Skip to main content

Blog Short #160: A 3-Step Process for Resolving High-Stake Conflicts

When you have a conflict with someone, especially someone you’re close to or know well, emotions can run high, and talking things out isn’t always successful. These are the types of conversations that have the potential to escalate quickly and create a stubborn rift that’s hard to mend.

One of the things people often do that makes these situations even more challenging is expecting to resolve them in one conversation. That applies additional pressure and sets the scene for a negative outcome, hurt feelings, and words you can’t take back.

A better approach is to solve the issue over time using some carefully crafted steps, which is what we’re going over today.

Let’s start by reviewing the type of problems that are more likely to need this multi-step approach.

Issues That Flame the Fire

Problems that are challenging to resolve and potentially flame the fire quickly are as follows:

1. They have a backstory.

The problem has come up before, and likely more than several times, and attempts to resolve it have ended in a stalemate. Sometimes, you put it away for a while or decide to let it go, but the issue remains. Sooner or later, it surfaces again and builds until there’s another attempt to resolve it, but you fail.

2. The emotional stakes are high.

The issue is saturated with strong feelings so that when the disagreement goes unresolved, bad feelings linger, negatively affecting the relationship and building resentment.

Even if the issue goes underground for a while, the negative emotional repercussions affect how each person feels toward the other. Sometimes, those feelings get shoved into other areas of the relationship or show up as ongoing bickering over more minor things. If the pattern continues long-term, it can erode the relationship.

3. The challenge involves differences in style, temperament, or emphasis.

Sticky problems can arise because of differences in personality characteristics and approaches.

An example might be a person who’s at home with emotions and likes to express them versus someone who’s more reserved and approaches things from a place of rationality and logic. Or maybe someone who likes things organized and planned out versus someone who flies by the seat of his pants and is spontaneous.

In both cases, the approaches clash and can leave both people scratching their heads and frustrated.

What do you do?

Sometimes, you can talk something through in one sitting and be successful, but if the problem falls into any of the above categories, it’s best to work on it over several conversations.

Here’s a blueprint for how to do that.

The First Conversation

The first conversation’s purpose is to understand where each person is, what they want, and how they think and feel about the issue. It’s not about solving the problem.

The trick is to do this without getting into an argument or exacerbating negative feelings between each other. Following these steps will help.

  1. Make it a rule at the outset that each person will get to talk without interruption until they signal that they’ve finished.
  2. One person takes the lead and lays out their version of the issue, how it affects them, and what they need to feel resolved about it. While this person talks, the other person should listen with openness and ask questions to clarify but suspend evaluating or responding to what they’re hearing. The goal is only to fully understand how that person views the situation and what they want or need.
  3. Next, swap places and go through the same process for the other person.
  4. Now, see if together you can write a clear statement defining the issue and what each person needs to feel that it’s resolved.

It’s important to make sure you don’t slip into problem-solving during this step. Also, avoid making any judgments about each other’s point of view. Your only goal is to understand where each of you stand.

Now Take a Break

A break can be for a few hours, a day, several days, or more. If it’s a highly contentious problem, more time is better. During the break, do these two things:

1. Look at the situation through the other person’s lens.

Even if you disagree, you can still imagine the other person’s mental processes and how they’ve come to their conclusions based on what they think and feel about the issue.

This step is often the hardest because it’s rare that we take the time to try to see something we have a substantial stake in from the other person’s point of view.

However, doing so is necessary and aids in finding a solution.

2. Get clear on what you both want or need.

Write this out with specifics for each person. This is key to resolving the problem.

The Second Conversation

The second conversation aims to bridge the emotional gap between the two of you so that you feel like a team working toward a solution instead of opponents.

To do this, go through this exercise:

Each of you should review out loud what you think the other person needs or wants, along with what they think and how they feel about the situation.

Doing this creates empathy for each other and ensures you understand where each of you is coming from. If you haven’t already, you need to connect and get on the same side.

Take a Second Break

During this break, your assignment is to generate ideas to lead to a win-win. Both of you should do this individually.

Using the insights you’ve gained from looking through the other person’s lens and using what you know about them, what would they need to feel satisfied with the outcome?

Now, think about yourself; what will work for you while also accommodating the other person? What’s a win-win you can both be happy with?

These solutions may not come up quickly and might take several rounds of thinking and considering different options. Still, the exercise will help you move toward a resolution.

The Third Conversation

Now it’s time to problem-solve. You can begin laying out the ideas and strategies you’ve each generated on your own and see how they sit.

Negotiate something that works for both of you and feels like a win-win rather than a win-lose.

An Important Benefit

In addition to resolving a complex issue with a win-win, using this 3-step process will also help you preserve the relationship.

When you’re angry, helpless, or feeling attacked, you’re much more likely to unleash your emotions with damaging words. It’s not unusual for people to dish out ultimatums, make threats, or attack the other person when they’re furious or outraged.

If you can hang in during an argument without doing any of those things and maintain your regard for the other person, you might go ahead with it. Even so, there is value in dividing the conversation into the steps we’ve gone over and resolving it over time.

The mission is to not only solve the problem, but maintain respect and feel positive toward each other when you get to the end of the process. When you don’t, you have a lot more to repair when it’s all over than just the initial problem.

The more you engage in personal attacks, the less likely the relationships will remain intact.

So, next time you have a burning issue to work out with someone, try this approach and see if it helps. By the way, this process works at the office as well as at home.

That’s all for today.

Have a great week!

All my best,


If you like this article, please share!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *