Appreciating Anger, part III

Part III: Anger in Conflict Resolution

In my last post in this series on anger, I’ll focus on the implications of the anger research from my last two pieces (part I, part II) on conflict resolution.

As I touched on in my first piece, it can be tempting to associate nonviolent communication methods with denying our feelings of anger, or denying ourselves any way of expressing those feelings. But anger can communicate much more than the desire to hurt another person. Greek philosopher Aristotle thought that a certain appropriate level of anger – directed at the right things and at the right time – was an element of virtuosity. For Aristotle proper anger was a way of expressing self respect, and also an attunement to injustice. [Read more…]

The Mindful Mediator


We all strive to develop practices that help us become better leaders, better practitioners, better team members. And given that so many of these goals rest on interpersonal relationships, this means developing practices to navigate misunderstandings, diverging viewpoints and, inevitably, conflict.

Mindfulness can be a crucial mental tool for handling interpersonal interactions, but this term has become so popular that it’s not always clear what it entails. In this newsletter I explore the role of mindfulness in conflict, and how a mindful mediator can change the tide of a conflict.

Today “mindfulness” has become a mainstream meme for dealing with the hectic fray of modernity while still trying to cultivate some inner peace and meaning in our lives. From The Huffington post’s “3rd Metric” page, to mindfulness trainings at work, to the yoga studios popping up all over our communities, we are being encouraged to address the physical and mental fallout from lives lived on the run by being more mindful. Conflict, too, we often say, will benefit from a mindful approach – it’s a word that admittedly shows up frequently in my posts. But mindfulness can’t be tacked on to the end of a to-do list or scheduled in like an extra Bikram class. Changing a situation through mindfulness requires altering your approach while the scenario plays out. This is not a small challenge – especially when tensions run high. [Read more…]

Take the Heat Off, but Be Direct: Workplace TIPS


The way in which a conflict is expressed and communicated amongst colleagues in the workplace is an important element that will help to determine the outcome of the conflict, and whether it contributes positively or negatively to the work environment and its productivity.  In this month’s newsletter I explore some contemporary research about conflict expression, and how individual conflict styles play a role in bringing about different forms of expression. These connections lead us to some insights about key decisions that can be made, especially by leaders, to influence workplace conflicts and their effects.

New York Times business writer Phyllis Korkki recently published a piece on diffusing discord in the office by being “direct and low key.” In it, she references a paper in the Academy of Management Review which, according to Korkki, states that “it’s not just the nature of a disagreement but the way it is expressed that leads to a positive or a negative result at work.”

In other words, the process of the conflict itself is likely to have a very significant effect on the outcome, perhaps as much or more than just the content of the conflict, depending on the situation. Playing this insight out, the paper outlines four main categories of conflict expression demarcated by the directness of the communication and the intensity of the expression. According to Korkki and the American Management Review paper, the best combination for productive workplace conflict is a “high directness/low intensity” expression. In this scenario the problems or disagreements are communicated in a straightforward manner, but without the communicative intensity which tends to make them feel personal or threatening to everyone involved. You might still end up with elaborate debates, but it’s more likely to engender a positive, productive outcome, or at least avoid the vagaries of escalation or personal attacks.

This is an essential insight, but recognizing that “high directness/low intensity” might be the best approach for workplace tensions is only half of the solution. Putting it into practice is more challenging.  [Read more…]

Self Reflection: Looking Inward to Change Conflict

We’ve all had the experience of flying into a conversation, riding high on emotions and frustration. The conversation becomes a conflict, the conflict escalates and becomes painful. Hours later the issues may or may not have been resolved, perhaps we still feel they’re very important and perhaps not, but along with the underlying issue there is now another one: freshly formed layers of hurt, quickly and carelessly piled on top of the original problem. Pain inflicting comments, verbal attacks from both sides, new rifts of mistrust and resentment opened between you and your colleagues, friends or family members. After it’s all said and done, we might still feel justified in our original feelings, but all too frequently we regret our behaviors and find ourselves confronting a new emotional struggle.

