How to Resolve Conflicts Without Going Nuclear

Conflicts are a part of life. To resolve conflicts without losing friends, co-workers, or even family, you need to be willing to find solutions that benefit everyone. If your goal is simply to “win” an argument or overpower the person you’re in conflict with then you’ve lost before you even started.

To resolve conflicts well, you need good communication skills, empathy, and a sincere desire for real solutions. Here’s a few ideas to help you navigate and resolve conflicts without resorting to the nuclear option of just blowing the person off forever.

• Stay Calm: Before addressing the issue, take a moment to calm yourself. Emotional reactions can escalate conflicts. Nothing that’s been said has ever been unsaid so make certain you mean exactly what you say.

• Define the Issue: Identify the specific problem or issue causing the conflict. Avoid making it personal and focus on the behavior or situation. “Blame” has never resolved a conflict, remember that and you’ll have a chance at a positive outcome.

• Understand Perspectives: Listen actively to the concerns and perspectives of all parties involved. Seek to understand their point of view, even if you disagree. Other people see the world through their “life lens” which is made up of their experiences. If your life experiences were the same as theirs you wouldn’t have a conflict to begin with. Value their experiences as much as your own and it will become easier to see their point of view.

• Communicate Effectively: Use “I” statements to express your feelings and concerns without blaming others. For example, say “I feel” instead of “You always” to avoid accusations.

• Find Common Ground: Identify areas where you and the other party agree. This helps create a foundation for finding a resolution.

• Explore Solutions Together: Brainstorm possible solutions collaboratively. Encourage everyone involved to contribute ideas without being judgmental. But here’s the challenge, you need to exercise good judgment. But to do that you’ll first need to understand that there is a difference between being judgmental and making judgments. When you work to truly understand the other person’s point of view you’ll be far less judgmental. That will lead directly to having better judgement.

• Evaluate and Select Solutions: Assess the pros and cons of each solution. Choose an option that addresses the concerns of all parties to the best extent possible.

• Implement the Solution: Put the chosen solution into action. Clearly communicate the steps to be taken and ensure that everyone is on board with the plan.

• Follow Up: After implementing the solution, follow up with all parties involved to see how well it’s working. Make adjustments if necessary.

• Seek Mediation: If the conflict persists, consider involving a neutral third party to mediate. This person can provide an objective perspective and help guide the conversation toward resolution.

• Learn from the Conflict: Reflect on the conflict and the resolution process. Consider what could be done differently in the future to prevent similar issues.

• Build Positive Relationships: Focus on rebuilding or strengthening relationships after the conflict. Emphasize common goals and shared interests.

Conflicts are a natural part of human interaction, and resolving them effectively can lead to stronger relationships and a more positive work or personal environment. Running from conflicts or trying to avoid them altogether will not solve them. They simply simmer under the surface until they come to a boil. At that point that may be too hot for anyone to handle.

To avoid this, take action to solve conflicts early. As a result, you’ll have fewer conflicts overall.

How to Avoid Every Confrontation

Most people hate confrontation. Most people who don’t hate confrontations go into them with the worst of motives. They want to “win” the confrontation at all costs. 

When someone needs to be confronted Authentic Leaders confront them. But they do it with empathy and compassion. Their goal isn’t to “win” a confrontation. Their goals are for both sides to maintain their self esteem, better understand their situation and to build a stronger relationship. 

Those goals are achievable but only if the confrontation actually takes place. 

Avoiding a confrontation comes with great costs, to both sides. The person not being confronted may have no idea what they are doing or saying is an issue for anyone. The cost for them of not being confronted is they lose the opportunity to improve. They lose the opportunity for a closer relationship. They may lose an opportunity for promotion at work or potentially, even their job. 

The cost for the individual who refuses to confront them can be even greater. Their lack of courage to confront someone can result in never ending frustration, poor mental health, damaged relationships and if they are in a leadership position, poor performance on the part of the people they lead.

All confrontations can be avoided by simply not confronting anyone. It’s easy, just do nothing. You do need to realize however that the consequences of avoiding confrontations cannot be avoided. You may think you’re better off not confronting someone but you would be wrong. 

There are ways to make the confrontation beneficial to both parties, but it takes a bit of effort. To confront in the right way pay attention to these key points:

Stick to the facts. Do you understand the facts? How you asked enough questions to understand the situation from all sides? Are you confronting in anger with raw emotion or are you prepared to confront with compassion built on a desire to help? Is there an upside to the confrontation that is measurable? Keep in mind if nothing can change then nothing will change. If you’re confronting someone over a situation that cannot change then you’re actually just “venting.” Venting is very one sided because while you may feel better for a short time it doesn’t help anyone else. 

