Advance Updates

Managing Conflict With Interpersonal Business Skills Training

While the genesis of unintentional conflict is often obscured, the costly disruption and dysfunction that result from it are usually quite visible. Such was the case with our story about Jane and her client Sandy in our last Advance Update, Managing Unintentional Conflict in Business. Let’s revisit the story and then discuss how to resolve the issue, or in this case avoid it by acquiring the skills to manage unintentional conflict.

Jane’s Sad Story

Jane is meeting with her new client, Sandy, to make some recommendations for how to address some pressing problems on their project. Jane loves to engage in small talk and storytelling with people, including clients, to build relationships. skills to manage unintentional conflictSandy is a down-to-business executive who prefers to “cut to the chase” on things. Unaware of this, Jane continues to tell stories while Sandy becomes increasingly impatient and angry.

By the time Jane gets to her recommendations Sandy is completely closed off and cuts the meeting short. Jane is shocked, and thinks Sandy is being unfair and rude. Sandy is also upset and thinks Jane doesn’t respect her time. The pressing issues remain unresolved, and their detrimental effect on the project is stalling progress each day.

The unintentional conflict between Jane and Sandy has hurt the project, which will ultimately cost the company money to recover, and increase its exposure to very costly negative consequences until the problems are resolved.

What Went Wrong?

To address this problem we must first recognize that it started with a lack of awareness. Jane was not aware of Sandy’s preference to cut to the chase on things and to “get ‘er done.” Had Jane been aware of that and adjusted her meeting approach accordingly, she would have avoided the conflict that ended the meeting early.

But Jane wasn’t aware, and hadn’t yet learned to avoid creating unintentional conflict. So how do we help Jane become aware, acquire the needed skills, and begin practicing the art of managing unintentional conflict?

The Antidote to Unintentional Conflict: Create Shared Space

In a recent Advance Update I introduced the concept of “Shared Space.” For us as individuals, sharing space with an individual or group in business is about focusing on the bigger picture and the common good we can create together, not just on our own agendas. It turns out that if you want to avoid creating unintentional conflict, learn how to create shared space instead. When you are focused on the bigger picture and the common good, you become “aware” and learn to avoid creating unintentional conflict.

skills to manage unintentional conflictWe have learned that this endeavor is a journey and a way of being, not a single event. For example, our interpersonal skills training workshops in consulting and effective communication provide people with a range of skills and tools to avoid creating unintentional conflict (i.e., conflict resolution techniques). These work very effectively when people bring them into their daily business activities and interactions, approach it as a business lifestyle change, and become adept at preventing conflict. To make this transition more concrete, here are a few examples of tools and techniques we teach in our workshops. These would have helped Jane avoid creating the unintentional conflict in the above story.


This is a technique for analyzing and understanding other people. By learning their preferences, opinions, working styles, etc. you are able to devise an effective interaction strategy with them. Had Jane used PLOT with Sandy, she would have avoided the small talk and gotten down to business right away.

Set the Stage

An initial step in our process for Managing Client Interactions is to Set the Stage with your client. For example, Jane could have Set the Stage with Sandy with the following opening. “Sandy, as I said in my meeting request, I’d like to present to you some recommendations for our project. Do you still have 30 minutes for our conversation?”This is a good way to ascertain where somebody is in the moment and reestablish their commitment for the conversation. If Sandy responds with, “I’m running late today and only have 15 minutes,” Jane can avoid creating unintentional conflict by finishing in 15 minutes. You don’t know if you don’t ask, so Setting the Stage is about proactive inquiry.

Features vs. Benefits

This is an element of value thinking and presenting recommendations. People often get bogged down by describing the features of their solutions instead of the benefits. By focusing on the benefits of her recommendations to the project and to Sandy, Jane can avoid the unintentional conflict she might have created by wasting time discussing features.

As I said at the beginning of this article, the genesis of unintentional conflict is often obscured. However, the costly disruption and dysfunction that result from it are usually quite visible. As you can see from the examples above, the avoidance of unintentional conflict can also be subtle. This is why many miss the power of it for managing unintentional conflict and achieving optimal business outcomes.

Let us know what you think. How have you created or avoided unintentional conflict? What advice do you have for your fellow professionals? We would appreciate hearing from you.

If your team would like more in-depth help building soft skills to manage unintentional conflict, we can help. We offer a variety of Interpersonal Busines Skills workshops that will help Advance the Way You Work.

Or, contact us for a no-obligation consultation.

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Topics:Conflict ManagementConsulting CompetenciesPerformance ImprovementSoft Skills