Understanding differences – 5 simple words that can lead to conflict resolution

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I leap out of my seat involuntarily while clamping my teeth together only slightly less hard than I’m pressing my lips together because I’m afraid what I’ll say if I open my mouth. My throat feels like it’s narrower than a pin though, so I’m not sure I could speak.  My breathing is shallow & fast.  I fear my face is fiery red.


Conflict.  It leaves a long trail.  Even though decades have passed, I still remember how I felt when I was having a meeting with my (insert various descriptive invectives) colleague & boss.  My colleague, who was anything but collegial, had just let loose with a whopper of a lie about me.


Are you facing some conflict or uneasy, unnamed tension at work & feel like you wish you had some better tools for managing those conversations?   Conflict often gives us what a friend of mine calls ‘sick pit’ – that awful feeling in your stomach that makes you want to run & hide under the covers. Read on for 5 simple words that can help you stay strong & lead you towards conflict resolution (plus a much better feeling in your stomach).


5 words that can lead to conflict resolution

Conflict – love it or hate it – it’s inevitable.


I often use these 5 words to help me wade through differences. For example when I’m working with a client trying to understand what type of training they’re wanting or with a participant in a workshop, these simple words open a world of understanding & tend to build bridges instead of walls.


The 5 words are simply ‘can you help me understand ______?’


Here are some examples:

  • can you help me understand how you see the situation?
  • can you help me understand how you think we got to this place?
  • can you help me understand what role you think I’ve played in the conflict?
  • can you help me understand how you’d like to move forward?
  • can you help me understand what a successful resolution would look like for you?


It’s effective because it doesn’t place blame & it comes from a true sense of curiosity.  Enquiring minds want to know.


Next time you find yourself in a situation where things feel awkward, uncomfortable or you’re trying to get past a roadblock try it.  And let me know how it goes.


Stay tuned for some conflict resolution scripts from the Harvard Business Review

Need a bit more help?  Stay tuned for next week’s blog post which will introduce you to some helpful scripts for conflict resolution – straight out of the Harvard Business Review Virtual Collaboration book.


And remember, the next time conflict rears it’s head take a deep breath & try one of the scripts from the section above —> ‘can you help me understand _______?


Then listen.  Really listen.


And keep breathing.


How does conflict make you feel?

I invite you to send me three words that describe how you feel about conflict.  Simply click on this link to submit your three words.  Feel free to share the link if you’ like.  I’ll turn the responses into a spiffy piece of art in an upcoming post.  (And don’t worry, it’s all anonymous.)




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6 Responses to “Understanding differences – 5 simple words that can lead to conflict resolution”

  1. Regina Says:
    March 2nd, 2017 at 5:09 pm

    Good one! We train young refugees on conflict and I can attest that these approaches work!!

  2. Paula Marie Skalnek Says:
    March 2nd, 2017 at 6:48 pm

    Polarized, tense, pressure- cooker

  3. Lee-Anne Ragan Says:
    March 7th, 2017 at 5:07 pm

    Thanks for commenting Paula. I’m looking forward to showing you & other readers what I’ll do with your words.

  4. Lee-Anne Ragan Says:
    March 7th, 2017 at 5:08 pm

    Would love to hear more Regina. What’s one or two things you focus on in your training young refugees in conflict? Or what have you learned from them?

  5. Conflict resolution scripts designed to reduce overwhelm & amp up your ease | Rock.Paper.Scissors.Blog Says:
    March 8th, 2017 at 5:01 pm

    […] more help with conflict resolution?  Check out last week’s post for 5 simple words that can help decrease what a friend calls &#821…– that sick feeling you get in your stomach when you’re facing a conflict & […]

  6. Rabble-rouser or runner? How you feel about conflict affects how you resolve it. | Rock.Paper.Scissors.Blog Says:
    May 24th, 2017 at 5:02 pm

    […] written about conflict in several recent posts including the one Jana’s referring to: ‘Understanding differences – 5 simple words that can lead to conflict resolution’ & ‘A 2 part statement to help you resolve conflict (yep, it can be that easy). Check them […]

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