Use Discernment (If, When, and How) in Conflict Negotiation
Discern (Verb): to detect with senses other than vision (Merriam-Webster dictionary).
What would the aligned, conscious, and intelligent part of you do? That’s a good question to ask yourself to discern how to act. It’s a practice of using your awareness, senses, and intuition so you can respond appropriately.
Discernment is like an inner nudge.
Only you know what yours feels like. It may be a voice in your head or a warm tingle in your body. It may be a feeling of expansion and excitement. Or it may be a feeling of constriction and hesitation. It’s important to learn and listen to how your body communicates discernment with you.
You have to slow down to acknowledge your unsettling thoughts and feelings in order to create the space to listen, observe, and take note.
My goal with this blog post is to show how to discern your timing, delivery, and approach to tense conversations. After all, you could have been given the solution from God himself, but if you don’t consider your timing and delivery, that solution can lead you digging a deeper hole and pleading for ten more solutions.
But don’t worry—I’ll provide you with the tips that will help you feel more equipped to navigate conflict with as much ease as possible.
Use Active Listening to Hear What’s Not Being Said—So You Can Identify Underlying Issues
Active listening is an important part of effective communication (even though it does not involve speaking).
Have you ever been in a conversation and, while the other person is talking, you’re already thinking about what you want to say back? Me too. It’s a very human thing to do.
When you tune in and out, itching to share your perspective, it may cause you to miss important details and/or a message you need to hear in that moment. It’s can also come off as disrespectful, whether you’re conscious of it happening or not.
Recognizing this habit is an opportunity to practice patience and presence during conversation. When you actively listen, you appear to be a more genuine and trustworthy person. Not to mention, it will help you be more attentive and engaged in the conversation. All of these things help nurture healthy relationships.
How To Actively Listen
Some tangible ways you can practice active listening is by making eye contact, repeating back what you hear in your own words, asking questions, and slowing down your breathing so you don’t appear to be in a rush.
When I was studying to get certified as an Integrative Life Coach, I learned 3 useful listening techniques that helped me become a better listener. Listen To, For, and With.
Listen To: Their words and what they’re saying
Listen For: What is not being said and the underlying meaning (ask layered questions and observe body language)
Listen With: Your whole self – intuition, emotions, and your body’s reaction
When I was studying for my certification, the teacher suggested we don’t actively practice all three listening types right off the bat. Instead, she had us break it up into weeks.
For example, the first week, I focused on Listening To by being fully present to what the other person is saying. The second week, I practiced Listening For to hear if the other person was insinuating something not being said. The third week, I practiced Listening With. This week was all about tapping into my senses. I observed if I had any strong internal reactions, like a feeling of excitement or a feeling of constriction. On the fourth week, I practiced all three while in conversation.
Learning this technique has helped me identify underlying issues and reduce misunderstandings to promote problem-solving.
Why It’s Important (and Potentially Life Saving) to Listen To, For, and With
I want to share a story of why it’s important to listen to, for, and with. In this case, it may have saved my life.
I was on a trip with a close friend in Phoenix, Arizona. Before our flight, we planned lunch with a woman she knew. In fact, she had serendipitously met this woman at a café last time she was in Arizona.
When our Uber pulled into the parking lot, the woman was with two men who were about twice our age. They urged for us to put our luggage in their car so they could drive us to the airport after lunch. We politely declined, as we didn’t know them that well and were just there to enjoy some time together.
Listening Beyond Words
During lunch, the men were quiet, barely saying a word. It was abnormally weird. About midway through our meal, the conversation took a turn. I was listening intently to what the woman was saying and noticed it wasn’t a “casual” conversation you have with someone you just recently met (Listen To).
Then, I listened for underlying meanings. Her widened eyes and furrowed brows insinuated danger while speaking (Listen For).
I then paid attention to the physical sensations in my body (Listen With). There wasaa cold, stiff feeling in my chest. I lost my appetite. And, I noticed my voice deepened to a more serious tone during the conversation.
I looked at my friend and noticed she seemed frazzled. She was chattier than usual and kept checking her phone. We gave each other a “look,” cut lunch short, got an Uber, and headed to the airport early. Thankfully, we were such good friends that we had that type of connection.
Looking back, the signs were similar to what you might hear in human trafficking situation. Although this is a bit of an extreme example to the context of navigating conflict, the point is to depict how valuable it is to learn and listen with your body’s senses and intuition.
Listening to, for, and with is a practical way of learning how to notice subtle, underlying issues when it comes to conflict, or worse, an unsafe situation.
Discern If a Confrontation Is Necessary to Move Forward
Not every disagreement needs a formal confrontation, especially if it’s with someone who isn’t receptive to having an emotionally mature conversation.