Know the person you’re confronting. How much do you know about the person you’re about to confront? Unless you know the person well it’s best to begin your conversation with questions. If you begin with a tone of confrontation you risk shutting the other person down. That stalls most progress that may have been possible. If you want the other person to change something about their behavior then don’t start with criticism. Keep in mind, it will be very difficult for you to help someone see a benefit to changing their behavior if you don’t understand why they behave the way they do.

Make the fault seem easy to correct. Never make a situation worse than it is. Do not exaggerate. Your confrontation must be based on documented facts, not opinions. You MUST approach a confrontation with an open mind and be willing to admit that you may be a part of the reason for the confrontation. No matter your title, your role or your level of success, always consider the possibility that the real source of the problem stares back at you from the mirror every morning. 

Move forward towards improvement. Once you laid out your “case” then allow some time for the message to sink in. Ask the other person if they can restate what you’ve said to make certain what you said was understood. Then move forward. An effective confrontation need not be a lengthy conversation. You don’t need to bury the other person with examples, especially old examples from years past. Finish with a compliment. If you can’t think of a compliment then you’re not yet ready for a confrontation. Refer to the second thing to keep in mind. Get to know and understand the person before you confront them.

Above all, don’t think of confrontation in terms of winning and losing. It’s about caring enough to confront with compassion and helping another human being become the best possible version of themselves.

The Importance of Conflict Resolution Skills

Most people would tell you that conflict resolution skills are essential for all leaders. I absolutely agree with that. Authentic Leaders meet conflicts head on. They don’t avoid them, they work through them to build consensus in a way that is people valuing and face-saving.

For those Authentic Leaders conflict resolution skills are vital.

But most people in leadership positions are not Authentic Leaders. They count on their title and position to do the heavy lifting of leadership for them. Many of them remain in leadership positions for years never learning what Authentic Leadership looks like.

For those leaders few things are less important than conflict resolution skills. That’s because they avoid conflicts like the plague.

Most of those leaders would say they avoid conflict because they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. They would say their relationship with their people is more important than dealing with conflicts. Some would say they do indeed deal with conflict but only when “the time is right.” The problem for those leaders is that they never find the right time.

What those leaders won’t tell you is that one big reason they refuse to engage in a conflict is because they lack the courage and the compassion to do so. Another reason is that they believe that have only two choices when it comes to conflict. Those choices are fight or flight.

Nearly 100% of the time they choose flight. The see any conflict as a potential fight and they want none of it. What these weaker leaders need to understand is that an Authentic Leader does not allow a conflict to become a fight. So they have no need for flight.

Authentic Leaders dislike conflict as much as anyone. That’s precisely the reason they meet the challenge of conflict head on… so that they can get rid of it. So that they and their people can learn from it. So that they and their people can grow closer because of it. So that it doesn’t simmer under the surface and undermine the morale of the conflicted parties and of all the people around them as well.

The reality is that no one actually avoids conflicts, but some people do attempt to live with them. But left unsettled conflict is an untreated cancer on both organizations and relationships.

If you’re serious about resolving conflicts you will listen far more than you talk. If your responses include any variation “yes but” it may indicate that you’re being defensive. We don’t listen very well when our defenses are up. So check yourself to be certain you’re willing to have your opinion changed. Authentic Leaders know that they can be wrong about pretty much anything, just like everyone else.

To effectively resolve any conflict leave your “blame game” at home. The original cause of a conflict is less important than the lasting resolution. When you place blame on people you cause them to disengage. All parties to a conflict MUST be part of the solution. Before you engage in conflict resolution ask yourself what your goal is… do you want to place blame or do you want to resolve the conflict.

It goes without saying that only one of those goals is productive. Authentic Leaders know which one.

Authentic Leaders are willing to compromise to find lasting solutions to conflicts. They demonstrate that while they may be passionate about their own point of view they value workable resolutions over “winning.” They in fact understand that “winning” requires all sides be able to resolve the conflict with their self-respect intact.

Authentic Leaders with excellent conflict resolution skills do not forget the importance of relationships. They realize that how they make the other people feel is just as important as the eventual resolution. That “feeling” will likely outlast the resolution. It will also impact, either positively and negatively, any attempts to resolve future conflicts.

