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.

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