Posts Tagged ‘ communication ’

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ago when I had a disagreement with Dan, one of the members, about a business opportunity he presented to me and then rescinded the next day.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


A Thanksgiving Activity for Friends & Family

It’s easy to lose sight of the true meaning of Thanksgiving amongst all the parties, the rituals, the football games, the cooking, and the family dynamics.  And yet it’s the perfect opportunity to reflect a little on our lives and to acknowledge all the people and experiences that have positively impacted us the most!

Not to worry! I’ve found a way to do both.

Using selected questions from my book, Creating Authenticity: Meaningful Questions for Meaningful Moments, I’ve created a fun and meaningful activity for you to do with your friends and family at the dinner table that will make this a Thanksgiving to remember.


Why do we need a Thanksgiving activity, you ask?

You don’t. However, if your Thanksgiving conversations with your friends and family have a tendency to migrate towards football, weather, politics, and gossip, perhaps it’s time for a change. Perhaps it’s time for some meaningful and introspective conversation with each other that come from the heart. After all, isn’t that ultimately what Thanksgiving is all about?

Below are 50 questions that will spark great conversation and gratitude. My simple suggestion would be to:

·      Copy this blog and paste it on a separate page.

·      Enlarge the type.

·      Cut out all the questions individually, or at least all the questions you want to be a part of this activity.

·      Place the questions in a container of some kind.

·      When it’s time to begin the exercise, pass the container around, having each person select a question.

·      Go around the table (once or multiple times) and ask each person to then read their question and answer it.

·      Feel free to alter this activity to fit your group.


1.     If you were told today that you had a month left to live, what would you want to do with the remaining time?

2.     What friendships have meant the most to you and why?

3.     What do you still want to do in your life that you haven’t yet done?

4.     What qualities do your closest friends have in common?

5.     What’s something crazy that you can still see yourself doing?

6.     What is one of the biggest obstacles you have had to overcome in your life? Please explain.

7.     What do most people who you know not know about you?

8.     What do you wish you were better at and why?

9.     What is one of your biggest regrets in life and why?

10.What kind of kid were you growing up? How have you changed?

11.What’s a recent accomplishment that you are most proud of and why?

12.What are you most passionate about in your life and how would someone know it?

13.What’s probably the biggest risk you ever took and how did it turn out?

14.What’s been the most meaningful feedback you’ve ever received and what did you do with it?

15.Describe your most meaningful possession.

16.When given the opportunity, what do you brag about most and why?

17.What is one of the best compliments you’ve received this year?

18.What memory still makes you laugh when you think about it?

19.When is the last time you felt most alive? What was happening?

20.What’s been some of the best advice you’ve ever received and how has it helped you?

21.What qualities do you find attractive in other people?

22.If you could clone yourself exactly as you are today, but have the ability to change one thing, what would you change?

23.Which of the television shows that you currently watch tells the most about you?

24.Who was your all-time favorite teacher and why?

25.Which of your physical features do you get complimented on the most? 

26.What past or present photograph in your home means the most to you and why?

27.If you could re-live (but not change) a past moment in your life, what moment would that be and why?

28.When was the last time you laughed so hard that your stomach hurt?

29.Describe the perfect romantic evening.

30.Which of your childhood possessions had the most meaning for you and why?

31.You have just commissioned a famous painter to do a painting for you. What are you going to have them paint?

32.Who, among the people your life do you admire the most and why?

33.Complete this sentence: Sometimes I wish…

34.Which of your hobbies probably tells the most about you?

35.What causes you the most stress? How would people know?

36.What’s one of the best decisions you’ve made in this past year and why?

37.How would you define a successful life? How does your life compare?

38.What was one of the most courageous things you have ever done?

39.In what ways are you misunderstood? 

40.Complete this sentence: Sometimes I pretend…

41.What is the most important thing you’d like to learn next?

42.What would you like to have more of in your life?

43.What would you like to have less of in your life?

44.Of all the cars you’ve owned over the years, which one holds the best memories for you?

45.If your life goes exactly the way you would like it to go, what will you be doing five years from now?

46.What would you like to hear more of that you don’t hear enough?

47.What do you think attracts most people to you?

48.What is one of your favorite traditions that you still observe today? Please explain.

49.What’s been the most exciting thought occupying your mind lately?

50.What three things are you most thankful for and why?