No matter how fast and far you run you should know that the conflict you’re running from will be waiting for you when you get there. So don’t run. The sooner you deal with the conflict the sooner you can return to building healthy and productive relationships with your people.

That makes the effort required to successfully resolve conflicts well worth it.

Don’t Smooth Things Over

Courageous leaders don’t smooth things over. They don’t put band-aids on the symptoms of a problem. They don’t pretend “things” are okay when they know darn well they are not and they never ever expect that a problem will just fix itself. 


What courageous leaders do is make things right, even if sometimes that means plunging headfirst into conflict. 


There are and have been many a great leader who preferred to avoid conflict when possible but I can’t think of a single truly great leader from the past or present who avoids conflict at all costs. 


The most effective leaders know that “smoothing over” a problem isn’t much different than burying it under a rock. Sooner or later someone comes along and turns the rock over exposing the problem with all it’s rough edges on display once again. 


Weaker leaders avoid conflicts because to them conflict means emotionally charged turmoil and fights and disruption and drama. In the hands of a weak leader that’s probably true.


Under the guidance of an Authentic Leader, especially an Authentic Servant Leader, a conflict represents the opportunity for genuine learning and long-term growth. 


Authentic Servant Leaders meet conflict head-on with the compassion, integrity, and understanding that you would expect from such a leader. They know that the only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it so they work diligently to lower relationship tension and the emotions that go with it. 


They lead the discussion with whatever facts are irrefutable to build common ground. They show empathy for every side of a conflict without minimizing the importance of anyone’s feelings. 


They want everyone involved in the situation to come out of it with their self-esteem and the conflict gone. 


When that works it’s a great accomplishment. But the truth is it doesn’t always work. 


When it doesn’t work the Authentic Servant Leader sets aside the Authentic Servant part and simply leads. If forced, they impose a solution that ends the conflict. They decide! They take action! That may mean some really bad stuff happens to someone involved in the conflict but the conflict is resolved and it’s resolved for good. 


Authentic Servant Leaders do not allow conflict to linger. Conflicts are like an organizational cancer. Leaders should help diagnose and treat the conflict but if it can’t be treated it must be removed. That will likely result in some injured feelings. Authentic Servant Leaders understand that at least a part of their organization may require some time to heal from an imposed solution. They also know that needing a little time to heal is far better than dealing with a slow burning conflict that never ends.


I firmly believe in helping everyone in an organization feel valuable and in continually building their self-esteem. But in every case, in every single case, the good of the many must outweigh the good of the one. 

Dealing with conflict is one of the biggest challenges for a true leader but it’s one they don’t run from, in fact, the very best leaders run to it. 

Compassionate Conflict Resolution

You can meditate 4000 years, but if avoidance is at the root of it, you won’t be free. ~ Papaji

People often ask me where my ideas for blog topics come from. I tell them that I just write about “stuff” I read, see in the news, and hear and see around me. Sometimes however a blog post is just me talking to myself and letting other people “listen” in… this is one of those blog posts. 

I do not like conflict! I am not however a conflict avoider. That pretty much puts me where I need to be to successfully deal with workplace and life conflict. I’d rather not deal with conflicts but I will if I have to and knowing what I know about Authentic Leadership if I intend to audaciously continue to attempt to help others improve their own leadership skills I most certainly have to. 

I have to because conflict engagement and resolution are key leadership skills. Leaders who avoid conflict at any cost simply don’t understand that the costs are very real. 

By the way, just an aside here… if you’re thinking to yourself right now that you actually like conflict then I have some bad news for you. Liking conflict almost always means that you aren’t very good at resolving it. 

Avoiding conflict often causes resentment and misunderstanding, – emotions that when left alone, have a tendency to fester. Nothing is heard the way the conflict avoider intends it to be heard. The conflict avoider says one thing but the other person doesn’t understand the emotions it was said with so they hear something else. That leads to distrust. An environment of distrust frequently influences turnover and productivity which then negatively impact profitability. The issues that cause conflicts rarely go away or solve themselves. They usually just get bigger, and bigger, and bigger. They also get more and more expensive.

People being people means there will always be a need for conflict resolution. Conflict comes from differences of opinions, ideas, and perceptions that are exchanged every day. Every Day! That’s a whole lot of opportunity for conflicts to arise. 

So, you’ll either learn to deal with conflict in a constructive way or you will fail as a leader. It’s just that simple.

When handled correctly conflicts actually strengthen an organization. The communication and trust that comes from effective conflict resolution builds trusting relationships between a leader and their people. 

