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It’s a warm summer’s afternoon and the fly in your kitchen is getting more agitated as it tries to get outside. You open the window but the fly doesn’t recognize the opportunity and remains ‘trapped’ in the kitchen. Even when you encourage it with the help of a magazine, it ignores your support and goes back to the familiar spot on the pane of glass.

At times, we can be like this fly, unaware of the opportunities we have, ignoring support and wanting to do things the way we always have. Often we continue with the familiar and the comfortable rather than with what works best.

The fly who ‘attacks’ the window with even more determination, ends up hurt as well as unsuccessful. This is often the case with people who become aggressive and demanding. If we want a different outcome, go for a different approach. Many of us are great at continuing to do what doesn’t work, unaware that we have choices.


So what are my choices and indeed what are my current behaviour patterns in conflict?

What’s my style?

Whether the tension is about budgets, in-laws, children or sex, people are inclined to respond with pretty much the same patterns. This is usually some form of collaboration, giving in or attacking. Your pattern is likely to take you down a familiar path with each conflict, experiencing the same feelings and getting similar results.

While all styles of dealing with conflict are useful, the best approach depends on the situation you are in and what you want to achieve. There

are three main patterns of response:

N flight N fight N flow None of these is inherently good or bad, just more or less effective.

While flow creates good working relationships and provides a solution to meet everyone’s needs, it presupposes the other person wants to collaborate. If not, you may need to protect yourself or use another style to ensure needs are catered for.

Develop flexibility if you want to increase effectiveness.

Just as a golfer plays with a variety of clubs, you may ‘play’ the course of human differences better with a variety of approaches. It can be restricting to stay with that club or style which is familiar and comfortable to use.

–  –  –

Flight This lose-win style means saying ‘yes’ to accommodate the other person. It is usually the pattern for people who value the relationship over the goal.

Strategically, this may be an appropriate way of responding. For example, you might decide the customer is always right and agree to his request; or you might be with someone who is unreasonable and you decide to accommodate.

However, the lose-win personality (i.e. when it is a consistent pattern rather than a conscious choice), is likely to lead to frustration, anger with self and the danger of being exploited. You can choose flight behaviour without being a flight personality.

Fight This is the win-lose style. It involves using power, threats, bluffs, intimidation, anything that will help to win the conflict. This pattern is used by people who value goals over relationships.

Again this may be appropriate as a choice in some contexts. When someone vulnerable is being physically or verbally attacked, you may go into fight mode to protect as a first response. This is fight behaviour driven by caring.

When people are not prepared to flow, you may wish to use this approach. For example, you decide to put pressure on an unreliable person to ensure you are no longer inconvenienced by his late reports.

However, the fight personality only values winning, it is ‘power over’, and has little regard for the person or feelings. This will result in alienation, isolation and resentment. This person becomes ‘locked’ into win-lose, as opposed to a person who borrows fight behaviour to achieve a particular relationship objective.

Flow This win-win approach focuses on the concerns of everyone and looks together for ways to reach agreement. This is about standing up for


yourself without blaming, accusing, demanding or being hostile. This approach recognizes that both sets of needs are important and seeks solutions to satisfy everyone. This leads to win-win, a sense of power with, and positive, collaborative relationships.

To flow is non-combative. It is not backing down or burying your head in the sand pretending there isn’t an issue. It is going with the energy, the way an Aikido master will flow with the energy of the other rather than fight it. The aim is to divert the attack by disarming the energy. Aikido looks to align and harmonize. In physical practice, it resembles a dance as the attacker’s energy is deflected and rendered harmless.

The win-win approach creates partners, not opponents. It means searching for ways to involve and satisfy everyone. The mind set ‘let’s see how we both can have what is important to us’, shows you are not out to fight, it creates that bridge for mutual gain … it is about respect.

While you may need to borrow fight and flight behaviours when the other person is not prepared to flow with you, it is the flow mind set that leads to the sense of collaboration and solutions built from everyone’s needs.

Key skills for collaboration Here are three skills which prevent the escalation of the conflict and allow you to steer the energy along a path that will increase understanding, trust and co-operation.

1 Listen acceptingly – find out what others see through their window on the world.

2 Talk constructively – share what you see through your window on the world.

3 Problem-solve – marry the views for mutual wins.

–  –  –

1. Listen to understand the other person’s view on the world To view the difference only from my view will be restricting … I will have limited information. Listening to the other person will provide another view, wider perspectives and more possibilities.

–  –  –

As children, we have been taught to be quiet rather than to listen.

Listening means you are open to the other person’s perspectives, needs and concerns. It is not judgemental, you accept what the other says as valid and ‘right’ for them, even if you disagree. It involves putting aside any preconceived notions you may have about that person.

Listening can be a bit like reading the newspaper. Something catches our eye and we exclude those bits of the paper that are not of interest. We are also inclined to scan and delete as we listen. Quite unconsciously we can listen selectively and filter out information. We don’t always hear what is said, and we don’t realize this either.

Checking with the other person that you have heard correctly is a way to build understanding and giving the other person a deeper sense of being heard. Listen to understand and accept, rather than to justify, judge, advise or argue. By listening in this way you are likely to bring out the best in the other person.

