Archive for the ‘ Conflict ’ Category

When to Escalate Conflict

As a nation of primarily conflict avoidant people, just the notion of escalating conflict can sound like a contradiction. And yet, there are times when escalating a conflict is exactly what you need to do.

But the conditions have to be right.

What do I mean? I mean that there has to be an intention…a purpose…or a reason for escalating a conflict, first and foremost. And the more favorable the reason—the more favorable the likely outcome.


If the ultimate desire in escalating a conflict is to improve or enhance your relationship with the conflicting party—and the unresolved or nagging issue between the two of you is impeding that from happening—then YES, the conditions are right for escalation. After all, how else will this issue get on the table? I may suggest, however, that you carefully frame the escalation by stating what your desired goal is before the actual escalation begins, if you catch my drift. It’s called framing the conversation or setting the context. This will prevent the other party from being overly defensive and feeling attacked.

What you don’t want to do is escalate a conflict under any of the following conditions:

·      You’ve had too much to drink

·      You’re angry and you want to vent

·      You are feeling victimized

·      You love a good debate and want to stir things up

There’s a lot at stake here. Successful relationships are built on trust, mutual understanding, respect, and most of all, love. A misused escalation could severely hamper those foundational characteristics and be quite difficult to rebuild.

Escalation, if done correctly, can help a team grow, develop, and mature as well.

I was a member of a four-person mastermind group a few years ago when I had a disagreement with Dan, one of the members, about a business opportunity he presented to me and then rescinded the next day. Frankly, the conflict didn’t involve the other two members of the team and didn’t need to involve them. However, both Dan I thought it would be a good idea to play out this conflict in front of the whole group.



Because, even though our mastermind group had been together for over two years, we never had a conflict in the group before. We barely had a disagreement. We thought of ourselves as a tight team but the truth was we were still in the forming stage. We had a lot of maturing still to go if we were going to become a high performing team. To do so, we needed to become efficient at working through group conflict, among other things.

So, with the intent of introducing conflict into our mastermind, we played out our argument in front of the other two members of the group. And this was a real argument, I might add, with differing opinions, emotions, and even conflict styles. But what was most surprising in this real-life experiment was not the conflict itself but the lack of engagement from the other two members of our group. Neither of them made a comment, a suggestion, or an intervention during the whole escapade. Not a word. They both simply watched from the sidelines, like spectators at a boxing match.


Failed experiment?

Had we not debriefed as a group about the group dynamics, both before, during, and after the conflict, it could have been a real missed opportunity. Fortunately, we used this conflict escalation as a means to having a very powerful conversation about our group’s level of engagement with each other and our commitment to becoming a high performing team. That led to some additional group expectations and a significant shift in our relationships with one-another.

What I’m saying here is that planned conflict escalation for the betterment of a relationship or group relationships can be an effective use of this conflict method. It is also easier to direct an escalation towards a desired goal when the intent of the escalation itself has been stated upfront. Thus, by following these simple guidelines above for escalation, you should have tremendous success.

One final point. Now that we’ve entered the season for holiday parties and festivities with friends and family, conflicts may be on the rise. Knowing this, you may want to pick and choose your battles carefully; and only escalate a conflict if the right conditions exist.

Now go and be Merry!

Greg “Geese” Giesen


When the student is ready…

When the student is ready, the teacher appears. We’ve all heard that one, right? I particularly resonate with it…probably because I have yet to master it.

Here’s what I know…

When I’m in student-mode:

  • I ask questions from a place of curiosity and understanding
  • I listen without judgment
  • I am open to outcomes
  • I feel unconditional love for others
  • I have no pre-conceived expectations
  • I take responsibility for my past and present decisions
  • I look for the lesson in life’s daily challenges
  • I have compassion for myself
  • I am willing to trust and take risks
  • I am present and in the moment
  • I experience life as a journey and not a destination
  • I am in a constant state of wonder and appreciation, and
  • I accept that I am the creator of my reality and my destiny

When I’m NOT in student-mode:

  • I ask questions from a place of judgment and opinion
  • I listen with a critical mind
  • I want things my way
  • I put conditions on my love
  • I feel victimized by my past
  • I blame others
  • I beat myself up for not being perfect
  • I trust no one
  • I calculate risk
  • I analyze life instead of experience it
  • I convince myself that life will be good when this happens or that happens
  • I’m focused on myself instead of others, and
  • I believe I don’t have control over what happens to me

Young Boy at School Raising His Hand to Answer in Class

In many ways, being in student-mode is like being a child again. It’s the purist thirst for understanding simply for understanding’s sake. When we are in student-mode, the world and our experiences become our teachers. In Zen we call it Beginner’s Mind…having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject. According to Saadat A. Khan, “Beginner’s mind embodies the highest emotional qualities such as enthusiasm, creativity, zeal, and optimism. With beginner’s mind, there is boundlessness, limitlessness, an infinite wealth.”

Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? And yet it can be so elusive.

A friend of mine stopped by my house the other day. As he walked in, he directed me over to the couch and then instructed me to turn the music off. “It was annoying,” he said. Although I jumped to attention and complied with his requests, I found myself getting triggered with his aggressiveness.


And that was just the beginning. My stomach tightened even more as he proceeded to take hostage of the next ten minutes with a barrage of random banter and harsh opinions, each one bouncing off the walls like a hailstorm with no end in sight.

I bit my tongue. I wanted to challenge him, debate him, and argue with him…but for all the wrong reasons. You see, had I been able to stay in student-mode, I would have known that he was acting as my teacher—providing a teachable moment. I would have known that the tightness in my stomach was not because of him but because of how I was reacting to him. I would have known that his behavior triggered my inability in that moment to be accepting of differing opinions and mannerisms.

But that’s what happens when we slip out of student-mode; we stop dancing with life and start reacting, judging, and resisting all opposing energies. We look outward instead of inward for answers.

“Yeah, but what if they started it,” you ask.

Doesn’t matter. It never was about them. If anything, we should thank all the people and situations that trigger us in our lives for shedding light on the work we still have yet to do. How else are we going to keep learning as students?

Teachers are to be honored, whether they show up through difficult people or challenging situations. I believe life is one big opportunity to continuously learn about ourselves. Embrace it and say thank you.

Thank you…Thank you…Thank you!


Soon to be Founder of the Zen Leadership Institute

“I trust you!”

It was day 3 of a weeklong outdoor experiential program and we were getting lessons on how to climb straight up a mountain using a belay system. We were a group of ten and each one of us was assigned a captain to oversee the belay crew for our individual climb up the face of the mountain and back down again. None of us had ever belayed before and we were all a little nervous.

“Before we begin, I want each of you to pair up with your assigned captains,” shouted Christian, our instructor.

“Now I want each pair to stand facing each other and I want you to look into each others eyes.”

Okay, this is awkward, I thought.

He continued. “Keep in mind that you are about to put your life in the hands of the person standing directly in front of you. Now I need each of to say out loud to the other, ‘I trust you!’ Only say it if you truly mean it!”

Preparing to Mountain Climb

Fortunately for me, I had a good experience the previous two days with my partner, Mike, and had no problem looking him in the eyes and sincerely saying, “I trust you.”

Christian and the two other instructors carefully watched and listened to each pair.

Before Mike could return the “I trust you” to me, we both watched as Christian escorted Kelly and Jonathan over to a spot in the grass where he had them sit down. “Neither of you are going anywhere until you can talk through whatever it is that is preventing you from trusting each other.”

Just then Jeff and David were pulled from the group and told to do the same.

“Oh my God, what’s going on?” I whispered to Mike.

“You didn’t hear their argument last night?” he said, referring to Kelly and Jonathan. “It got pretty heated.”

“What about Jeff and David?” I asked rather curiously.

“David doesn’t trust anyone. That,” as he pointed over at the two, “isn’t about Jeff, it’s about David. It wouldn’t matter who his partner is.”

Christian and the other two instructors joined the two dyads sitting on the grass to help facilitate their discussions. The rest of us patiently waited, grateful that we were the observers and not the participants.


Both Kelly/Jonathan and David/Jeff quickly worked through their trust issues with each other and we were all up and climbing within minutes. I should mention here that both pairs were highly motived to resolve their concerns and create the necessary trust to move forward with the climb. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

Do you initially trust others or do they have to earn your trust first?

How important is trust in your relationships?

What do you do to create trust with others?

What would it take for trust to be broken in a relationship with you?

In many ways, trust is at the foundation of my Leading From Within program. If the group doesn’t trust one-another, they won’t go as deep or be as vulnerable as they need to be. That’s why I spend so much time the first day of the program building a team atmosphere amongst the participants; I need to create trust and safety in the group.


Think about the people in your life that you could literally stand in front of, with direct eye contact, and say, “I trust you.”

Who are those people and why do you trust them? And who are the people you don’t trust and why? Is it worth it to sit down with those people and talk through the trust issue?

I’m a pretty trusting person outright. And yes, I’ve gotten burned a few times, but not enough to become distrustful.  The bigger issue for me is defining what a trusting relationship means and sharing that with people. After all, how else will they know?


“Then why in the hell aren’t you doing it!”