It’s the handling correctly part that causes so many people to avoid conflict. They just don’t know where to begin. 

A great place to begin is with the other person’s interests. Why do they think the way they think? What are their motives? What are their objectives? Put yourself in their shoes and if you do it sincerely you’ll have a much better understanding of their emotions and it’s that understanding that will help you control your own emotions.

Look for solutions, not more conflict. Never forget that even complex problems can have a relatively simple solution when emotions are set aside. Simple doesn’t mean easy but at least simple is doable. 

When dealing with conflict I need to keep three principles from Dale Carnegie’s great book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” in mind.

The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it. If a leader allows an attempt at conflict resolution to turn into an argument then the leader has messed up. They need to reconvene the attempt when emotions have settled down a bit.

Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to. Most people will strive to meet the expectations of others. If you go into an attempt at conflict resolution looking for a fight then you are likely to get one. If you are expecting the other person to also seek a positive resolution then they very likely will.

Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct. Never make a problem bigger than it is. As a leader if you’re trying to influence someone out of a bad idea or a poor practice then make the mistake or idea seem easy to fix. Share examples of your own past mistakes and how your changed your thinking to change the outcome. Encourage them to do the same.

Always show compassion for the other person’s feelings, thoughts and ideas. They may appear totally wrong to you but to the other person they are absolutely right.

If you’re in a leadership position and you practice conflict avoidance then you may have the position but you’re not leading. The next time you have the opportunity to resolve conflict look at it as an opportunity for growth. Work to resolve the issue in a way that demonstrates respect, value, and security for every person involved. 

Conflict doesn’t have to cost, it can be a tremendous opportunity to grow your people while growing your own leadership skills. All it takes it a decision to try.

The Courage to Confront

Authentic Servant Leaders have courage. This allows them to make tough choices, it allows them to take calculated risks. Courage is their “secret sauce,” it’s what often separates them from lesser leaders. 

This courage also helps them confront people who need to be confronted. Because they are Authentic Servant Leaders when they confront someone they will do it with compassion. They confront people for two reasons, there is a problem that needs to be corrected and they care enough to want to help the person correct it. 

Sadly, Authentic Servant Leaders are few and far between so this post on confrontation is not about them.

It’s about your everyday leader, what I’d call an average leader. They are by far the largest occupier of so-called leadership positions within organizations both large and small. They do a lot of things right and some things wrong, I guess that’s why they are average.

Confrontation, or rather lack of confrontation, is one of the biggest shortcomings of an average leader. They are just as clear-eyed as any leader in that they see the same problems as anyone other leader. It’s just that they don’t deal with it.

Some of these average leaders are just lazy. Some “hope” it will just go away, some figure “the next guy can deal with it.” A few just put their head in the sand and pretend there are no issues worth confronting. 

Some are just afraid. They lack the courage to confront.

Fear holds us back! Make no mistake about this fact, fear has kept many very talented people from succeeding. Fear has kept many people will the skill to succeed from using their skills in the pursuit of success. Fear greatly limits success.

The great Dale Carnegie once said the only place fear is real is in our mind. The point was that the only way to really eliminate fear is to change our thinking. In his book “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” he writes that one way to overcome the stress of fear is to consider the situation you’re in and accept the worst that can happen. Once you’ve accepted the worst then you can begin to try to improve upon the worst in a much more clear-headed fashion. 

If you’re a leader who lacks the courage to confront then consider the worst that could happen. You could completely screw it up. Perhaps someone’s feelings will be hurt, maybe they will like you less. They may talk about you behind your back. You may fail miserably.

Just an aside, not confronting a situation that demands confrontation virtually guarantees each of those outcomes eventually. 

When considering how to improve on the worst that can happen think about these ideas:

Don’t confront when you’re angry. Let the dust settle a little bit before confronting anyone, things said “in the moment” are impossible to unsay. As a rule don’t confront someone about an issue when you’re still mad about the issue. That said, we’re talking minutes or hours here to settle your emotions, not months or years. The longer you wait to confront someone the bigger your mountain of fear will become. Take a small amount of time to plan your confrontation but the key here is small amount of time. 

Practice what you want to say. Go off by yourself somewhere and actually say it out loud. I know that sounds kind of weird but it will help you feel better about approaching the other person. 

Don’t turn it into an argument. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it. Proving to someone that they are wrong will not help them correct the situation. Don’t get sucked into their argumentative tone and don’t turn the discussion into a point, counterpoint-point debate. Say what you need to say as often as you need to say it and then be quiet. Listen. Repeat your point as needed but do not be distracted by excuses and arguments that have no bearing on the issue or person being confronted.

