Courage and Conflict: Why You Need To Be Brave To Resolve Conflict

Without courage, you won’t do anything of value. Think back to your accomplishments. You put time and effort into achieving a goal that improved your life in some way. You may have  passed an exam, completed a piece of art work, got that new job or raised a family. It could have even been finally leaving that deadbeat job or that relationship that wasn’t working out.

You probably faced self-doubt, anxiety or discomfort as you agonised about whether you were going to fail or whether you were making the right decision. These emotions are magnified when that goal is really important to us.

Maya Angelou said it best in the clip below. Courage is the most important of all of our virtues because it drives you towards the others, no matter how difficult it is to embody them.

Forgiveness and Courage

Being able to move on from a conflict and the pain it has caused you, is a decision that you make to forgive yourself and the other person. Imagine how much courage it takes to ask for forgiveness, to face your emotions or to make the first move to resolve conflict.

It takes courage because conflict can define us. We start to believe that we are victims and the other person is the oppressor. We dehumanise the other person by saying that they are evil, mad, nasty or whatever else we can think of to justify how we behave towards them.

In group conflicts, we can find belonging in those mutual emotions towards the common enemy. It may even define us culturally if the conflict is historical. When you let go of conflict, what you may believe you are saying is, “I condone what you did.” Those who are part of the group conflict may interpret your forgiveness in this way and may turn against you. Maybe you find it hard to imagine who you will be without the anger you feel.

What you are really saying is, “I am done with feeling angry (or any other emotions) and I want to move on.” It’s not about condoning behaviour, becoming friends again if you don’t want to or even having any kind of relationship. It’s about relieving yourself of those emotions that hold you back from living life fully.

Don’t underestimate how much courage that takes and if you have forgiven somebody in the past, recognise that this took guts.

In essence, you’re going against the grain which is uncomfortable. The conflict may have torn you apart emotionally and it may involve somebody that you love, either as an aggressor or as a victim. In reality, you are choosing how you wish to respond to that conflict. And you do have a choice. You can continue to be exhausted and damaged by your own anger or you can choose to move on.

Facing Your Feelings

Anger can often be accompanied with shame, sadness, inadequacy or grief. As you delve deeper into the emotional impact of conflict, it takes a lot of courage to understand what is really triggering difficult emotions. You might be angry at your ex-partner for leaving you but is that anger linked to feeling abandoned by somebody you loved when you were a child?

Conflict also forces us to confront our self-esteem and it could shed light on our usual patterns of response and interaction with others. Real transformation takes place when you have the courage to be honest with yourself and realise that a different response is possible and sometimes necessary.

Let me tell you how long it took to face my own issues about male /female relationships. Years. I hid behind anger, I adopted a pretty blind and protective way of relating to men in every context and I dulled my own capacity to thrive because it was easier to carry on repeating previous patterns of emotional withdrawal. Mostly I wasn’t aware of my issues. I just couldn’t understand why I was being ignored by men at work or treated badly in my love life. It wasn’t until the death of my father that things came to a head. I explored my issues, inside and out, what they looked like, how they played out, what they made me feel like and how I saw the world in consequence. I recognise that every day, I have to be aware of my prejudices and choose not to slip back into those comfortable behavioural traps.

Observing how you react to conflict, especially with certain people, can help you understand yourself better. And it takes time, patience and valour.

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Having the Courage to Make The Move

You also need to find courage to make the first move in resolving the conflict. I am always inspired by stories of reconciliation. Imagine the bravery of the victims of the South African Apartheid who came face to face with the murderers of their loved ones and listened as they described what they had done to them and where they were buried. It must have been devastating to hear about such graphic cruelty. It’s also courageous to admit to wrong-doing, as the perpetrators of those crimes did (although it helped that they were given criminal immunity).

One of the most courageous acts is to give and to receive graciously, an apology. Whilst you might not feel ready to do this, it will still take effort to put the feelers out there and see if the other person is willing to seek a mutually beneficial resolution to your conflict.

As usual, I’d love to read your comments so feel free to leave one !

Four Strategies To Help You Deal With Difficult Emotions During Conflict

As I settled down to meditate in a class recently, the teacher soothingly gave us some words of advice. His voice was low and smooth, almost a caress as he said reassuringly, “meditation is easy. You just observe the breath and think of nothing.” I know very well, that that is not true.

It sounds easy when you put it like that, but seven years of meditating has taught me that that statement in practice, couldn’t be further from the truth. Often, as soon as I sit down to meditate, I start planning my future, hypothesising about what to do in certain situations that haven’t occurred yet and sometimes, just falling asleep.

