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What is your personal greatest challenge in responding to conflict? What do you find most difficult to handle?
(....Or how, when I asked this question of 'tweeps' on Twitter I got an interesting range of responses ........)

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Hi Everyone!

Welcome to Newsletter no.17 - July 2009

First of all, my apologies that there was not a newsletter in June 2009. It was a busy month for many reasons and in the end I had to cancel the newsletter.

But back to business this month, and I have been asking people who follow my page on Twitter to respond to a survey question:

What is your personal greatest challenge in responding to conflict? What do you find most difficult to handle?

So how would you answer that?

Take a little time to consider the question?

Are you aware of the times you have the greatest difficulty or have you never really stopped to consider it?

Being aware of our responses to conflict is one of the most powerful steps we can take towards dealing with it effectively.

Retweet this page to your Twitter followers:

This may seem obvious but usually our ineffective responses to conflict are simply 'reactions', that is, we don't really decide on our response as a result of considering options.

The response is not a 'conscious' one, and this is often why we repeatedly experience similar types of conflict as we don't realise that our reaction has become habitual.

If you keep doing what you've always done, you keep getting what you always got..... as the saying goes.

So what were the responses to the Twitter survey?

Well of course, they varied quite widely but, by my interpretation, which of course will be just that and only that, there were 3 main ways in which it was responded to:

1. Some people responded as if the question was asking them how they handle or respond to others' conflicts. I guess quite a few of the people who follow my Twitter page are mediators or are involved in managing conflict between others and they responded from that perspective:

  • Dead ends and threats of violence. If they won't talk, what can we do?
  • Talking w/ those who won't engage in a healthy way 2 find solution
  • a good faith attempt to resolve blowing up in my face!
  • I find some of the most difficult cases are the highly emotional, highly positional ones.

Remember the Question:

What is your personal greatest challenge in responding to conflict?

What do you find most difficult to handle?

2. Some responded with examples of the kind of behaviour or the 'kind of people' they find difficult.

  • dealing with sociopaths (ppl w/o a conscience) followed by being WAY too cooperative 4 too long
  • I would say dealing with expert/old managers, whats your suggestion?
  • People with stubborn attitude, they never convinced with what you say or suggest.
  • People that won't take accountability for their actions and/or words.
  • Pride is such a big barrier. Taking the lowest seat in the room & not the highest-we tend to do the latter.
  • ah, the conflict question- when communication stops, or the motives of others are unclear & things get awkward
  • Ppl who only say I don't know to everything or who stop listening instantly,when you say something.
  • In responding to conflict, the only challenge I find difficult to handle is indifference.
  • Dismissive, disrespectful, manipulative communication, in other words lack thereof.

3. The remainder responded by referring to the difficulties they have with their own response to conflict or their own internal conflicts:

  • I think inner conflict is the most damaging/challenging. I deal with it by trying to make myself realize that there is TIME.
  • myself!
  • remembering to act consciously and wisely instead of reacting!!
  • asking the question rather than jumping in but I'm getting better at it!

I guess one of the main observations I would make about the responses is that it confirms that none of us have the same difficulties with conflict.

Quotation Corner:

If I think you’re my problem, I’m insane.

- Byron Katie

We all have different responses to, and experiences of, conflict and so generalising about what constitutes 'difficult behaviour', and particularly 'difficult people' is impossible.

Well, perhaps it's not impossible to generalise but it can never be a generalisation that is valid. (Though sadly, many 'techniques' try to do this)

Most of us have excellent ways of responding to conflict and we do it well throughout each day. So well we don't even think about it.

But when those reactions don't work with a particular person's behaviour or a difficult situation, our consciousness has to be awakened if we are to find a constructive way forward. We have to make a new choice about how we respond as our trusted 'one size fits all' reaction ...... doesn't fit any more!

But sometimes we think there is no choice and that is when we get stuck.

The point is we have to create a new response.

Conflict is the beginning of consciousness - M.Esther Harding

I recently came across the above quotation, on Twitter in fact, and I was stunned by the revelation it caused in me. It brought much of what I see and work with as a mediator and conflict coach, and as a human being, into focus.

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I have, for some time now, considered conflict as something that is inevitable rather than something that can be 'stopped' or 'avoided', but M.Esther Harding's statement describing it as the beginning of consciousness brought many of my thoughts about comnflict together for me.

Conflict as an opportunity, an awakening - any other way is trying to resist the inevitable, which is why we find it so tiring and stressful, and impossible, if we try to deny or fight against its presence.

When we are 'loving what is' as Byron Katie would say, we can be open to what conflict has to offer.

Conflict is not the problem

We often hear people say that they have a fear of conflict and do anything to ‘avoid’ it.

It is impossible to avoid conflict and the fear that people talk about is of the imagined destructive responses to it rather than the conflict itself.

When our repertoire of responses is limited and they don’t work, then it is understandable that we might fear conflict as we see it as the start of an escalating sequence of behaviours that can include anything from verbal abuse to extreme violence to ‘the silent treatment’ and emotional blackmail.