Agree on the next steps. Any effective confrontation leads to a plan for resolution. Just telling someone about a problem is unlikely to solve the problem. Agree on what needs to happen for the issue or concern to be be resolved, or at least agree on some initial steps. 

Understand that this may not be a fun conversation, it may not be “clean.” You may not feel great about it when it’s over and it may not go exactly as you had planned. You might even have made things temporarily worse. 

But always know this: almost all big problems were once little problems. They became big problems because they were not confronted when they were small. You risk making a small problem bigger by confronting it, you guarantee it gets bigger by not confronting it. 



The Vital Importance of Conflict Resolution

I am not a fan of conflict. I’d prefer to have zero conflicts in my life, both my personal life and my professional life.

My preference however is unrealistic because conflicts are a part of life. They happen! As a matter of fact, if you have a pulse and interact with other human beings then you will have conflicts too.

Some people will go to extreme lengths to avoid conflict. I think they avoid them because they believe all conflicts lead to poor outcomes. They have so little confidence in their own communication skills that they fear losing control of their emotions and making the situation that originally caused the conflict even worse.

That’s a challenging way to go through life for anyone. If you have that challenge and you’re in a leadership position then it’s far more than a challenge, it can be a disaster.

Unresolved conflict leads directly to unreached potential. Let me repeat that in case you missed it… unresolved conflict leads directly to unreached potential. Directly!

If you’re a leader who avoids conflict then you’re a limited leader at best. You can make great decisions, hire the right people, build solid products, and be liked by everyone. What you can’t do is lead your people and your organization to their full potential.

It’s like seeing $40 on the ground and bending down to pick up $20, hoping that somebody else will pick up the other $20 and put it to use. You just left half of your potential “find” lay there. Hope may sound nice in a speech but I’m sorry to say, it’s a real crappy business strategy.

Leaders cannot simply hope the conflict resolves itself. Conflicts seldom disappear, they just simmer below the surface causing havoc in your organization. If you don’t care enough about your people to proactively, compassionately resolve conflicts then you likely don’t care enough to truly lead.

Conflict resolution is a vital skill that leaders need to learn.

If you view conflict as dangerous, it tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you go into a conflict situation already feeling threatened, it’s tough to deal with the issue in a healthy and productive way. Instead, you are more likely to shut down or blow up in anger.

Conflict elicits strong emotions and often leads to hurt feelings and disappointment. When handled in an unhealthy manner, it can cause irreparable harm, resentments, and long-lasting distrust. When conflict is resolved in a healthy and productive way, it increases your understanding of the other person, builds trust, and strengthens relationships. This is true in both your personal and professional lives.

Effective leaders possess the capacity to recognize and respond to the things that matter to the other person. They respond in a calm, non-defensive, and respectful manner. The are ready to forgive and forget if necessary and they are able to move past the conflict without holding on to resentment. Effective leaders know that compromise is not a dirty word and that while accountability may play a role in conflict management, punishing does not.

Authentic servant leaders hold the belief that facing conflict head on is the best thing for both sides. When dealing with conflict they care enough to listen with more than just their ears. They “tune-in” to the other person to completely understand what they are saying and why they are saying it.

When people are upset, the words they use often don’t convey the real issues at the heart of the conflict. When you listen for what is felt—as well as what is said—you have the opportunity to truly understand where the other person is coming from.
When you’re in the middle of a conflict, paying close attention to the other person’s nonverbal signals may help you figure out what the other person is really saying, This lets you to respond in a way that builds trust, and get to the heart of the problem. A calm tone of voice or an interested facial expression can go a long way towards relaxing a tense exchange.

Here are a few more points to consider before attempting to resolve a conflict:

Think resolution rather than winning or “being right.” Remember, if you win then somebody else loses. If somebody feels like they have been defeated then they may withdraw for a while but the conflict still exists.

Focus on the now. If you’re holding on to grudges based on past resentments, your ability to see the reality of the current situation will be impaired. Resolve the current conflict, don’t rehash old ones.

Let something go. If you can’t come to an agreement, agree to disagree. It takes two people to keep an argument going. If a conflict is going nowhere, it is okay to disengage and move on.

I firmly believe the worst thing you can do when it comes to conflict management or hopefully, conflict resolution, is nothing. If you actually intend to lead then you must face this challenge head-on, in a caring and thoughtful way.

It’s how Authentic Servant Leaders deal with conflict!