I can’t stop my tendencies to drift off into planning mode when I’m supposed to be clearing my mind of all thoughts. I’ve learnt to accept it and intend, at least, to recognise when I’m doing it so that I can go back to concentrating on my breathing and relaxing a little more.

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It’s the same with our difficult emotions. In my last blog post, I wrote about anger and why you might be feeling this, especially during conflict. If you can recognise your own deeply rooted emotions about conflict, you might be able to conceive of the possibility that your opponent is finding it as emotionally difficult as you and that’s why they are angry too. Using empathy to resolve conflict is powerful because it connects us as human beings. It allows you to understand the other person’s point of view and it helps you to express, assertively, what it is you feel. Taking this approach may also help you to come up with solutions that serve both of your interests and needs which is the only way to discharge the emotional charge that conflict has over us.

I’ll never say that this is easy. It’s not. Like meditation, it takes time, patience, intention and practice to recognise your own emotions and to take a step back from them. This is a valuable life skill because it allows you to assess, objectively,  the best way to deal with a conflict. I can’t stress how important that is when children are affected by the anger you feel towards your ex-partner, when you are dealing with disputes in the workplace or you are tied into a conflict that could damage your interests in some way.

Feeling vs. Repressing

Dealing with difficult emotions requires (1) becoming aware of them; (2) acknowledging them; (3) feeling them in full. You may be reading this and wondering how you feel emotions in full. It’s usually physically pleasurable when those feelings are positive. When I think of my close family and how much I love them, I feel taller, more open, my chest feels more expansive and my heartbeat reverberates in a relaxed, rhythmic tingle. It’s easy to feel satisfied and content when I dwell in that love.

It’s much more difficult to feel negative emotions. When I feel anxious, I want to shut it down as quickly as possible. My posture closes down and my shoulders hunch, I feel an uncomfortable, constricting pull in my stomach which stops me from eating. You might be talking to me but I can’t focus on you, my mind begins to race about all the things that can go wrong. Knowing how this feels physically and not necessarily giving it a label, is something that you can work with to allow the anxiety to die down. What helps me is knowing what to do when I feel that way. I go the gym, go for a run, dance or do some Pilates. This is, at least, my personal way of dealing with anxiety.

Instead of feeling those uncomfortable emotions, we might repress them with alcohol, drugs, sex, work or any other destructive behaviour. Anger is another way that we shield ourselves from those difficult emotions.

The sad thing about repressing your negative emotions is that you unintentionally stifle your positive emotions. You dull your capacity to feel anything and that leaves you living a life in black and white, instead of vibrant colour.

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Five Strategies To Help You During Conflict

Take a Step Back and Get Some Distance

You have every right to disengage from the conflict if it is becoming destructive, abusive or it is harming your mental health. There is nothing wrong with this! This could include blocking somebody on social media, blocking them from calling you, avoiding where they may be, or cutting off contact with that person and their friends.  This is particularly relevant if you are dealing with a narcissist or a bully. Taking a deep breath, leaving a room to regain your composure and waiting an hour before responding to a curt email or text, are all practical ways you can get some distance.

Use That Distance Wisely!

Whilst taking time out from the conflict, use it to calm down. Take some deep breaths and allow yourself to recognise what it is you feel. Writing down how you feel is helpful, doing some physical exercise and feeling the sensations of those emotions will help you let off steam. When you feel ready, you can re-engage more constructively.

Give Yourself Some Love

This isn’t just about pampering yourself. Instead, it’s about recognising your needs and interests and understanding how you can satisfy them. This is also about realising that your needs and emotions are just as important as everyone else’s. When you can acknowledge this, you can ask yourself what you want from this conflict and how you can turn it around to come up with mutually beneficial solutions. Asking the right questions might help as well as communicating assertively as opposed to non-assertively or aggressively.

Emotions Aren’t Good Or Bad

Although I might refer to negative or positive emotions, what that really means is that some feel pleasant and some feel unpleasant. We might feel ashamed or guilty to feel emotions such as anger because we see them as “bad” or we might believe that the emotions we feel are wrong in a particular context; feeling happy or relieved when somebody dies or excited when a friend fails at something. Those labels really make no sense. We feel what we feel and that’s really all there is to it! We don’t really have much control over which emotions arise, they may even surprise us, which is why it’s more helpful to just accept them.

Don’t Judge How You Feel

This is all, just a reflection of how we attach judgments to our emotions which can damage our self-esteem and lead us to repress what we feel. Emotions are just energy that comes and goes, gathers strength and fizzles out. Accepting what you feel, without judgement, is a good way to allow them to just be there without trying to get rid of them or push them away.

