How to Avoid Conflict – Part 2

How to Avoid Conflict – Part 2 150 150 Laura Sicola

In my previous blog, we looked at the difference between “Listening Wrong” and “Listening Right” as a part of “Listening to Understand,” a fundamental principle in laying the ground work to have a potentially difficult conversation in a way that is constructive rather than combative.

Now, let’s look at strategies for when it’s your turn to talk, after you have successfully demonstrated listening to understand. 

Once the other person has finished sharing their perspective, don’t sabotage the exchange by launching into a “now it’s my turn to talk and your turn to listen” monologue. Remember that you entered the conversation with the initial goal of understanding their perspective. So the first step you need to take in line with this goal is to confirm your understanding.

A great segue can be as simple as, “Thanks for taking the time to explain that to me. I want to make sure I understand the key issues. Can I run through my main takeaways based on what I heard, and you can correct me if I’m off somehow?” Who would say no to such a request?

Once you have the go-ahead, start by paraphrasing your understanding of their key points. You should use simple, reporting language such as, “You said that your budget _____,” or “Did I understand correctly that in your department _____,” or “Your primary concern is that _____, right?” Whatever you do, do not comment on anything yet.

This step also serves multiple purposes with mutual benefits. From the other person’s side, they are happy to know that you are valuing their input enough to take time to ensure that you understood it. Plus, it is reassuring for them to have you confirm that whatever they said was received as it was intended. This builds trust and facilitates further discussion.

More importantly, paraphrasing this way ensures that you actually did understand all of their key points. Misunderstandings could be due to missing or improperly stated information in their initial explanation, or perhaps you were writing something down and didn’t catch something else they said at the time.

Regardless of the cause, once you have had a chance to confirm the facts, then everyone is satisfied that all key information is on the table, and, most importantly, they feel relieved to know that they have been heard and understood.

From there, you can transition into sharing your side of the story with something like, “Okay, well, let’s start with _____.” It’s important to keep your language objective, and if you feel like their view on something is incorrect, keep your explanation fact-based, calm and impersonal. There’s a big difference between saying, “There are a few details I don’t think your team is aware of,” and, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

If the other person does not play by the same rules and interrupts you when it’s your turn, you can explicitly draw their attention to the contrast and make a respectful request: “I’m sure you’ll have some comments and questions, which I welcome, but I listened to you without interrupting, and would appreciate the same courtesy in return.” You can offer them some paper to take notes on while they listen, for their own benefit, and ask them to paraphrase what they understood when you’re done, so they can follow your model more completely as well.

At best, once you have heard each other out, and truly sought to understand each other’s objectives and reasons, you can come to a solution that meets everyone’s needs. But at the very least, if the answer still has to be “no,” there is still potential for positive outcome.

At that point, “no” can sound more like, “I truly appreciate the fact that/your concern about ___. For now, we have to prioritize _____ because of _____, but I understand the impact that it will have on your situation, so…”

Even though the other person might not be happy with the immediate result, it’s much easier for them to accept the outcome because they understand why, and are emotionally satisfied that they have been respected as a person and a professional.

In the end, difficult topics are addressed productively without fighting and casualties of war, and respectful relationships are not only maintained but strengthened. You’re not avoiding the issue, you’re avoiding creating a mess.

More importantly, you’re leading by example, and fostering a healthy culture of open communication, transparency, and mutual respect.

That’s the difference between someone who has a leadership position, and someone who is a leader.



Do you have questions or comments about the issues in today’s post, want to know how to apply them, or how to help others with them? If so, contact me at or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss them with me personally!