Posts Tagged ‘ conflict ’

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ago when I had a disagreement with Dan, one of the members, about a business opportunity he presented to me and then rescinded the next day.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


“I now pronounce you husband and wife!”

From the desk of Greg Giesen, founder of the Zen Leadership Institute

I’ve officiated eight weddings in the last three years—mostly family and friends. For me, it’s quite the honor to serve in such a capacity for a day that will last a lifetime in the memories of many.


If you are—or have been—married, do you remember the person who married you? I bet you do. This is also why I don’t take the role lightly. It’s too important of an event to just show up. I need to bring my “A-game” every time.

There’s just one problem.

I have no idea if these marriages will work. My role all along has been to marry the couples—not counsel them.

This leads me to an honest omission: Had I undergone pre-marital counseling with my past wife, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have gotten married. Too much? Too soon?

Like many couples, my wife and I got married in bliss with the intent of living happily ever after. In fact, the infatuation phase for me lasted well into the first year of marriage—which, if you know me—you know that’s a long time. And, like many couples, we really didn’t fight or argue much before we got married. I attribute this to a few reasons:

  1. Our relationship was greater than the problems we faced, making it easy to come to agreement and compromise.
  2. With the wedding looming off in the distance, we were motivated to avoid any kind of conflict that could threaten our special day.
  3. We didn’t do pre-wedding counseling and/or any kind of relationship work. As a result, we weren’t prepared for all of the relationship issues and challenges that were soon to emerge in our marriage.

But I don’t think we’re the only ones! Actually, I know we’re not the only ones.

Last night I met a friend for a drink (actually it was bachelorette #3 from Monday’s show…shhh!) and she also performs weddings. However, as a licensed therapist, she will only marry a couple “after” they’ve done a pre-marriage counseling program with her.

I like that idea.

Did you know that in Colorado a couple can marry themselves instantly the moment they turn in their wedding application? True. All they have to do is put a check mark in a particular box and sign under it and Ta-Da!—they’re married.

Couple on Beach

 Something seems wrong about that.

Have you ever gotten divorced? Not exactly as simple a process, is it? Why is it so easy to get married and yet so difficult to get divorced? Shouldn’t both processes be equal? If pre-counseling were to be mandatory before getting married, do you think we’d have as many divorces?

I think not.

Why is that, you ask?

I think most couples have not done near enough work on their relationship before they get married. Like me, they figure they’ll simply handle whatever arises when it arises. Talk about throwing dice out on the craps table.

The ability to communicate effectively, resolve conflict, and problem-solve are essential elements to any relationship. If a couple has not practiced these skill sets together over their own issues, how are they supposed to master them later?

I recall learning some things about my wife’s background during the divorce proceedings that I didn’t even know about while we were married. How did that happen?

If we really want to cut down the divorce rate in this country, more work needs to be done upfront before a couple ever gets married. Waiting until problems arise is not a healthy strategy for a long-term relationship. In short, I now believe pre-marriage counseling needs to be a mandatory requirement before a couple can get married. It’s a win-win if you think about it. Even if a couple decides not to marry, isn’t it better to find out before they get married?


 I think so!

Note to self: Make sure couples I marry from this point forward do counseling before the wedding. 


Have a “Greater YES!”

I’m tired of excuses, I really am. In fact, can I be brutally honest with you? The external world does not define who you are! Only you can do that. So please don’t take this too personally, but…

I’m sorry your childhood was difficult…but you’re an adult now. Why are you still holding on to the past? That was then…this is now!

Stop telling me you have a problem asserting yourself. I’m not buying it.

What do you mean you cannot muster up the motivation to change? You sure seem to have plenty of motivation to complain.

You regularly criticize Mary for her mistakes but I never see you trying to help her learn from those mistakes. Why is that?

You joke about being a procrastinator, like it’s just a part of you. I don’t think that’s the problem at all. I’d say your problem is that you don’t know what you want and that’s why you cannot prioritize.

Why is it so difficult for you to make a decision? And what’s up with having to get everyone else’s opinion about what you should or shouldn’t do? All that does is complicate things. Besides, it’s not their decision to make.


The real problem

I don’t believe the external world defines us. I don’t believe that our past dictates our future. And I don’t believe in excuses.  We are our results whether we like it or not.

The problem as I see it is that we are missing the key ingredient to a successful life. That’s right, I’m talking about having a Greater Yes. What do I mean?  Having a Greater Yes makes it easy to say no; that’s because the Yes is of greater value to us than the No. Do you see it? When we don’t have a Greater Yes, we end up doing things that we really don’t want to be doing and/or we do them in a half-assed manner, whining and complaining along the way. And to make matters worse, we point to those things that we don’t enjoy doing as the reason for our lack of enjoyment. We’ve all heard it before…

My upbringing was dysfunctional and I dread every holiday when I have to be with my family.

I don’t like to speak up. That’s not who I am.

The energy to change at my age is not worth the battle.

I don’t like conflict…I don’t like Mary…and why should I help her? She doesn’t help me!

I’m just not excited about what I do and my boss is a micro-manager. He tells me what to do and how to do it. That’s just how it works.

If I get peoples’ opinion before making a decision, it becomes more of a group decision and my ass is not on the line.

Did you know that it takes more energy to blame others than it does to accept responsibility?


The answer

As I’ve already stated, the answer to accepting responsibility in life is by having a Greater Yes. And, in order to identify a Greater Yes, we have to spend some time defining:

  • Who we are
  • What’s our purpose
  • What matters most to us
  • What are we passionate about
  • What do we value most
  • Who do we need to be on a daily basis
  • What do we want our legacy in this lifetime to be
  • What do we need to do to move forward to becoming the person we are meant to be

If you can answer these questions, you already are well on your way to having a Greater Yes.

This week I have the privilege of leading the 37th Leading From Within program out here in Colorado. The questions above are exactly the work that the participants will be focused on for three powerful days, culminating in presentations on the last day. Presentations, I might add, that rarely leave a dry eye in the room. Why, even just thinking about day 3 gives me goose bumps as I write this.


People with a Greater Yes

  • See their troubled past as character-building and use it to direct their future.
  • Assert themselves without hesitancy because they know what they want.
  • Direct their motivation instead of trying to find it.
  • Resolve conflict because relationships matter.
  • Know what’s most important and prioritize their life accordingly.
  • Make the difficult decisions with confidence.

It really is that simple.

The only change that needs to take place is within us. It never was about them…


So what’s your Greater Yes?


* Be sure to catch Geese talk more on this topic on his Mondays At 3 Talk Radio program every Monday from 3-4pm MST on

“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