I’m typically someone who’s easy to work with, likable, and considerate of others, especially in the workplace. It was a Thursday morning, and I was going about my normal workday when a coworker (whom I didn’t speak with often) called me.
I answered the phone, pleasantly surprised to get a call from her. Immediately, I heard, “I don’t have much time to talk right now, but I wanted to call because I am so angry with you!” I was confused and taken back. Without a chance to respond, she continued caustically elaborating on what I did to upset her.
I listened attentively, concerned that I had unintentionally upset someone. After about five minutes of her spewing like a fire hydrant, I thanked her for coming to me directly and being honest about how she felt. I then followed up with a genuine apology for upsetting her, assuring her it was not a personal attack. After that, I offered a solution for my lack of consideration to help make amends.
Choosing Reflection Over Reaction
After responding in a calm manner, acknowledging her upset, taking responsibility, and offering a solution, she hung up on me.
Standing there in shock, the first thing I did was take a deep breath. I know I can’t control how others react, but it is my responsibility to control how I do. I also reminded myself to not take it personally. Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t feel good to be treated like that, but I was pleased with how I responded to the unexpected caustic confrontation.
I thought about writing her an email or picking up the phone a few days later to share how inappropriate her delivery felt. But after some time and space to reflect on it, I decided to let it be. I felt I handled the situation appropriately in the moment and leave it at that.
In this example, I used my discernment to decide if I needed to further address the tension. When I weighed my options, expending more energy on the situation days later didn’t feel necessary. It probably wouldn’t change her behavior or perspective, either. And who am I to try to control that? At the end of the day, I am responsible for my emotional response, and others are responsible for theirs.
It’s not my responsibility to take on the strong emotions of others, be the peacemaker, or play the role of HR in my workplace. Sometimes, rather than continue addressing a conversation in hopes of a desired outcome, what we actually need is to learn from the experience and move forward.
Consider an Appropriate Time to Have the Conversation Out of Respect for Those Involved
Timing is a critical factor to consider when confronting a conversation with someone. This reminds me of when I moved in with my significant other. It brought up new conversations, disagreements, as well as many learning opportunities with each other.
Poor Timing Can Dig a Deeper Hole than You Started With
At the time of us moving in together, his schedule and commitments were at an all-time high. He was working in person full-time Monday through Friday, plus going to school 6 hours/week while studying for his MBA. It was about 9:45PM when he walked in the door after a 12-hour day. Something was bothering me, and without much forethought, I brought it up moments after he walked in the door.
Of course, it stirred up an argument. I saw the exhaustion in his eyes as he got defensive and attempted to rebuttal with the little energy he had left to give. The conversation got to a point where we were just talking at each other and not actually listening to what the other was saying.
After some back and forth, he acknowledged how I felt. He then shared how it felt to experience that immediately after walking in the door after a long day. I put myself in his shoes and saw where he was coming from. This experience taught me to consider the timing of confrontation for all involved, not just what is convenient for me.
Considering the timing of your delivery can help you assess how receptive the other person may be. This also influences how effective your conversation might be. With good timing, it could be an amicable, 20-minute chat. With poor timing, you can dig a deeper hole than you started with, causing more stress, tension, and making the problem worse.
Considering the Timing of When You Address Conflict is a Sign of Respect and Emotional Maturity
My parents created a beautiful tradition of “family dinner” every Sunday evening where, as a family, we “break bread” and enjoy quality time together.
But on one Sunday, there was an unfortunate exchange of words between me and another family member.
This person’s words were especially hurtful because they reacted off emotion and (unknowingly) touched an insecurity I had struggled with for many years in the past. *Cue the reminder to not take things personally.* However, what was said was out of line and disrespectful. When I started to express how this person’s comment made me feel, they stopped responding and walked away.
I knew it was probably best for me to lay the situation to rest, too, before I reacted from the emotional intensity I felt boiling within. However, it was impactful enough for me to want to address the situation before I headed back home.
The Art of Timing: Navigating Conflict with Grace and Wisdom
I decided to leave soon after dinner ended. Everyone else was on their way out, but hadn’t left quite yet. Since everyone was still around, I thought to myself, perhaps now isn’t the time. It would be inappropriate for me to bring it up in front of everyone just because I wanted to address it before I left.
As I was about to back out of the driveway, this family member came outside and peeked down at my window. As I rolled it down, we exchanged brief small talk that had obvious tension lingering. After some exchange, I noticed a brief (but appropriate) opportunity to address the earlier hurtful comment since we had some privacy. I tried to keep it casual and amicable by starting my feedback by acknowledging something positive in them that was related to the situation. Then, I followed it up by sharing that their words felt hurtful.