–  –  –

‘Help me to understand …’ ‘Tell me about …’ ‘Let me see if I understand …’


‘Have I got that right?’ ‘Can you give me an example?’ ‘How important is this to you on a scale of 0-10?’ It is crucial that you listen for what is important to that person. After all, that is why the conflict is happening … because something which is important to that person is being denied. You may just find that it is impossible to continue to be in conflict when someone is trying to understand you and meet your needs.

–  –  –

Listen for feelings Feelings can wander around the conversation looking for some acknowledgement to hook on, and once hooked, can somehow fly off and disappear in space. Without validation and air space, feelings can get in the way and block the communication flow.

‘I’m annoyed that you lied to me.’ ‘It was only a little white lie.’ This responds to the substance of what is being said, not the feelings. Here is a way to get the feelings into the conversation.

‘I’m annoyed that you lied to me.’ ‘It seems as if you are really upset about this.’ Remember, while you may not agree with the substance of what the other person is saying, you can still acknowledge the importance of feelings.

Often, people don’t feel listened to until their feelings have been understood.

–  –  –

When Frank says he will spend Sunday afternoon with Susan who feels neglected, he thinks he has not only listened to Susan, but has also dealt with the problem. However, the real issue is her feelings … she needs to have her feelings aired, explored and validated. Only then will she feel that Frank really understands her.

Not everyone is like Susan. For some, the solution will be the answer. Give the Franks of this world a ‘fix it’ approach and understanding to the Susans. Some people will want a mixture of both. People don’t always want to be treated in the way you do.

–  –  –

Listen to understand ‘I feel neglected’ ‘There’s no reason for you to feel neglected’ ‘What you should do is…’ Whilst these reactions may be understandable, they don’t deal with the real issue or allow the person to feel understood and accepted. With understanding, the problem often ‘melts’ away. Incredible as it may seem, 70% of people’s conflict problems are solved through understanding.

Here are some questions which will help understanding.

‘What lets you know you are neglected?’ ‘What do you need from me so you wouldn’t feel neglected?’ ‘Can you help me to understand what it is like to feel neglected.’

–  –  –


N Understanding changes the expectations.

N Understanding leads to fewer demands.

N Understanding is the foundation for agreement.

–  –  –

Karen does not feel listened to and feels annoyed with Samu for giving her advice. Samu feels that not only has he listened to Karen (how could he give advice unless he first listened?) but he has had her best interests at heart. He is feeling confused and hurt as she has rejected his ‘help’.

Samu was listening to Karen but not listening to her in a way that would allow her to feel listened to. It is not enough to listen, people must know you have listened.

–  –  –

Mishearing is the norm We use words to describe ideas, feelings and needs. But the words are not the experiences, no more than the photo is the person it represents or the brochure is the product it describes. Words are the ‘wrapping paper’ for our experiences. My wrapper might contain chocolate but you might think it wraps toffee. ‘I need more appreciation’ might be heard as ‘you want a pat on the back’ but what I really need are bigger challenges.

What you hear may not be what was actually said. Language is an imperfect way of communicating thoughts and feelings.

For accuracy, check what is inside the wrapper and ask for specifics.

‘What specifically do you mean?’ ‘In what way, exactly?’ ‘Can you give me an example?’

–  –  –

Paraphrasing Beware of assuming that people hear what you say or that you hear what the other person says. While you hear the words spoken you may not give the meaning to the words that the person intended.

George Bernard Shaw said that the problem with communication, is the illusion that it has taken place. Mishearing would appear to be the norm, and then people argue over what was never said.

To improve accuracy, let the other person have the floor and every so often sum up in your own words what you have heard. This not only allows you to hear accurately but shows that you are making a serious attempt to understand and get the other’s view on the world.


‘So what you are saying is …’ ‘What I am hearing is …’ ‘Say more about that to help me understand …’ ‘Is there anything else you want to say?’ People who say they haven’t got time to listen are really saying they don’t yet value listening enough to give it the time required. They are also implying they have time for the consequences of not listening, which are misunderstanding, argument and conflict.

Listening gets you into the other person’s view.

Listening starters Here are some open questions to get the person talking about the differences. Accompany these with a gentle tone of voice and open body language, so they are heard as invitations to speak.

‘What are you angry about?’ ‘What do you need from me?’ ‘What are your concerns?’ ‘What needs to happen so it is right for you?’ ‘How do you see it?’ ‘Say more about why this is important to you.’ The voice in your head Often we can be distracted by what’s going on inside … our internal conversation. Sometimes this can be so ‘loud’ and judgemental it is hard to ‘hear’ the other person.

‘How can he say that?’ ‘Here we go again!’ ‘This is all the thanks I get.’

–  –  –

There may be plenty you are thinking and feeling but not saying. Aim for a positive internal dialogue which enables you to focus totally on the other person.

–  –  –

Acceptance listening 1 For the moment, put to one side your concerns, feelings and needs.

N Focus on the other person.

N Seek his view on the world.

2 Listen for what is important to the other person.

N Be genuinely interested.

N Encourage her to talk.

N Explore her feelings, needs and concerns.

3 Accept what the person says as true for him.

N Resist argument.

N Suspend judgement.

N Recognize his right to say something even if you disagree with it.

4 Every few sentences, sum up what you have heard.

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