It’s so important not to get carried away with conflict to the point of no return. Conflict becomes destructive when you allow your anger to take control of you and to consume any chance of resuming potentially healthy relationships. If that doesn’t make sense to you, think about the people who are affected by your conflict. Your anger might drive you to seek revenge instead of forgiveness, it could veer you towards costly and stressful legal proceedings and most importantly of all, it could damage your mental health and impact negatively on your ability to connect with friends and family.

As always, I’d love to know if you have any tips of your own or comments to share !

Anger and Conflict: How Understanding Your Anger Can Help Resolve Conflict

It should not come as a shock to learn that you are most likely to fight with somebody when you feel angry with them. You’ve probably been there a hundred times. I know I have.

We feel angry when we feel ignored, mistreated, disrespected or hurt and those are only a few of the emotions that can enrage us. I often feel angry when I feel vulnerable or anxious and I had no idea why that was until I started to take notice of my tendency to snap at people when I was worried about catching a flight or a train. A large part of my grief was anger until I accepted my vulnerability and allowed it to breathe.

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Studies suggest that anger is rarely the “primary” emotion that you feel. It is usually a cover for more difficult emotions that we find even harder to express or we may not be aware of.

Some of us were born into families who do not talk about their emotions or see it as weakness. Your parents may have had the attitude that talking about how you feel won’t help the situation. You may have been raised knowing that expressing vulnerability would be mocked, ignored or it would anger your parents. It could have even been physically dangerous to do so.

This blog post is about helping you to understand your anger before it leads to destructive conflict. In doing so, you may even catch a glimpse of the other person’s core pain and realise that that is why they are responding angrily too. Seeing the other person as someone who suffers just as you do is a crucial start in any conflict resolution process.

Anger in Conflict

Disagreements, disrespectful treatment, betrayal and hurtful behaviour can make us feel sad, wounded, rejected and even bereft, especially if the relationship with the person you are in conflict with was intimate. Instead of telling the other person constructively how we feel, we try and dominate the other person in an attempt to overcome our sense of powerlessness and we try to reassure ourselves that our self-esteem is still intact. If we can belittle the person who did this to us, we can feel better about ourselves and anger helps us to ignore those more painful, confusing emotions that we may not have the tools to feel yet.

Our emotions need to be felt. They need space to breathe, to be let out of the cage and expressed. Emotions are just energy which gather strength and burn out. Anger becomes dangerous and destructive when it affects our ability to judge what would be an appropriate response and instead we choose to react to conflict with verbal or physical violence.

That’s exactly how it exacerbates conflict. In essence, you fail to recognise and accept the rainbow of your emotions and instead, express them as anger. You also choose to protect your self-esteem and take shelter in righteous indignation by directing the anger at the other person usually by dehumanising them in some way. We often do this with blame, which shifts our attention away from our own accountability and feelings and we can also start to think of them as inferior. The key here is that you are protecting yourself from your own emotions by creating a shield of anger.

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Anger and Relationships

Anger can also act as a control mechanism to stop others from getting too close for comfort. The person afraid of intimacy and expressing vulnerability may react to their friend or partner in anger for no apparent reason after a moment of closeness. It’s a way of stopping ourselves from feeling overwhelmed by intimacy or feelings of love and connection.

Sadly, beneath this reaction is a belief of unworthiness. That the person reacting in anger is not worthy of healthy, intimate relationships with others, of whatever kind.

Anger and Conflict Resolution

Understanding the emotions beneath your anger and fully engaging with them will, with practice, stop you from resorting to rage as conflict strategy. This will dampen your need to turn a potentially constructive conflict into a destructive one. Exploring how your emotions feel, what colour they are, what temperature they make you feel, what they do to your breath, skin, muscles and heart, will open you up to the possibility of a different response.

It will also help you to understand the other person’s anger and why they may be responding in this way. If you want to calm down a conflict situation, a good place to start may be an apology and an assertive and empathetic admission of how you both feel.

I know, first hand, that this is not always easy. There have been times when I wanted to shut down what I feel with alcohol, food or other various negative ways of disconnecting from myself. But real strength, courage and self-knowledge comes from sitting with yourself and accepting pain, suffering and discomfort without trying to run away from it.

In my next blog post, I’ll be sharing tips on how to manage those painful emotions and what to do in a conflict situation when tricky emotions arise !

As always, I’d love to read your comments!

Should I Be Kind To People I Am In Conflict With?

It was a rainy afternoon and I was walking home after a long day of life admin which had left me with no tangible results. I was feeling frustrated and despondent about what to do next to establish my new life in my new city and country. Italian bureaucracy is complex, to put it politely.

