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  • WSL Leadership

Conflict Doesn't Always Mean a Brawl

Not every conflict is an epic battle. There are verbal (and physical!) fights that are obvious conflicts, and there are also more subtle cues, awkward situations and confusing behavior that also signal a conflict is happening.

In his book, The Third Side, William Ury shares 10 situations that escalate a conflict:

  • Frustrated needs

  • Poor skills

  • Weak relationships

  • Conflicting interests

  • Disputed rights

  • Unequal power

  • Injured relationships

  • No attention

  • Lack of limits/boundaries

  • No protection - unsafe environment

Reading through this list, can you think of a time when you saw behavior that indicated one of these conflict escalations was happening?

Was that passive-aggressive snarky comment a response to unequal power?

Are projects off track and output delayed because of disputed rights?

Is the return to in-office work going poorly due to frustrated needs?

These situations might not feel like a fight but they are conflicts. How you respond in these moments can build up your relationships/team/organization or…not.

We are constantly navigating situations where we don’t understand or agree with someone else’s behavior. Those are opportunities to flex your emotional intelligence muscles for the good of your relationships and team.

Using emotional intelligence might mean stepping back to get clear on how you are feeling about what is happening and separating the present moment from unrelated events in the past.

You may need to cool yourself down so you don’t respond with aggression that inflames everyone involved.

Taking time to understand how the people involved feel about the situation will give you enormous clues about what their experience is like and why this behavior is happening. People are often surprised to be asked about their feelings so take it easy and be reassuring if this is a new approach for you.

If you feel awkward and uncomfortable taking action when you notice these murky conflicts developing, remind yourself of your personal values and desire to support the people involved. Reconnect with your internal motivation.

Approaching the people involved with authenticity is key. It’s ok to prepare what you want to say and how you want to say it so that you can get the conversation off on the right foot. It’s also important to be true to yourself so you can connect with the folks involved to move forward productively together.

You can say and do things that are productive and helpful when awkward situations arise. Be on the lookout for those signs that conflict is escalating and prepare now to take action. Using your emotional intelligence in uncomfortable situations will help your team thrive.


If you want a more detailed, step-by-step process, my emotionally intelligent conflict management checklist walks you through how to have these conversations in a way that is true to you and effective for managing the conflict. You can find it here.

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