But this is unfair on conflict.

We are responsible for whether conflict leads to learning and greater closeness and rapport or whether it leads to war.

Conflict just is - whether we choose the latter or the former for our response.

All the time we say conflict is the problem it means we are not taking responsibility for our responses to it.

We are not acknowledging our ability to respond constructively - our response-ability in the face of conflict.

We disempower ourselves. No-one does it to us.

But there’s a potential upside to this:-

Recommended Books

The Magic of Conflict: Turning a Life of Work into a Work of Art

Loving What is: How Four Questions Can Change Your Life

Recognition of our capacity to create more effective responses enables us to lose our fear of conflict or need to avoid it.

Many of us never consider that there may be a better way of responding to our conflicts and so we become reliant on others to 'change'. This is a hopeless aim.

Instead we can learn to embrace conflict and treat it as an opportunity for growth, learning, greater rapport with others.

Conflict can become a doorway to enrichment of our lives - the beginning of consciousness.

Connect with Alan on LinkedIn

or his Twitter page @alan_sharland

Besides being the author of the Communication and Conflict website Alan is Director of CAOS Conflict Management Tel. +44 20 3371 7507

Follow @CAOS_Mediation on Twitter:

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Free e-book - Contemplations on Communication and Conflict (click the link to download)

This e-book is an archive of some of the early observations and anecdotes I have written for these newsletters, but now collected together in a free downloadable e-book, my aim being to make them more accessible than for you to have to scan through various web pages to read them.

Please remember.....
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Training courses for 2009: (click on link for dates)

Learning from Difficult Relationships: This is the foundation course that covers the Principles of Effective Communication that have been developed from insights gained from the practice of mediation - a process that helps people to resolve their disputes.

Other workshops that follow on from this are: These courses are run by Hillingdon Community Mediation in West London, UK.

Effective Communication Skills – this workshop looks at the skills required to practice effective communication in any context, with our partner, our children, in the workplace, anywhere.

Learning to Grow through Conflict – there are 3 main ways in which people respond to conflict. Two of them never work in resolving a conflict, the third one does. This workshop raises our awareness of where we use the first two and how we can respond more constructively to conflict and see it as an opportunity for growth.

Venue for all Workshops:

St Andrew's Church Centre, Mount Park Road, Ealing, London, W5 2RS (click on post code for map of venue)

Click here for more details.

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Consultation via Skype.

Would you like:

  • Conflict coaching to support you in a difficult situation to find more effective ways of responding?
  • Mentoring, if you are a Mediator or other conflict resolution practitioner, to support you in reviewing and developing your practice?

If you have Skype and would like to arrange a consultation, please go to the Skype Consultation page to send me details of what you would like to discuss and proposed times to call me.

Skype to Skype calls are free from anywhere in the world so there will not be any telephone cost, just the fee for the consultation which is a fixed charge per minute.

Don't have Skype? Get it by clicking here...

Some links that you may find interesting...... by Stephanie Goddard - a website very much in line with the thinking of this site. Stressed Out at Work AGAIN? Work Stress Is NOT Caused By -Your Difficult Coworkers - Your Diet - Your Lack of Time...So What Causes Work Stress? Stress is caused by only one thing....the way you think. Stephanie has 2 great books: 101 Ways to Have a Great Day at Work and 101 Ways to Love Your Job is an excellent resource of information relating to mediation. There are articles, links to websites and blogs as well as the possibility of locating mediators in your area. - is a comprehensive guide to information about Self Improvement, Personal Growth and Self Help on the Internet. It is designed to be an organized directory, with articles and references to thousands of other Web Sites on the World Wide Web. is a rich source of information, quotes and support to enable us to find and be true to ourselves.

Oh Wow This Changes Everything is a great site with an enormous number of links to articles about different aspects of effective communication and conflict resolution. Definitely worth a could be there for hours! helps people, like yourself, create change in their life and business. They share fun stress management strategies and personal development articles.

New This site is sooo full of great links and resources relating to Co-operative Communication skills - I would very much recommend it.

Learning Supersite is a fascinating site dedicated to the development of informal learning. "A new approach to learning, the Learning Supersite is a venue that provides personal learning community, but with state-of-the-art Web technologies."

Transforming Conflict is an excellent organisation which works with young people, and adults, in educational settings, promoting restorative approaches to conflict.

Aik Saath This is an amazing and interesting website, quite besides the work of Aik Saath that it promotes. Aik Saath works to promote conflict resolution skills in young people and the development and support of racial harmony in Slough, UK and its surrounding areas.

Would you like to build your own website?.....this is how I built mine... I Love SBI!

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Putting Effective Communication and Conflict Resolution into practise:

If you like the approach described on this site that supports the resolution of conflict and promotes effective, mindful communication, you may want to visit Alan's organisation website at CAOS Conflict Management.

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