As I turned a corner on a busy road, a man was walking towards me, staring at the pavement. One of us would have to move but I couldn’t work out whether he would or I would have to. As I moved to the right, he shouted, “get out the way!” I remained quiet and walked on, feeling a strange sting of rejection and anger.

I also felt irritated that I didn’t respond to him. I started to think about all of the smart, equally aggressive or downright rude ways I could have addressed his response but then I wondered what this would have achieved.

This blog post is inspired by a friend of mine who sent me the youtube clip above, asking whether you should love those who are not showing you any. I think I did the most loving and kind thing possible to myself and the man on the street. Sometimes, you have to protect yourself from verbal violence because this type of conflict is destructive. I wasn’t particularly thinking of him, but in hindsight, giving any kind of answer to him would probably have enraged him even more and who knows what had made him that angry in the first place.

We all have emotional baggage and we all misdirect it. This man probably had a bad day too but chose to express it unskilfully.

A common view of conflict is that you have to use the same approach as the other person in order to resolve it. If somebody is rude and aggressive, you respond in the same way. This is more likely to result in dominating the other person rather than resolving the conflict and the two are very different outcomes.

If you truly want to resolve a conflict by ensuring that both you and the other person are satisfied with a mutual agreement and that the conflict no longer makes you emotional, fighting fire with fire doesn’t always work.

Here are some tips to help you to respond differently and they are particularly useful when the person you are in conflict with is being rude, aggressive, unkind or abusive.

Think about yourself first. Your mental health, physical safety and emotional well-being should always be your primary concern. If you think confrontation may lead to violence or abuse, do not do it. Instead, get some distance and think about discussing your concerns with a trusted friend or somebody able to support you.

Ask yourself what you hope to achieve. I thought of the ways I could have responded to the man but really, all I wanted to do was assert my ego. I didn’t want to be seen as weak. On reflection, I know that being silent is sometimes an effective way to extinguish conflict before it even starts, especially when there is no benefit in responding.

Consider the possibility that you can respond with kindness. Even in the face of aggression, you can take a step back and choose not to reciprocate with anger which will only make matters worse. This is a skill that needs to be practised (currently, I’m practicing with Italian public administration employees) and it’s easier said than done. It is, however, very hard to stay angry at somebody who speaks politely, calmly and with respect. This might help the other person to soften their approach, especially if you tell them how it is making you feel. You will also feel much more empowered by your self-control. Remember, these are all characteristics of assertive communication and should not be mistaken for weakness.

Give yourself some empathy. The first step is being aware of your emotional responses, realising that your unskilful actions cause you and others to suffer and resolving instead to take a more friendly approach to other people. This starts with how you treat yourself and a real understanding of what you need and what you want. Having in place effective boundaries will help you on this path.

You can be kind to those who are not kind to you. That does not mean that you allow others to treat you badly. What it does mean is that you choose to treat others as you would like to be treated. That might involve taking into account that the other person might just be dealing with some challenging problems. In some scenarios, it could mean that you need to give them some space to calm down or it could require a bit more of an assertive way of confronting them. It all depends on context and adopting an intention not to cause harm.

As always, I’d love to read your view and comments!

3 Reasons You Aren’t Asking For What You Want

In this two- part blog post, I’ll be writing about the things that hold us back from asking for what we want. The second part will focus on ways to ask for what you want without it leading to conflict or ill-feeling. I’ve struggled with this and I’m sure that you have too.

It’s no surprise, we all find it difficult to ask for what we want. Even if you believe yourself to be confident, articulate and assertive, there may be areas in your life or people who, for some reason, throw psychological obstacles into your way. It’s probably not even their intention to do so. Instead, it could be about your own upbringing, your cultural practices or gender assumptions.

This post is inspired by a friend of mine. She’s a creative, accomplished and intelligent woman who was negotiating her way out of her employment contract. Although she had a pretty cast iron claim for unfair dismissal, she was hesitant to start negotiations with a settlement proposal that might “upset” her employer. It’s a story I have lived and heard several times over and certainly don’t want to repeat it or hear it again! She was brave enough to push past her discomfort and settled for much more than she believed possible. Not only did she come away with a generous settlement but a sense of personal achievement. What a great result!

I’m not advocating being impolite or disrespectful to your negotiating partner. You’re more likely to encourage cooperation from the other side if you communicate politely. What I hope to inspire in you, is a commitment to ask for what you want without being deterred by your feelings of shame around that. The first step in this process is to become aware of what is holding you back.

Why aren’t you asking for what you want?

