Using Conflict for Good—a Conversation with Nate Regier

Conflict, from your home to the workplace, is inevitable. In fact, did you know that according to a Gallup Poll, negative conflict drains the U.S. economy by $350 BILLION a year in lost productivity and wasted energy?

But conflict gets a bad rap. According to Nate Regier, co-founding owner and chief executive officer of Next Element, a global advisory firm specializing in building cultures of compassionate accountability, it shouldn’t be seen as an energy drain but as an energy source.

Nate’s book, Conflict without Casualties, out next year, turns the view of conflict on its head. According to his book, instead of trying to manage or minimize conflict, people need to use it as a source of energy that spurs innovation, trust, and increased engagement.

Below, he answers some questions on how to do that:

Q: You say that conflict is like energy, what do you mean by that?

A: Conflict is simply the gap between what we want and what we are experiencing at any point in time. This gap generates energy because humans are highly motivated to close the gap because it isn’t comfortable. This emotional discomfort can motivate people to expend lots of energy. It’s amazing how much energy we suddenly have to work on that gap. This energy, however, isn’t always used in the healthiest ways. Sometimes it’s used destructively, and that’s called drama. Sometimes it is used constructively through healthy conflict.

Q: What are the keys to having “healthy conflict”?

A: Three critical steps in the following order: First, be open and transparent about how you are feeling and what you want. Second, show a non-judgmental curiosity to explore options and look for creative solutions. Third, gain clarity about your boundaries and principles. In other words, what is at stake for you?

Q: How do I keep myself and others from being defensive?

A: Following the three steps above is a great start. In addition, here are a few do’s and dont’s:

  • Do share your feelings. Don’t assume you know how others feel or disregard their feelings.
  • Do explain why you feel a certain way by describing the gap between what you want and what you are experiencing. Don't blame others for your feelings or accuse them of malicious intent.
  • Do state your non-negotiable boundaries and principles. Don’t make threats or ultimatums. Don’t insult or accuse others.
  • Do be patient. Don’t give up.

Q: What’s the secret to ensuring I don’t get the short end of the stick in a compromise?

A: Most importantly, identify what emotional end state you are seeking. Focus less on the specifics of what you think others should do. Focus more on how you want to feel when it is over. Then, open your mind to creative ways to get there. Once you’ve done this, it’s much easier to compromise on the specific actions because you are honoring your emotional motive. One of the biggest barriers to healthy conflict is failure to disclose our emotional motives. Without getting these out on the table, we can’t work on the real problem.

Q: Why is it important to share your emotions when engaging in conflict?

A: Emotions are the primary energy source for conflict. The gap invariably generates an emotional response. Some people really struggle to identify and name their emotions during conflict. Failure to do this results in behavior and reactions that often don’t make sense to the other person, or seem out of proportion and unrealistic.

A second reason to share emotions is because it sends the message that you are willing to be open, that you don’t mean any harm, and that you aren’t hiding anything. These are foundational for healthy conflict.

About Dr. Nate Regier

Dr. Nate Regier is the co-founding owner and chief executive officer of Next Element, a global advisory firm specializing in building cultures of compassionate accountability. A former practicing psychologist, Regier is an expert in social-emotional intelligence and leadership, positive conflict, mind-body-spirit health, neuropsychology, group dynamics, interpersonal and leadership communication, executive assessment and coaching, organizational development, team building and change management. An international adviser, he is a certified Leading Out of Drama master trainer, Process Communication Model® certifying master trainer and co-developer of Next Element’s Leading Out of Drama® training and coaching. Nate has published two books: Beyond Drama and his latest work, Conflict Without Casualties.


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