Conflict Management Rule 8: Empower the Third Side
From Geese’s Eight Simple Rules to Managing Conflict

Christian called the group together. “Gather up everybody. There’s one more thing to take care of before dinner.

We were all pretty exhausted after having just hiked for the better part of the day with 60-pound packs on. It was the fourth day of a ten-day Outward Bound trip in the Colorado Mountains and nobody was in the mood for another one of Christian team building activities.

“We’ve got a problem,” he began before correcting himself. “Actually, you have a problem.”

We all looked around at each other, wondering what was coming next.

He continued. “Jonathan and David have been going at each other for the past two days and it’s time this gets resolved.”

You’ve got to be kidding me! I thought. Why don’t you just tell the two of them to fix the problem? Why do the rest of us need to be a part of this!

Christian looked right at me, as if he could read my mind. “Greg, did you have a question?”

“Ah, well…no, not exactly,” I stammered, before taking a big breathe to regain my confidence. “Actually, I’m a little confused.”

“You’re wondering why I’m making this a group issue?” he inquired.

Before I could respond, Kelly, one of the nine other participants sitting in this makeshift tribal council circle, spoke up. “But isn’t it Jonathan and David’s responsibility to resolve their differences?”

Empty chears put in big circle on green lawn

“If they can, certainly. But when does it become a team issue Kelly?” asked Christian.

Both Jonathan and David were clearly uncomfortable being the focus of this conversation. Neither would look at each other…or the group for that matter.

“I guess if they can’t resolve it,” she said, as her voice faded away.

“I’m still unclear why that makes it a team issue?” I countered. “It’s an issue between the two of them, not us. Maybe I’m only speaking for myself, but I’m not really impacted by their relationship with each other.”

Half the group nodded with me while the other half looked stunned by what I just said. “I’m just being honest,” I added.

Christian welcomed the debate. “Let me ask you a question. You are out in the wilderness together for eight days. How important is it for you to be a team?”

“Extremely,” shouted Valerie, another participant. “Our lives depend on it.”

Everyone nodded.

“Okay, and what would being a team look like?”

Jonathan raised his hand, deciding it was time to be a part of the conversation instead of the object of it. “We’d collaborate and problem solve together, support each other, and help each other out.”

“And what about trust?” asked Christian.

Everyone answered at the same time before letting David have the floor. “All those things Jonathan mentioned create the trust.”

“I like that,” said Kelly.

Christian nodded. “So is it important for a team that needs to collaborate, problem solve, provide support and trust each other to also handle conflict effectively?”

“Of course!” shouted the group.

“Then why in the hell aren’t you doing it?” retaliated Christian. “Jonathan and David have been bickering back and forth for two days now while the rest of you look away, as if it’s not your problem. Well I’ve got news for you…it is your problem. If two of your teammates are struggling, then all of you are struggling. Every one of you is a reflection of this team; and a team divided is not a team! It’s time to walk your talk. Let’s see the collaboration. Let’s see the problem solving. Let’s see the support and trust. Show me!”

I was totally blown away. Of course he’s right, I thought. How can we say we are a team when we can’t even address the dynamics within our team! We were living a lie and it was time to step up and be the team that we claimed to be.

The Third Side

What Christian was trying to instill in us that day was that conflict within a team is a team issue, regardless if the conflict itself doesn’t involve every member directly. It’s what William Ury refers to as the Third Side of conflict. According to Ury, there’s more to conflict than their side or your side; there’s the third side! The third side is all the people who are impacted by the conflict, be it family members, friends, or colleagues.


Rarely is conflict an isolated event between two people or a group of people. As in the Outward Bound example, Jonathan and David’s conflict impacted the rest of the team. Specifically:

  • It created tension that was felt by everyone
  • It created a breakdown in communication between Jonathan and David which meant a breakdown in team communication
  • It divided the team (those closest to David versus those closest to Jonathan)
  • It revealed that the team values were inconsistent and not being applied in all situations

Until Christian’s intervention, we, as a team, disassociated ourselves from Jonathan and David’s conflict because we failed to realize both the impact it was having on us and the role we played in enabling the conflict to continue.

Ury believes that there is no middle ground for third siders and calls on them to rise and engage in the conflicts around them so that: 1) the people in the conflict realized the far-reaching impact their conflict is having on others, and 2) those impacted by the conflict, be it directly or indirectly, begin to hold the conflicting parties responsible and accountable to resolve their differences in a supportive and constructive manner.

The moment our Outward Bound team became involved in helping Jonathan and David resolve their difference, I vowed to myself to nip any future conflicts I might have in the butt in order to avoid requiring a team intervention.  It was all the motivation I needed.


