People who act badly in conflict are not broken
Recognize mental models
Reveal the “invisible architecture” of your important conversations.
“Conflict resolution” is generally understood as a joint exercise, something that involves the person or persons we’re in conflict with. When we hear the phrase, we’re likely to imagine it as some kind of conversation or negotiation with another person. That would not be inaccurate.
But it would be incomplete. What happens when the negotiation you most need to have is with yourself? What happens when the thing you most need to understand, address, and move on from is something only you yourself have the key to unlock? I’ve discovered that many conflicts, small and large, do not require conversation with another person to address properly. Neither do they require months of counseling. For many of them, the only conversation you need to have is with yourself — provided you know the right conflict resolution conversation to have.
I often tell my clients that the state of mind they want when negotiating or navigating conflict is curiosity, not certainty. If you can manage to be curious when things get tough, that curiosity will be your best friend. Certainty may be ego-soothing, but it closes us off to information, closes us down to other […]
Hints to the solutions for problems that vex are all around us. We either don’t know where to look or the negotiation’s been so painful that the loss of hope blinds us. I tell my conflict resolution grad students that mediators and negotation coaches aren’t smarter or better than our clients, though we may look […]
Last week my husband and I visited the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA. What I anticipated to be several hours of general boredom on my part turned into a three-hour reflection on great negotiation and conflict resolution. It all started with this quote from legendary hoops coach John Wooden, posted high on an […]
LOOK, typed the young woman, THE CHARMS JUST DISAPPEARED? OK? THAT’S ALL THERE IS TO SAY! I stared at the capital letters, wondering if she normally typed with caps lock on or if she was yelling toward me in frustration. It was the late 1990s and I was one of a handful of mediators chosen […]
Women, when you’re negotiating salary, business contracts, departmental budgets, auto purchases and the like, figure out a way to imagine yourself as negotiating on behalf of others and not just for yourself. If you’re negotiating salary, frame it as negotiating on behalf of your family. If you’re negotiating a new car purchase for yourself, frame […]
When someone is frustated and raises their voice to you, this trick of the mind that will help you keep your balance. The woman was screaming and yelling at the top of her lungs. Cursing a blue streak. Waving her arms wildly. And it was me she was addressing as we stood together on the […]
Where were you on 9/11? What were you doing when you heard the news? What did you do immediately after? Are you sure? If you’re like many in the U.S., you have a detailed memory of those moments, referred to as “flashbulb memories” because the memory is as vivid as a photograph. I certainly do. […]
This mini-meditation helps you check in with yourself and manage “the little trickles of unease” common in interpersonal conflict.
“When you scatter crumbs all over a floor I finished vacuuming not five minutes ago, it conveys you’re disregarding or devaluing the work I’ve done.” A version of that sentence has come out of my mouth for 23 years. I call it the Breadcrumb Battle. Somehow, my husband butters his toast in such a way […]
Things are often not what they seem in conflict. We tend to confuse “our side of the story” with “the truth” or “what really happened.” This classic story, The Maligned Wolf is one of my favorite illustrations of this idea. The forest was my home. I lived there, and I cared about it. I tried […]
Toastmaster Magazine, the print and online publication of Toastmasters International, interviewed me about conflict and high-performing teams for their March 2011 issue. The article, What Makes an Exceptional Team? Great Groups Embrace Differences by Dave Zielinski, is now publicly available online and here’s an excerpt: Tammy Lenski, an organizational-conflict management expert and mediator, says problems […]
A passing comment a lunch still echoes decades later.
Conflict is a story. It’s a story you tell yourself about what happened, how it happened, and why it happened. It’s a story you tell others as a way to seek comfort or understanding. In most cases involving conflict, it’s a story you repeat. You think about it in the shower. You talk about it […]
Getting better at negotiating isn’t about a recipe. The most effective conflict behavior isn’t about great technique. They’re about how you think. Interpersonal Conflict class with my mediation students was just getting underway when Kate, a veterinarian, raised her hand. “May I tell a quick story about something that happened this morning? I promise it’s […]
Our culture values managers, supervisors and leaders for your expertise and, in many ways, your certainty about the right thing to do to address day-to-day problems and situations. And rightly so. Yet the best conflict engagement is an act of not knowing, of not being an expert in the content of the problem. “In the […]
Conflict is something that occurred in the past, but conflict resolution is an act of the future. Difficult conversations and efforts at organizational conflict resolution get stuck when too much time is spent re-hashing the past and too little time orienting to the future.
Behavior in conflict, like any complex human behavior, is changeable and can be difficult to change. Here’s one reason why. Imagine you’re standing at the edge of a woods. The woods are filled with briars, tree roots sticking up from the soil, low-hanging branches. On the other side of the woods is a sunny meadow […]
Benign intentions don’t cancel bad impact. A few years ago, while cooking and lost in thought, I opened an upper cabinet door right into my husband’s head. He yelped as the corner of the door dug sharply into his skull. The first words out of my mouth were, “Sorry about that, I didn’t do it […]