  • You might fear your own vulnerability. Asking for what you want can be perceived as a sign of weakness. I don’t believe it is but for some people, the idea of needing somebody to help them or expressing that you are lacking something in your life, may symbolise an imperfection, a defect or a failure in some way.  This can feel shameful or embarrassing.
  • You don’t want to upset anyone. What you really mean by this is that asking for what you want will be perceived as being so outrageous that the other side will instantly disapprove of you. This will be uncomfortable or even painful, because being disapproved of is ultimately, a rejection of who you are. I used to feel this way because society, my culture and to a certain degree, my upbringing, taught me that nice girls don’t ask for what they want. Only bad girls, who are aggressive and therefore undesirable, do this. I was unconsciously taught that my value as a woman is linked to being satisfied with what I was given and not being too demanding of the men in my life. Imagine how that played out working in a male dominated industry!
  • You feel undeserving of receiving what you want. That’s a question of self-worth and it’s also entwined with the idea that nice/ good/ acceptable people don’t behave in this way.  You may not feel comfortable asking your partner for more intimacy because you automatically believe you will be rejected. This could be linked to a perception that you are undeserving of love. You may resist pushing for a promotion or applying for that job that you really want because you don’t think you are good enough. In other words, because of a conditioned belief that you are undeserving of acceptance, love and happiness, you don’t ask for it for fear of automatic rejection.
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Facing some of these reasons is extremely hard. They make you to dig deep and examine some painful realisations. It requires self-compassion and empathy towards your own emotions. You don’t have to do this. You can continue comfortably, as you are.

One thing is for sure, if you don’t start asking for what you want, you will carry on feeling unacknowledged and unappreciated. You can change jobs, partners or friends as many times as you want to avoid this but unless you change your inner beliefs and patterns, you will continue to make the same mistakes. This can impact mental well-being, self-esteem and ultimately, it could lead to conflict.

Everyone deserves to be happy and fulfilled and this is what every human being wants. We all want more connection with others and to have our needs met. This transcends cultures, genders, financial status and background. There is nothing more powerful than understanding who you are, why you behave as you do and what has unknowingly influenced the way you see yourself and others.

If you are still worried about communicating what you want, read my next blog post for tips, tricks and phrases to help you do exactly that.

As always, I’d love to read your thoughts and comments !

3 Reasons Why Calling An offer “Final” Could Undermine Any Negotiation

In negotiations, it’s often tempting to show strength by saying something early on, like “this is my final offer”. It’s supposed to emphasise that you won’t take any nonsense, you are fed up with the way things are going or that your position is so strong, you can afford to let the opportunity to settle go.

In a recent case I was handling, a trainee solicitor acting for the other side insisted that their first offer was final. It was an abysmally, insulting ‘offer’ which did nothing but insult us. We carried on with legal proceedings. Later on, following a short, unsuccessful mediation, another “final” offer was sent to me. It had barely improved from the last. A further two “final” offers were made. You probably get the point I’m making: if you say an offer is final, it roughly translates as “take it or leave it.”

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Here’s why you should resist using this term:

  • You will back yourself into a corner by calling an offer final. Instead of offering more opportunity to discuss potential settlement ideas, you are indicating that you will be making no further offers. Either your opponent accepts it or negotiations are terminated. Before taking this step, you need to consider what the alternative is to negotiation. If it’s litigation, then think about the costs, time, resources and stress of it. If it’s maintaining an unsatisfactory status quo, how will this benefit you? A key conflict consideration to always keep in mind is the benefit to you of taking certain actions, whether that’s walking away, ignoring or attempting to settle.
  • Labelling an offer “final” is intended to show strength but instead, it can make you look inexperienced and disrespectful.  Negotiators sometimes use this term at the outset to indicate that not only are they strong but that they will not take any nonsense. That’s problematic if I know that my opponent is negotiating because it’s not in their interests to litigate! In any case, skilful negotiators can always persuade their opponent to consider another offer by reframing it differently, using empathy or if you see that somebody is losing patience or feeling impatient, take a break.
  • Negotiation is a process. The exchange of offers to settle is really a way of communicating preferences. You should always be prepared with a range of values that you would be settle at and of course, when you will walk away. Usually, that’s when the benefits of doing so outweigh staying. If you receive a first offer which is below that range, remember that this is normal! It may look insulting (and sometime, it is intended as such!) but in general, your opponent will be checking to see what your reaction is to it. We never really know what is acceptable until we test it and sometimes, the results can be surprising. If you feel that the offers and counter-offers made are not taking you any closer to settlement, it’s a sign that something else needs to be communicated or that you need distance to re-think your strategy or the information that should be disclosed. Can you sweeten the deal with something? Have you identified correctly,  your opponent’s interests and are you really attempting to satisfy them? Clearly, if you still feel it is not getting you anywhere, why not tell your opponent this politely and respectfully? It could actually help you build trust!
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Negotiation isn’t always about complex deals which attempt to satisfy diverse interests and stakeholders. However, it is an interaction between people in a relationship with each other involving communication. That requires a certain level of trust to reassure each other that information may be handled sensitively and that you have faith in each other that you will act with integrity and honesty. The real danger of labeling an offer final is that you don’t really mean it. This undermines your image, it puts you in a weaker position and could damage trust. Think carefully before you do that!