Although the conversation didn’t go as amicably as I had hoped, the point of this story is when you consider an appropriate time to have an uncomfortable conversation, it shows emotional awareness. It also helps you work toward a better dynamic and expectation for the relationship long-term.
Before diving nose first into a serious conversation, discern and determine when would be a right time to address things for all involved parties.
Create a Relaxed Setting to Ease Tension and Foster Open Communication
When your workspace is cluttered, it creates a cluttered mind, making it challenging to focus and be productive.
The same goes for the environment and setting you decide to initiate a serious conversation in. It “sets the mood,” if you will. I’m not telling you to light candles and diffuse essential oils (unless that’s your thing). Rather, I’m suggesting you kindly consider closing the office door for privacy when addressing a problem with team members.
As a culture and society, it seems we have a negative connotation with voicing our concerns to other people. (This is a generational problem). We worry about what others might think of us and/or fear how they might respond, fearing a negative outcome. If you’ve ever avoided or resisted confronting someone, you likely fear the discomfort it will bring.
But sometimes, it’s actually healthy to lean into things that feel uncomfortable. You have to break through the fear and “bear the fruit.” The more you question the belief that communicating has to be hard and uncomfortable, the more you can decide, instead, that it’s actually empowering and fruitful.
Crafting the Stage for Constructive Dialogue: Physical and Emotional Preparation
“Setting the mood” or “tone” before you dive into a confronting conversation can be done two ways.
One way is by using the physical environment (like closing the door for privacy or deciding to take a walk outside together).
The other way is to set the mood emotionally, in order to encourage open dialogue. For example, you might ask for the other person’s opinion and feedback. Another example is you might share why you want to talk about the subject (this will also provide helpful context and potentially reduce an emotionally charged reaction).
When you are mindful of your setting while initiating a difficult conversation, it can ease the tension (for both of you) and foster effective communication.
The Setting of Your Environment Affects Your Ability to Focus and Engage Authentically
Exploring a new city excites me, but doing so on a first date gave me massive anxiety.
I was living in Florida when I met this guy from Georgia through a mutual friend. We had met up a couple times in Florida when he had work there, but I was still really getting to know him. A few weeks later when I was in Georgia visiting family, he invited me to come to Atlanta for dinner, which was about an hour south of where my family lived.
It was my first time in years actually driving into the city. Normally, it would just be a quick pass through on my way back to Florida. So, there I was in 5:00pm rush hour traffic. Horns blaring and moving four feet per minute.
After an hour drive that turned into two, I finally arrived. A little frazzled and discombobulated, I was relieved to see him, yet still feeling the fluttery nerves of not totally knowing this dude. Not to mention the unpleasant drive in.
Finding Comfort and Focus Amidst the Unfamiliar
We walked to dinner, which was about a mile from his apartment. Atlanta’s city neighborhoods were a culture shock compared to the generally safe suburb my home was in Florida. The walk to dinner seemed about as chaotic as my drive in, but this time, not protected by the comfort of my car. I clenched my purse tight to my body with crossed arms as we passed through busy roads, graffitied tunnels, and loud hollering nonsense of strangers passing by.
I felt so ungrounded in the unfamiliar environment that by the time we arrived at the dinner spot, I didn’t have much of an appetite. It also felt hard to be present in the moment and focus on having a quality conversation.
The same can happen when we’re confronting or confronted with a difficult conversation in an environment that doesn’t feel private or safe (emotionally or physically). It may distract from the focus, and thus, make it difficult to have an open conversation that leads to a positive outcome.
Whether you’re leading or receiving confrontation, consider how you feel in the environment.
If you’re the one initiating it, consider a setting that allows for privacy and safety. Perhaps that’s an office with four walls, a serene walk outside, or a familiar coffee shop with a private area to hear and share clearly. If you’re the one on the receiving end, remember that you have the autonomy to pause the conversation and ask to discuss in an environment that feels more appropriate. If so, be willing to make suggestions.
How To Handle Conflict Virtually
If even a portion of your team works remotely, it’s still just as important to address conflict in the virtual world. Here are a few options to help you create a setting that feels best for all involved.
Some prefer using video, like FaceTime or Zoom. This can help you see subtle, non-verbal cues, like facial expression and posture.
Some prefer a phone call, at least to start. Video is distracting for some and can take away from their focus on the conversation.
Email, Text, or Write a Letter
Some say to avoid addressing important things in email or text altogether because words can get misconstrued and leave room for assumption. I agree, that can happen. However, I don’t agree that it’s a poor way of addressing conflict. It’s dependent on the situation and those involved. In some circumstances, writing something to someone can be the more effective approach. I see this as the best alternative if the person you’re confronting is highly reactive.
