It is impossible to make good decisions when you are over heated, angry, or when you have lost control.

Instead, focus on your goal, and write out a list the objectives for your meeting.

Say how much you care about this topic and, “Any emotions you may see is not a sign of disrespect, but rather how passionate I feel about this. So, if I say something that may hurt your feelings, I apologize in advance and ask you to underhand that it is not my intent.”

Concluding our chat, Amy offered this common sense advice:

“Never assume these will be easy or short conversations. Sometimes we want them to be over quickly but in reality it often takes a series of discussions to reach a resolution. Also, have coffee and something to munch on available for all participants as we reason better when our blood sugar is where it should be.”

Dennis Beaver Practices law in Bakersfield and welcomes comments and questions from readers, which may be faxed to (661) 323-7993, or e-mailed to And be sure to visit

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