As always, I’d love to know what you think about this!

Arguing Politely: How to Get the Best Out of Your Negotiation Partner

I watched a political debate recently and felt drained by the experience. Six educated, grownups were reduced to squabbling children over an issue that has polarised the nation.  They were speaking over each other, interrupting, arrogantly enforcing their view and asking questions that had been framed in a way to reveal the other as a stupid.

This post is about using politeness, respect and empathy as the cornerstone of your negotiation skills. It’s also a reminder that negotiation is a discourse between parties with different interests and positions, the aim of which is to come to a mutually agreeable solution. If you can’t treat the other side with respect, how can you expect to achieve anything of the sort?

This principle will help you negotiate multi-million-dollar deals and it will also help you resolve disputes with a neighbour, partner, friend or child. It forms the basis of our interactions but sadly, it gets easily lost in the heat of our emotions.

What is Politeness?

In a negotiation context, politeness has a few elements to it:

  • Greeting somebody with respect and introducing yourself courteously;
  • Using language which is appropriate to the setting e.g. saying thank you, please, using clean and professional language;
  • Using tact and carefully phrasing your agreement or disagreement in such way that the other does not feel offended;
  • Acknowledging the other person and allowing their opinions and views without interrupting them, undermining them or humiliating them;
  • Being humble and winning or losing gracefully;
  • Using empathy and respecting boundaries such as confidentiality;
  • Understanding and adopting body language which is non-threatening or aggressive.

Why is this important?

I often correspond with lawyers who are poorly trained in communication. They believe mistakenly, that dominating, aggressive language will make the other party yield. It usually doesn’t work. Any negotiator who attempts this looks immature, unprofessional and insulting. This lessens the chance of cooperation and can be disastrous if the other party walks away. Even dressing up an offer as “final” can appear arrogant if the timing of it is wrong (usually, a first offer!)

Politeness is good for your image, your reputation and it can pave the way to a future relationship. This is extremely important if you may need this person after the negotiation or you both work within the same industry. You never know when you might need a favour!

Polite negotiators also appear more professional and are more persuasive. In his brilliant book, The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini cites being “nice” as a highly effective tool in influencing somebody to do something. Salespeople employ this technique regularly. They might stop you in the street with a smile, a friendly greeting or a compliment. I certainly have been sucked in by a cheery salesperson and strangely, find it hard to say no, even knowing that this is a technique. I am sure you have too!

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If you are reading this, you probably know the basics of politeness. However, in conflictual situations, your emotions might take over. This is normal and natural but here are a few techniques to help you whilst negotiating.

  • Preparation is key. Know your arguments, anticipate responses and figure out what you will and won’t disclose to the other party.
  • What, in the negotiation or your arguments are your weak points? Think about this before and work out what you will say if the other party brings them up. Don’t be afraid to say something like, “I appreciate your curiosity but I don’t have that information available to me at the moment.”
  • Always remember the basics of politeness: no insults, no prejudice, no interruptions, please/ thank you and appropriately friendly body language. Try not to raise your voice or use aggressive, obnoxious or arrogant language. You should also be aware of your tone.
  • If you feel yourself getting angry or frustrated (or in any other way, emotionally overwhelmed), take a break. I am often aware of my opponent’s emotional reaction and if I see that it’s getting in the way of constructive communication, I’ll ask for a break or I’ll request to pause discussions so that we can summarise or take stock of the discussion so far.
  • Be assertive. That’s totally different to being aggressive and will ensure that you express your needs and interests constructively, without being walked over by the other side.
  • Mind your questions. The intention is to gain greater understanding and to try to grasp what is important to the other party in terms of a resolution. It’s not a cross-examination or a way of poking at the wounds of the other person.

You can never be sure what will happen during any argument, negotiation or mediation but you can think about how you will deal with difficult points. Being respectful about the other party’s view will ensure that you create the best conditions to negotiate in and you minimise conflict.

This doesn’t just apply to negotiation, it applies to the discussions you have with your partner, friends or relatives and hopefully, our politicians might learn something from this blog post too.

