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The Number One Mistake People Make In Conflict

Posted October 10, 2019 • Change,Conflict Mastery,Leadership,Mindfulness • by Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler, Ph.D.

Dear friends,

Before I get into this week’s post below, a reminder that on Wednesday, October 30 at 12:30 pm EST, I’ll be teaching a free, public 1-hour live Q&A webinar on the 8 practices of the Optimal Outcomes Method. Unlike the private work I do in client organizations, this is completely free and open to the public in service of my mission to help leaders everywhere learn to free themselves from conflict.

If you’re seeking greater impact at work, at home or in the community, consider inviting your colleagues, family and friends to join us. This promises to open up dialogue and insight for all of you.

You can find more information at the bottom of this email or you can Click here to register.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll find this piece below helpful and liberating.

The Number One Mistake People Make In Conflict

The number one mistake people make when faced with a conflict? Responding the same way they’ve already responded to a similar situation in the past.

Let’s say you’re a manager, and one of your direct reports often hands in sloppy work and misses her deadlines. You’re concerned, but every time you plan to say something, she has some excuse to explain her poor work, and you let it slide. You have other bigger, more important issues to worry about, and you suspect that her peers will keep her in line and pick up the slack, which they always do.

It’s a predictable routine.

In conflict, as in much of life, our responses tend to be habitual.

The Four Conflict Habits

In my forthcoming book, Optimal Outcomes: Free Yourself from Conflict at Work, at Home, and in Life, based on my own research as well as twenty years of consulting to executives in all kinds of organizations, I describe the four typical ways we tend to respond when we’re faced with recurring conflict.


  • Avoid others
  • Blame others
  • Blame ourselves
  • Relentlessly seek to collaborate, even when others refuse to cooperate

We engage in these habitual responses with positive intentions, hoping to achieve an admirable result, such as wanting to avoid an unnecessary conflict, win an important argument, learn and do better next time, or achieve a “win-win” solution.

What’s so bad about trying to do those things? All of them can be helpful under the right circumstances.

Why Our Conflict Habits Get Us Into Trouble

There are two reasons why habitually responding with any one of these strategies gets us into trouble.

First, when you use the same strategy whenever you face a conflict, over time, your behavior becomes exaggerated. For instance, learning from your mistakes so you can do better next time morphs into a habit of beating yourself up and feeling ashamed for performing poorly. Or avoiding unimportant conversations turns into a habit of shutting down completely, even when people are waiting for an answer from you, which causes the conflict to brew and get worse.

Second, every situation is not always the right match for your habitual behavior. For example, it’s great to try to win every argument at work if you’re a lawyer whose job is to win cases for your clients; it’s not necessarily so great to try to win every argument if you’re on your honeymoon with your new spouse. It’s smart to collaborate with others when you have a problem that requires joint problem-solving and everyone is genuinely interested in solving it; it’s not necessarily smart to try to collaborate with others who have consistently refused to cooperate (instead, you’re likely to incur a loss of time, energy and other resources that could have been better spent elsewhere).

Some Advice

So what should you do?

#1: Become aware of your conflict habits. Do you tend to collaborate? Avoid? Blame others? Blame yourself? Know thyself. We’re currently developing an online assessment, so once Optimal Outcomes launches in February 2020, you’ll be able to easily and accurately diagnose your conflict habits. In the meantime, ask yourself which of the four conflict habits is most familiar for you. The next few times you find yourself in a conflict situation, take note of how you respond. Do you notice a pattern?

#2: Mix it up. Instead of relying on your habitual response to conflict in any given situation, experiment with doing something different. Don’t do what people expect you to do. Do you usually yell at your kids in the morning when they’re late to get out the door? Next time, make it a game to see who can get outside first. Do you facilitate collaborative conversations with your team at work, but then you find decision-making is overly complicated and time-consuming? Be direct. Tell people what you expect, and hold them accountable to making it happen.

3#: Review. How did your experimenting go? What happened when you did something different? Did you achieve the result you were hoping for? If not, how would you change your response next time?

By raising your awareness about your conflict habits, trying new ways of approaching tough situations in the future, and reviewing and learning from how your experiments go, you’ll free yourself from the old conflict patterns that had kept you stuck in the past.

In freedom,


P.S. If you’d like to dive more deeply into this and other related topics, I have 3 suggestions:

1. Learn more about the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument. It’s been around for four decades and is a powerful tool for diagnosing how you tend to engage in conflict. I’ve used it with organizational teams and students for twenty years. It always produces insight and helpful dialogue.

2. Join us on Wednesday, October 30th, when I’ll be teaching a free, public 1-hour live Q&A webinar on the 8 practices of the Optimal Outcomes Method. It is completely free and open to the public in service of my mission to help leaders everywhere learn to free themselves from conflict. I love complex problems, so bring me your questions about the Four Conflict Habits, and all topics related to how to free yourself from conflict, and we’ll apply the Optimal Outcomes practices together.

3. For even greater impact at work, at home and in the community, invite your colleagues, family and friends to join us as well.

Here are the details:

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

12:30 pm EST / 9:30 am PST / 4:30 pm GMT (find your timezone)

Click here to register

Once you register, you’ll receive a more detailed agenda and answers to frequently asked questions about the webinar.

Think of it as a lunch-hour webinar for East Coasters, a “Start your day with freedom” webinar for West Coasters, and an “End your day with freedom” webinar for those in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Please join us and forward this email to invite colleagues, family and friends who would enjoy a freedom break!

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