Remember, the idea here is to have an activity that everyone can participate in. With that said, it’s also important to allow people the option of skipping their turn if they are not comfortable playing. Simply leave it up to them.

Let me know how it goes.

Celebratory drink

And, have a happy Thanksgiving!

P.S. If you like the process, go to or CLICK HERE and download my free New Years Resolutions That Stick! workbook to get a similar New Year’s Eve activity. It’s free after all!

The Things We Think But Do Not Say!

Do you know what movie the title above came from? Here’s a hint: The famous saying, “You complete me,” comes from the same movie. That’s right, Jerry Maguire.

JerryToday’s blog is questioning why we hold back on saying the things that matter to us.

In the movie Jerry Maguire, Jerry, played by Tom Cruise, has an epiphany in the middle of the night that ends up changing his life. In that moment he comes to the realization that his agency’s focus on getting more clients is completely wrong. Instead, he asserts, the focus needs to be put on the relationship with the current clients by providing more time, attention and caring.

Jerry’s passion for change served him well by the end of the movie, although his company pushes him out at the beginning for his radical ideas. But truthfully, isn’t it always a risk to say what we really feel? After all, honesty can be a game-changer when it comes to relationships.

One of my coaching clients was pressured to leave his position and finally decided to take another job instead of face a slow and painful death by resisting the pressure. Despite being happy that he was getting out of a miserable situation, he still had mixed feelings about whether or not he was leaving on his own terms. Was he? Wasn’t he? I guess you could spin it either way.

Teenagers - Whispering a Secret

What was interesting, however, was what he said in our last coaching session together. He told me how surprised he was with all the heartfelt comments he received from his staff, his peers, and his superiors during his final week, as they all made a point to say goodbye.

“What do you mean?” I said.

He shook his head. “If people really felt that way about me, then why did they wait until I was leaving to tell me? I had the impression everyone wanted me out.”

I had no answer.

I come from a very loving family, although our “love” is more implied than verbally stated to one-another. In fact, the first time that I actually told my father I loved him was just hours before he passed away in his hospital bed. It seemed so easy to say at that moment…and yet why did I wait until the end before I could say it?

What is it about departures that make it easier to be authentic, honest, and loving with those people who are leaving us? Are we that authentic, honest, and loving with the people we share our lives with…who aren’t leaving?


Many companies ask employees who are leaving to give an “exit interview” with Human Resources being departing. The hope is that employees will be brutally honest about their experience at the company and provide some useful feedback as well. Sounds reasonable, right? Yet even that is not safe anymore. I just had a coaching client tell me that they decided to forgo their exit interview because they didn’t want to burn any bridges in the field. What’s ironic is that the reason they left their company was because of the dysfunctional way business was being handled…and yet they chose to remain silent.

Isn’t open and honest communication a fundamental expectation in any relationship, be it work or personal? When did it become an exception to the rule?

When I design and facilitate a team building session, my ultimate goal is to create an atmosphere of open and honest communication throughout the team, which includes manager to the team, the team to the manager, and team members to team members. What I’ve discovered is that sometimes it can take the better part of a day to build or rebuild the trust necessary to create such communication between a group of people who work with each other every day. Shouldn’t it be the reverse?


I’ve shared on my radio show many times my belief that all married couples should be required to meet with a third party therapist, minister, or coach after their fifth year of marriage in order to undergo a relationship “check-up” on everything from communication, intimacy, parenting, conflict, and lifestyle, to name a few. Maybe it should be after three years? Nevertheless, it’s a way to ensure that open and honest communication is occurring or a way to address why it’s not. It’s like a team building session for couples.

Using Jerry Maguire, we do a closing exercise in the Leading From Within program called, The Things We Think But Do Not Say. It is an opportunity for participants to single out other participants who had a special impact on them during the workshop and to tell them what that was. Of course this activity comes at the end of the program, but that’s why it works; no one holds back.

Bottom line
I wish there were more Jerry Maguire’s out there. I wish we didn’t have to wait until someone was leaving before telling them how much they meant to us. I wish at work we could say what we mean and mean what we say without fear of reprisal. I wish honesty and open communication was an expectation in all relationships instead of something we are always working on.

On Monday’s show (7/8), I plan to talk about open and honest communication, or the lack there of, with co-host and therapist, Lisa Dunning. Join us and give us your thoughts on the topic (email I don’t have the silver bullet answer yet, but maybe something will come to me by show time (3-4pm MST on


“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?