Let me give you an example. When I was a Life Coach, I had a client whose husband was conflict avoidant. She was much more assertive and tended to come in headstrong when something bothered her, which would cause him to want to avoid the conversation even more.
With two kids, little alone time, and attempting to work on their marriage, I suggested she try to confront a problem by writing or typing to him.
This encouraged her to slow down enough to put thoughts to paper, thus being more aware of the intensity of her words. It provided him the space to digest and process what she was sharing and how he wanted to respond, without feeling the pressure to do so in the heat of the moment. It was an effective starting point to work toward improving their face-to-face communication.
If you’re going to use email, a letter, or text to confront a problem, be intentional in what you say and how you say it. The purpose of writing something out is to honor how you feel, respect and consider the other person’s feelings, and control your emotions to prevent a harmful reaction.
Influence a Peaceful Solution by Leading from a Kind-Hearted Place
“Lead with love” as I say. Which really just means to lead from a kind-hearted place.
I believe that at our core, stripped away from conditioned lens and beliefs, we are all made of love. It’s the fear, insecurity, judgment, and wounding that clouds us from leading with an open heart and sound mind. When our hearts are constricted with intense emotions and our minds are cluttered with harmful thoughts, we say, believe, and do things we don’t mean. This reactive state causes conflict with people we actually want peace with.
As you pause, reflect, and take responsibility for the freedom of your life, you can peel back the layers of your fears, insecurities, and judgments (we all have them). This conscious process of pausing to respond instead of react (when you feel heated emotions) will naturally help redirect you to respond from a place of integrity and compassion (emotional maturity).
Leading with an open-heart, like such, will lead you to more peace, resolution, and growth in your relationships.
Embracing Calmness in Conflict: The Path to Mutual Understanding
There’s a huge difference in how disagreements resolve in my relationship when I respond with a calm, centered attitude rather than when I let my intense emotions get the best of me.
When I am curious instead of assuming, solutions present themselves more easily. I notice my calm response naturally encourages my boyfriend to calmly respond. This helps us work through problems with more ease and waste less time arguing. When I jump to conclusions or fight to prove my point, it triggers his urge to react similarly. The problem then draws out for hours or even days until one of us initiates an amicable conversation and we find common ground again.
In conflict, you can choose the path of least resistance (as contradictory as that sounds). Yes, even if the conflict involves a whole other person whose response and emotions you cannot control. Peace is a choice. It’s an internal practice that creates strength and resilience within. That way, you are equipped to stay grounded despite chaos or conflict that is happening around you.
“I’d rather be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war.”
My old neighbor shared this Chinese proverb with me when talking about how he aspires to raise his son.
In our society, we’ve grown to avoid difficult conversations because we don’t feel equipped to have them. My goal is to equip you with self-reflection prompts, communication skills, and emotional regulation tools to become the warrior in the garden. It is the ultimate strength, (both individually and in your relationships), to be so emotionally regulated that you move through life from the inside out (instead of the other way around).
Leading with love will encourage a peaceful solution much quicker.
We all define love differently. Maybe “love” (in the context towards others) means being kind, compassionate, or empathetic. Maybe it’s complimenting the other person on a strength or admiration. Or maybe it’s as simple as starting with “I appreciate your efforts” or thanking them for something positive they did.
Leading with love can instantly break down defensive barriers in the face of conflict.
It’s like that first sip of cold water after working in the yard on a hot, summer day. So often we want to bite and attack like a provoked dog when someone angers or offends us. Really, that reaction is just a protection mechanism. I’ve done it plenty of times and all plenty of times, it just stirred up more emotional turmoil.
Leading with love helps you respond to conflict with a calmer tone instead of a sharp attack.
This lays the foundation for a more effective conversation to follow (even if it takes some back and forth at first). Trust the process. Worst case scenario, the conversation doesn’t go as hoped for. But, you still walk away with peace in your heart, knowing you led with emotional maturity and the integrity of your truth.
The Goal is Peace and Progress
If you’re initiating a conversation around a conflict or disagreement, kudos. It takes courage.
The first step in discerning conflict negotiation is to actively listen to the other person to help identify underlying issues and reduce misunderstandings. Then, discern if a confrontation is necessary for you to move forward. If you decide to have a conversation, consider an appropriate time to have it out of respect for all involved. It will also be helpful to have the conversation in a relaxed environment to ease tension and foster open communication. Finally, lead the conversation from a kind heart and truth to influence a peaceful resolution.