This is why Empowering the Third Side is Rule 8 of my Eight Simple Rules to Managing Conflict.  It’s a call to action, if you will, to the people in the conflicts and the people impacted by those conflicts. Third siders need to take an active role in defining the environment around them so that all conflicts, strife, and disagreements are addressed constructively and respectfully. After all, isn’t it time for the environment to define conflict instead of conflict defining the environment?

Join us on the Mondays At 3 Talk Radio show from 3-4pm MST where I’ll talk about all Eight Simple Rules to Managing Conflict. Click Here for more info.-Geese

What to Say and How to Say It: A Conflict Resolution Process that Works!

As I have mentioned before in this series (The Eight Simple Rules to Managing Conflict), the biggest key to effectively resolving conflict is preparation. When we have time to prepare we do much better in resolving conflict than when it is thrust upon us and all we can do is react.

When I mediate conflicts, I include a preparation and coaching phase with both parties individually before I ever bring them together. This added phase is critical to a successful mediation, resulting in both parties being prepared, goal-focused, and ready for resolution.

Below is the two-step process I use for successfully mediating and resolving conflict between two people.


Part I: The Preparation Phase

The first step in the preparation phase is to conduct a thorough self-assessment on the conflict itself. Below are the questions I use to help conflicting parties think through the conflict and prepare for mediation. These questions are also useful for the typical everyday conflicts and disagreements that we all face.

  1. Is the conflict about one isolated event that shows little consistency with the rest of the relationship, or is it the latest in a series of conflicts revealing problems within the relationship as a whole?
  2. What are my goals for the relationship, and how do my goals for this particular conflict affect them?
  3. Are my expectations so rigid that they won’t allow the conflict resolution process to work?
  4. Am I letting my own expectations be shaped or distorted by other people not involved in the conflict?
  5. Are my expectations taking into account the other party’s needs, values, and constraints?
  6. Am I expecting the other party to behave in ways I want them to, or think in ways I think they should?  If so, what’s up with that?
  7. What have I done to contribute to the cause and perpetuation of the conflict?
  8. What misperceptions might the other party have of me?
  9. What misperceptions might I have of the other party?
  10. What is it I need differently from the other party and what would that look like?
  11. What am I willing to do for the other party to show my willingness to work through our issue?
  12. What are some of the workable compromises I can come to the table with?

By using these questions to self-assess and prepare, parties in conflict can put their focus more towards obtaining resolution than fault-finding. This is because much of the hard work occurs through this self-assessment process. It is also why I’m such a big fan of the preparation phase.


Part II: The Conflict Resolution Process (Formal)

I’m calling this a “formal” process because it is to be used when both parties need a structured format, particularly in cases where the working relationship is strained. I also use the process below as my outline when mediating conflicts. Keep in mind, it can be customized to fit a variety of situations.

Step 1:  The Face-to-Face Meeting   


  • Each party states their intentions / desired outcomes for the meeting
  • Each party acknowledges the importance of their working relationship with each other as well as the importance of reaching resolution

Step 2:  Defining Needs

  • Party 1 defines the problem and the impact it is having on him/her
  • Party 2 summarizes what he/she heard
  • Party 2 defines the problem and the impact it is having on him/her
  • Party 1 summarizes what he/she heard
  • Party 1 describes what he/she needs from the other to correct the problem…and seeks agreement from Party 2
  • Party 2 describes what he/she needs from the other to correct the problem…and seeks agreement from Party 1

Step 3:  Additional Issues

  • Both parties have an opportunity to raise any additional issues/concerns (following the format above)

Step 4:  Summary & Wrap-Up

  • Once all problems, concerns, and conflicting issues have been discussed and resolved, both parties summarize together what agreements were made
  • Both parties identify an agreed upon process to address and resolve any future conflicts/disagreements between each other
  • Both parties commit to a check-in time/date in the future to revisit the agreements and make any needed adjustments

This format gives you an idea how the flow of the mediation should go. And all parts are essential elements, from the opening comments to setting a future check-in time between parties.

Some Final Thoughts

Probably the biggest reason why I’ve witnesses so many successful conflict mediations in my career is due in part to the amount of preparation that each party has been willing to put into the process. It makes my job a lot easier too because parties come to the table goal-focused towards resolution. All I have to do is provide some gentle guidance along the way.

I guess it comes down to this: If you value the relationship with the person you’re in conflict with, then it’s worth putting in a little extra time in the preparation phase before talking out the problem. It will not only benefit you and the other person’s relationship in the long-run, but you’ll also be role modeling to others what effective conflict resolution looks like. And isn’t that how it should be?