The Power of Non-Violent Protest and How It Topples Tyrants

Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament has provoked an unprecedented push back from politicians and the public. This move has been justified by Boris Johnson’s cabinet, as a normal political move that we see every year in the Autumn before the Queen’s speech. He has also justified it by saying that he wants to focus on funding the NHS and other domestic issues but has made no comment about its extraordinary length of time.

Parliament will be suspended for five weeks and will re-open on 14th October. This leaves very little time for MPs to debate how we leave the EU on 31st October.  Critics of this move have cited Dominic Raab’s comments in June, that suspending Parliament would be one way to leave the EU without an agreement. Boris Johnson had also refused to rule this out as an option.

It’s certainly convenient timing. Even during World War II, both Houses of Parliament continued to assemble in Church House despite Westminster having been bombed.

This blog post isn’t about the pros and cons of how we leave the EU. It’s about how we can oppose politicians that abuse our freedoms and rights. It’s about the real meaning of democracy, who really is in power and how we can exercise our freedom to object, without violence. Peaceful conflict in society often leads to change and this blog explains how.

One of my favourite Ted Talks!

What is Non-Violent Protest?

Gene Sharp’s theory of power and protest revolves around consent. Our political leaders are able to rule because we have consented through elections, for them to have this power. Consent is also expressed when we obey their laws.

Non-violent action is the withdrawal of our consent. It sends a clear message to our government that we will not obey those laws, practices or initiatives that threaten our rights.

It’s a simple concept and one which must take into consideration how conditioned we are to obey people in authority. We learn to respect and obey those in power as children and several experiments have demonstrated that even when we believe laws and orders are immoral, when given by somebody in authority, we usually obey them. This has nothing to do with our background or education.  Power and obedience are crucially linked.

Examples of Non-Violent Protest

There are countless examples of people disobeying laws in non-violent ways. Here are just a few of the most inspiring.

Rosa Parks, an African American civil rights activist, was arrested after she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger in Alabama during segregation. This sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott which lasted for 381 days. African Americans refused to use the buses and the boycott ended with a Supreme Court ruling outlawing segregated buses. Those who had coordinated the boycott, formed The Montgomery Improvement Association under the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr.

In Guatemala, a group of seven friends organised a protest in 2015 against President Otto Perez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti. In response to a UN report documenting political corruption and links to organised crimes, a protest was arranged on Facebook and drew support from tens of thousands of people across the country. The invitation to attend the protest was spread using the twitter hashtag #RenunciaYa. This non-violent protest led to the imprisonment of Baldetti and Molina and the fall of the government.

Estonia achieved independence from Soviet rule by uniting through nationalist singing. In 1988, a song festival led to open calls for independence. Gatherings of Estonians usually involved singing folk and nationalist songs, in defiance of a Soviet ban. Petitions were signed declaring the illegality of Soviet rule and the commitment to non-violence was strong enough to withstand violent provocation by Soviet troops.

Apartheid was dismantled using non-violent protest and civil disobedience. Although violence had featured in the early years of opposition, Nelson Mandela realised that this reinforced stereotypical ideas of the violent, savage African. More importantly, it could not win against the South African authorities. To oppose this and to win international support, they needed to gain the moral high ground. Non-violent protests, strikes and civil disobedience were often quashed by the might of the South African army and security forces. However, the international exposure of the brutal repression of non-violent protest led to economic sanctions and international disapproval of the regime, and eventually its downfall in 1993.

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Most recently, Boris’ Government spent £57,000 on boxes used to serve fried chicken, which were printed with anti-violent messages aimed at solving the problem of knife crime in London. Campaigners viewed this as a racist and class based attempt to wade into an issue that Boris had done little to understand. Organisations protesting this initiative, publicly displayed the boxes with positive stories of people who had left behind their violent lifestyles. Others delivered the boxes back to the Home Office with responses from Londoners and suggestions about how to resolve the problem. The Home Office has since invited organisers in for talks about possible solutions.

The Led By Donkeys campaign has been active in exposing contradictions by Brexit supporting campaigners and MPs. Their tactics include playing television clips of Conservative MPs in their own constituencies, contradicting themselves over Brexit and the prorogation of Parliament. They have also hired billboards in cities all over England, comparing the tweets of MPs, members of the Leave Campaign and ministers prior to and after the Brexit referendum.

These are only a few examples of success but there are countless others.

For it to succeed, non-violent protest must be structured, organised and focused. It needs to be strategic and employ tactics as if it were a war.  It doesn’t have to take the form of public marches (although, there is power in this). The great thing about it is that everyone can get involved in one way or another.

