5 Surefire Ways To Make Conflict Worse

by  Mary C. Schaefer  |  Self Leadership
5 Surefire Ways To Make Conflict Worse

There are opportunities every day to engage in some form of conflict.

Someone cuts you off while driving. The customer service rep on the phone gives you the runaround. Your co-worker undermines you in a meeting. A friend lets you down on a promise made.

Want to de-escalate conflict? Don’t do these things.

For some reason it is easier for me to describe what to avoid, rather than how to creatively deal with conflict. Probably because I’m thinking of all the times I made a mess of things.


I’m working to let go of being incensed at someone who owes me money. Someone who has been stringing me along. For months. The real truth is that I didn’t get enough in writing. And from the beginning something didn’t feel right. I was naive in my trust. I read somewhere recently the vehemence of our blame is often in direct correlation to our own lack of responsibility. When I face my part, I calm down.

Jump To Conclusions

A colleague in the financial industry gave me this permission to share his story. He emailed someone in his firm to initiate a trade. Later when he checked, he didn’t see the trade had happened. He asked about it via email. The response was “I resent that email.”

He wrote a few paragraphs putting the person in his place. Then he got, “I mean I re-sent your trade request,” as in sent again. Someone earned a hand-written apology and a night on the town. My colleague learned many things, among them, don’t assume the worst, and check before going ballistic.

Act from entitlement

I’m sure many of us can relate to this, particularly when driving. For instance, it’s difficult to tell someone doesn’t see us when they cut us off. Or if they feel entitled to take our parking spot.

I heard author, coach and inspirational speaker, Iyanla Vanzant, was involved in a car accident once. Another woman involved in the accident was verbally berating her. Iyanla calmly responded, “What have I done that makes you think you can talk to me like that?” Indeed. I know I can learn from both sides of this example.

Carry A Chip On Your Shoulder

Several years ago, while conducting sexual harassment prevention training, one attendee was working very hard at not participating. He slumped in his seat, arms crossed, wearing mirrored sunglasses. Something finally prompted him to speak. I don’t even remember what he said, but he was ready for a fight. I told him he was right. I didn’t even have to work to make him right.

That’s a great way to de-escalate conflict, but this was no stretch for me in this case. He said another version of what he started with. I told him again how he was right. He wanted to argue so much he couldn’t take it in that I agreed with him.

The entire 4 hours we spent together I wondered how much energy it took to not participate. That chip must have been heavy. How heavy is yours?

Swerve Into The Other Person’s Lane

This is my personal favorite because it’s my biggest temptation. I regularly receive well-crafted emails that I consider the equivalent of a cold call. A few days ago a woman wrote me asking about my services, as if she could be a potential client, but she was a little vague in her request. I had a feeling something wasn’t right.

When I asked her what she was looking for precisely she responded that she had read one of my recent blog posts and even quoted from it. She went on to try to sell me exactly what I already do. I wanted to tear that email apart with all the assumptions she had made, and how she had not done her homework. But, not my job. I have more constructive things to do.

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.
~ Haruki Murakami

So, when you think about dealing with conflict, here’s what I can offer. Be a leader, rise above the fray and don’t do the things I listed here today.

Has there been a time when you dealt with conflict effectively?
Photo Credit: Fotolia Image adapted from original by Aleksey Sergeychik.

About The Author

Articles By mary-schaefer
Speaker, coach and trainer Mary Schaefer’s expertise is in creating work cultures where organizations and human beings can both thrive. She is a former HR manager. Find out more about how Mary helps managers empower themselves to make the most of their human resources with this special collection of articles selected for LCG readers: http://www.reimaginework.com/LCG/  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Kevin  |  09 Jul 2015  |  Reply

Lovely post, Mary. Thanks for sharing with us.

Mary C. Schaefer  |  10 Jul 2015  |  Reply

Thanks for commenting, Kevin!

John E. Smith  |  10 Jul 2015  |  Reply

Hi, Mary – thanks for a thoughtful and very enjoyable post … I learn much better when I am smiling:)

I especially like the subtle ways you encourage us to shift our perspective when we are feeling cranky about someone else. LIttle phrases like “…entitled to take “our” parking spot’ and “… how much energy it took to “not participate” make me think more carefully about the times when I have been putting on the warpaint and hold off on the makeup.

This is very useful stuff in an easily digestible form – great job:)


Mary C. Schaefer  |  10 Jul 2015  |  Reply

Hi John. I was just waiting for you to comment because you are so thoughtful and have a genius for making me feel like what I share is worthwhile. Moreso than when I wrote it. You pick up little things I take for granted – things that do make a difference. Thank you for reminding me.

I’m so glad you found the post enjoyable to read, and that it put a smile on your face.

My Best,

Mike Henry Sr.  |  11 Jul 2015  |  Reply

Mary, thanks for a great post. These are great suggestions with very understandable, if not close-to-home, analogies. I especially like the idea of swerving into another lane. We have to choose our conflict, for sure. Thanks again. Mike…

Mary C. Schaefer  |  11 Jul 2015  |  Reply

Thanks Mike. I had a lot of fun writing it. Fortunately or unfortunately I have plenty of examples of what not to do :) But that’s what learning and growing is about I guess.

Thank you as always, for your support.

Vatsala Shukla  |  12 Jul 2015  |  Reply

Thank you for a most enjoyable post, Mary, especially the one about swerving into the other person’s lane.

Something similar happened to me back at LinkedIn a few month ago when a junior alumni from a former employer sent a well worded and respectful connection request and in the very next email following our connecting, tried to sell me an Accounting Technician certification course which would help me get an entry level accounting job. That might have been of interest to me if I were not already holding the title of FCA from ICAEW! No comparison.

Naturally I was irritated and after taking my dog for a quick walk (best way to cool down) I wrote a very polite email to her pointing to my profile and how I was not a good fit for her product but because she had wanted to connect with a senior for guidance, how she needed to check the profiles of her targeted prospects before she offends them. I never heard back from her but am quite confident that she got the message.

Mary C. Schaefer  |  13 Jul 2015  |  Reply

You clearly know what I mean, Vatsala. Thanks for commenting.

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