Such scenarios don’t just occur in our personal relationships, they can recur systematically regarding serious issues in venues ranging from workplaces to communities to societies. They can become normalized and habitual. Writing recently in the Conflict Resolution Quarterly, Robert R. Stains Jr. described the destructive impact of these cycles.

“In this environment, routine opportunities to directly learn and practice attitudes and communication skills that reach across divides in more than superficial ways have become less frequent and less trusted by an increasingly polarized public. Fear grows with distance, stereotypes fuel suspicion, and conflict replaces collaboration as a first response to meeting community needs. ” [1]

Self-reflection, prior to entering a dialogue or conflict as well as throughout and after, can help us avoid these destructive scenarios, and create new communication patterns.

[Read more…]

Discovering Dialogue

We hear and see the word all the time, in headlines, diplomatic initiatives, self help resources, and more. You’ve likely used it yourself many times over. I certainly employ it on a regular basis. Yet despite its relative familiarity, when is the last time we dug into the meaning and significance behind the concept of dialogue?  Taken at face value it is likely to have a nominal, perhaps gratifying, presence in someone’s life. However, understood more deeply, dialogue can open up new spaces of communication and shared innovation, an exciting discovery all on its own.

What is dialogue?

Simplistically, dialogue can be understood as open-minded communication between two or more persons. Originating from the Greek prefix “dia” and root “logos,” the word can be broken down as “moving through or across” (dia) and “meaning” (logos). Synthesizing this etymology with the word’s modern meaning, already we have an interesting idea on our hands: meaning that emerges by moving across or through multiple people.  And already we have stumbled onto one of the deeper, existential undertones to the concept of dialogue:  meaning sought through dialogue is not the same as the sum of multiple perspectives. Dialogue creates something new that is only possible through collaborative communication.

[Read more…]

Nonviolent Communication: a Model, a Strategy, a Lifestyle

In a number of past posts and newsletters I’ve referred to “nonviolent communication” as an important and effective strategy for dealing with difficult conflict scenarios, or for working towards conflict transformation. Much more than just an abstract notion, nonviolent communication is a core concept couched in a strong theoretical base. Not only is it a powerful tool in mediation or formal conflict resolution, it is a holistic process and a lens through which an individual can come to see all relations and communication. At its most potent level, nonviolent communication can ultimately embody a spiritual or worldview. I wanted to take a post to focus on this extraordinary technique, and perhaps make it more accessible for readers in their daily lives.

What is Nonviolent Communication?

What is widely recognized today as the core theory of nonviolent communication (NVC) was spearheaded by the psychologist and PhD. Marshall Rosenberg in the 1960s.  With questions about communication and violence originating from childhood run-ins with anti-Semitism and violent race relations in Detroit, Rosenberg began to develop his model during his activities in the civil rights movement. He sought to better understand how entrenched patterns of communication kept humans from expressing their needs to one another without violent escalation, and how he and others could develop the ability to surpass those patterns.

The idea of NVC is founded on some basic assumptions about human beings and their mutual interactions. [Read more…]

Leadership and Conflict Management through Presence

We live in a fast world: fast global transport, fast digital connections, fast bottom lines. As denizens of a digital society, we are often encouraged to function at a pace akin to the growing capabilities of our technologies. Running from one moment into the next, our focus becomes consumed by the dual pressures of meeting deadlines and keeping track of the constantly fluctuating environment in which we seek them.

When it comes to conflict management, running too fast and managing distractions is a recipe for trouble. In his book Leading through Conflict: How Successful Leaders Transform Differences into Opportunities, Mark Gerzon argues that leaders must develop mediator-like qualities to manage conflict. A helpful overview of Gerzan’s book, done by the team at, can be found here.