  If you are feeling powerless in the face of a suspended Parliament, here are a few things you can do:

  • Write to you local MP to tell them to oppose Boris’ suspension of Parliament under the guise of constitutionality (find out who your MP is here).
  • Write to the Conservative Party to encourage Tory MPs to oppose Brexit without a deal and prorogation.
  • Tweet your opposition.
  • Join a Facebook group to find out about local protests events.
  • Sign a petition to revoke the prorogation.
  • Start a blog, comment on this post to show your support and share ideas online about non-violent protest.
  • Get creative! Dance, sing, paint your protest!
  • Tweet me your ideas for non-violent protest @conflictexpert .

We are the power, not our politicians. They are there because we have elected them. Hopefully, these ideas will help you feel more empowered and able to express yourself peacefully and constructively.

If you have any other ideas, feel free to leave a comment!

How To Be Honest With Somebody Without It Leading to Conflict

Honest communication is a double- edged sword. On the one hand, it can clarify murky matters, encourage trust and provide more intimacy and credibility to any kind of relationship. On the other hand, it can really upset somebody if you tell them bluntly what you think about them or something they have done.

It’s hard to find the right balance between expressing yourself authentically and doing it in a way that doesn’t hurt the other person.

Honesty in the context of conflict resolution is about clarity. Conflict is worsened when we don’t understand the reasons for a certain behaviour. We tend to create our own perceptions of why somebody is not talking to us, why they didn’t fulfil our expectations and why we are not to blame for it. It also comes from a place of vulnerability which by default, requires honesty.

This blog explains how you can be more honest in your relationships so that you can avoid misunderstandings.

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Honesty in Conflict

When I talk about being honest in conflict, here is what I mean:

  • Telling somebody how you feel (in any context);
  • Letting somebody know what you want or don’t want;
  • Establishing boundaries and expressing which types of behaviour you find acceptable
  • Discussing your perceptions about a person’s behaviour;
  • Divulging information that might help you both find a solution to resolve your conflict.

If you are being honest with yourself in conflict, this can also take the form of your motivations. Asking yourself questions such as “what do I want to achieve from this?” will help you decide what action to take.  You should also take an honest look at your conflict considerations.

How to Lessen the Blow of Honesty

I used to find it hard to express my needs and emotions to men in senior positions. That made it hard to progress in my career or have genuinely intimate, romantic relationships. It’s difficult to be honest about these things when you have learnt that it can be dangerous or it’s not acceptable for a woman to express herself in this way. I always felt that I would be perceived as too demanding or aggressive. It made me feel angry that I had to suppress this part of myself and subordinate my needs below a man’s. That was based on my own, learned behaviours and perceptions.

To make this easier, I’ve learnt that honesty is best received when cushioned with empathy for yourself and others.

Empathy is what acknowledges that words can hurt, no matter what your intentions are in expressing them. We’ve all received feedback that hurts, despite the person intending to help you improve your performance. We’ve also all been rejected and so we all know how much it can sting, long after the event.

When delivering an honest message, I often cushion it with empathy and what helps is to imagine that I am sending it to somebody I care about (even if I don’t). You won’t ever be able to control their reaction to you but you can do your best to communicate it in a way that minimises the risk of conflict.

Underlying all of this is your intention. Using empathy to express yourself will never include insults, even thinly veiled. It will never allow you to disrespect, undermine, condescend or use arrogance. All it does is connect us as human beings, to our emotions. This is my most powerful conflict resolution tool.

A sincere apology is a great example of this.

Photo by malcolm garret on

Here are some phrases that might help you:

  1. Can I be honest with you about something?
  2. I feel hesitant to say this to you because I don’t want to hurt you;
  3. I am finding it hard to find the words to be honest with you about how I am feeling;
  4. It’s important for me to be honest with you about this and I don’t intend in any way to disrespect you. My intention is ….;
  5. I am being honest with you about this because I respect you and I don’t want you to misunderstand how much I value our relationship;
  6. I understand that you feel […] about what I just said. I really need you to know how I see things and I want to make sure we work out how best to resolve this.

When I give honest feedback, I don’t like to use positive examples of performance or silver linings unless I genuinely mean them. Some messages need to be delivered and that’s all there is to it. When we put an artificially positive spin on it, it’s a way of avoiding the discomfort of telling hard truths and it can be confusing.

Instead, a sincere attempt to communicate from a place of truth that clears the air, builds better relationships, and encourages openness will reduce the chances of conflict. To get to that place, you need to be comfortable with your own truth. That’s a whole different blog post (coming soon!)

As always, please feel free to comment !

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