Presence in Conflict 

Gerzon’s third guiding precept for leaders as mediators is “presence.”   Presence requires a leader to be fully aware and centered within the present moment. Conflict scenarios are complex and nuanced in nature, and escalation often occurs as impassioned parties become defensive or aggressive. As turbulence builds, presence allows the mediator to be keenly aware of the multi-dimensional elements of the communicative scenario. Perhaps the parties have misunderstood one another, each perceiving the other as antagonistic when, in fact, there are ample openings in the discourse to build agreement. Perhaps parties are employing different approaches, all valuable, that can be integrated into a constructive strategy.

Such insights are only available to an individual who is cultivating inner stillness, deeply attentive to the scenario at hand. They are aware of the dynamics at play, invested in understanding the interests and experiences of all parties, but can remain cool and thoughtful if tensions or emotions run high.

As such, presence involves a critical element of self-awareness. [Read more…]

Broken Business Etiquette Rules Call for Mediation Skills

Business etiquette has been the featured topic recently on National Public Radio’s KojoNnamdi Show and in the Business Section of the New York Times.  A new book on business etiquette, Miss Manners Minds Your Business (W.W. Norton) by Judith Martin and her son Nicholas Ivor Martin discusses the dilemmas in today’s workplace, where open space and informal dress prevails.

The essence of the etiquette recommendations seems to be the bulletin board rule:  “If you can’t put what you want to communicate on a bulletin board for anyone to read, then you shouldn’t put it in a e-mail, a text or a voice mail.”   People don’t recognize the difference between public and private communications according to Peter Post co-author of The Etiquette Advantage in Business (William Morrow) who was quoted in the Times article.

So what happens next when the etiquette rules are broken?  A conflict begins to simmer and if not handled appropriately it escalates.  Hopefully, good managers will recognize the brewing business conflict, bring the parties together, use active listening skills and work it out.   However, conflict avoidance is a strategy that many employees and supervisors use because they are uncomfortable dealing with conflict.  Avoidance of conflict may be a good strategy if the conflict has a low impact.  Benefits of avoidance includereduced stress, saved time and reduced risks.  However, the costs associated with avoidance are decreased communication, resentment and potential delays.  If the conflict festers it can infect other employees and teams, resulting in decreased productivity and low morale.  Mismanaged conflict has a high cost to organizations.

Mediation will help people get back to work.   What lies at the heart of the broken business etiquette and generates employee conflict is miscommunication and disrespect. Smart businesses train their managers in conflict resolution so they can be the first line of defense to resolve these festering issues.  Early conflict resolution protects reputations, saves money and enhances productivity.  The bonus that comes from well managed conflict is change and growth.   So make friends with a mediator!!

Ellen F. Kandell is a certified professional mediator and attorney with over 30 years of public and private sector experience. She provides mediation, group facilitation and training to diverse, national clients. Get in touch with her via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or give her a call at 301-588-5390.

Collaboration as a Conflict Strategy

A recent article in the New York Times discussed a Dutch entrepreneur’s idea for a divorce hotel. Couples intending to divorce would check in and a have a marathon sesssion and leave on Sunday with a divorce agreement. When people are in conflict decisions usually take some time. I’m doubtful that this idea will have much traction in the United States where he is looking to market such a concept.

This month’s newsletter is the final in our five part series on conflict strategies.

[Read more…]

Compromise as a Conflict Strategy

Happy May Day! May 1 is also knows as International Workers’ Day and has long history of celebrations in various cultures. It is a national holiday in 80 countries and often features organized street demonstrations by labor unions. In the Northern Hemisphere it is a time when the soil is tillable so get your garden planted! Finally, it is recognized in the United States as Law Day.

This month’s newsletter continues our series on conflict strategies.

Do you confuse compromise and collaboration? Many people do. The way to tell the difference is to ask the following question: What percentage of each person’s needs is being met by the solution that the parties have developed? If each party has to give up something compromise is the name of the game. [Read more…]