Sari van Poelje

personal, expert, consultant, author, Speaker

Team Coaching: Every Solution Creates The Next Problem — July 22, 2021

Team Coaching: Every Solution Creates The Next Problem

Every team starts as an idea in the head of the founder. With success comes complexity. Complexity allows specialization and volume, but also creates loss of focus, resources and direction. In this blog we take you through the challenges of four main stages of development.

My name is Sari van Poelje. I’m the Director of Intact Academy and of Agile Business Innovation. We help businesses innovate more quickly than the products and we teach others to do that too in our Intact Academy for coaches and consultants. You can find us on the websites, and

Today we’re talking about the development of teams. There are three levels in a team that are always active. We talked about structural, relational, psychodynamic level. Together that gives you the photo diagnosis. Now we’re going to talk about the film diagnosis of teams:  What stages of development do teams have? What should leaders do at each stage of development? What should you do as a team coach?

Just as a quick reminder, we’re going to show you the different levels of the team again. You have functional diagnostics, the photo in the film, the structure, the relationship, the psychodynamics. In the structure of the photo, we talked about boundaries, hierarchy and roles. At the relational level, we talked about dynamics, social ranking, and personas. At the psychodynamic level, we talked about imago, transference and personalities.

When we do film or structural diagnostics, we have to realize how a structure develops over time. The first state of developmental structure is that the leader has an idea. He or she wants to create a team to create a product or a service. The team always starts as an idea in the head of the founder. After a while if they’re successful, they try to find other people to join them. In this first visible stage of team formation, the formation of the relationship between the leader and the member is central to the team development. The member sometimes stays because they’re interested in the product, but more often because they believe in the leader. The leader is looking for people who will do everything that is needed within the team, without having to manage them too much. Most leaders start with the mistake of choosing friends and family to join, because they think they don’t have to manage them as much. 

If the product and service hits the market, and demand exceeds the possibilities of a small group, more people are recruited. At that point, we have a leader with a clear boundary, usually they’re charismatic and directive. The boundary around the team isn’t very strong, people move in and out depending on how they’re feeling, if they get along with the leader or not, more importantly, if the leader gets along with them or not. This means at this moment that the team is functioning but the identity of the team isn’t set very clearly. The only thing that is set is the product, service and the leader. At this point, the market knows that there is an interesting product, but they’re not sure who’s making it yet. 

At the third stage of development, what we see is that this boundary around the team becomes more clear. That means it’s defined who’s in and who’s out. The identity of the team becomes as clear as the identity of the product and service. As they’re growing, the leader needs to pay more attention to the customers. As a consequence they ask the people who’ve been there longest, to be coordinators or team leaders under the big leader. The big leader starts to focus outside. This creates what we call vertical differentiation. As vertical differentiation develops, the team becomes more complex, with concentric team leadership. The practical consequence is that the original leader has intense contact with the team leaders, but the members of that team are one removed from the founder of the team. This usually means that members get more attached to the organization as a whole; than to the leader. The leader is, at this point, busy with customers, with bringing in new ideas, but also busy with; How can I lead my team leaders so that they can lead the members? It becomes a complex job with focus outside and a focus inward. 

At the fourth stage of team development, we have vertical differentiation, and horizontal differentiation. That means that the members start to get specialized in differentiated roles. Some are busy with production, some with sales, some with after sales. You also see that the recruitment in the team changes. At the beginning, it was really people who were attracted to the leader, later to the product. Now they are hired for their expertise in one certain area. Here we have a fully developed team. You’ve got a leader, you’ve got different concentric circles of leaders under that, you’ve got specialized members with minor internal boundaries in between.

After this stage of team formation, other stages are possible, depending on the market demands. However, what’s interesting is that the team development goes from very simple, one person doing everything, which has the benefit that you don’t have to manage anyone but has the limitation that you can’t produce great volumes because you’re limited by time and by resources. As you grow, the team becomes more complex. Every boundary you create allows more volume but also more loss. Every boundary you create, you lose information, you lose energy, you lose money. Every boundary needs to be managed, so you have more overhead. The benefit of creating more complexity is that you can specialize in certain products, in certain segments of customers, which means you can both create volume and specialization, but at more cost. 

What I’m saying is that these stages of development go from simple to complex. This means you can create more product for a complex market and more volume. However, each time you create complexity, you’re going to solve one problem but cause the next. There is no way you can skip development stages. People really like to go from very simple to completely fully developed, that’s not really possible, because each stage of development gives specific team learning.

We’ll talk about that in a while. 

Good luck with your development. 

Conflict Resolution – How Can I Change The Past Story? — July 8, 2021

Conflict Resolution – How Can I Change The Past Story?

My name is Sari van Poelje. I’m the Director of Intact Academy. In the Intact Academy, we teach coaches and consultants to be innovative business coaches. In Agile Business Innovation, I help businesses innovate more quickly than their products to accelerate their time to market. Check out our websites, we’ve got some interesting stuff up there.

We’re talking about conflicts and conflict resolution. I have talked about some of the main pointers to do and I talked about the ladder of conflict resolution. Now I’m talking about some of the things that I’ve learned over time that are important to me in conflict resolution. Two of the things I want to talk about is learning from difficult behaviors and to engage in problem resolution creatively. 

Learning from difficult behaviors is important. As I said, last time, my opponents have taught me more than my friends. I bow to my opponents, and there have been a few in my life, thank you very much, I’ve learned a lot from you. Thinking from the earliest times to now, I’ve learned a lot about myself and about my way of dealing with problems. It’s strengthened my resolution to focus on what’s important in my life. That’s been an invaluable lesson. One of the things I’ve learned from this opposition, let’s call it that, is learning from difficult behaviors. There are three things I want to say about that. 

If you define the problem as the person or the personality, you can never resolve a conflict. I remember vividly coming into a team coaching situation where everyone was fighting. I said, “What’s going on here?”. They said, “it’s our personalities. They’re so big. We have such big personalities that we can’t work together!”. I’m thinking, “Look, guys,”, because in this case it was four guys, “if you define it as a personality problem, your only solution is to fire yourself. What are you going to do? You can’t change someone else? You can change yourself but it’s going to take years. You’ve got a fantastic product. Why fight about personality, when you have a job to do together? Your shared purpose is to create innovation in the world so that we can, in this case, resolve the mobility problems of transportation.”. They had a fantastic idea about that, and they were wasting their time talking about personality. If we stayed in personality paradigms, it was unresolvable. 

It’s interesting to talk about what unresolved conflict as a person you bring to the table, that influences the here and now way of working together. I had a great conversation with one of my colleagues yesterday talking about a project we did together. “What came up for you? What came up for me? Tell me, what did you see? What can we agree to do differently together in the future? What kind of stop word can we use to say that it is happening again?”. That strengthened our cooperation. Yesterday, in a conversation with my team, they were willing to talk about other things than personality. What appeared to be the problem was that they hadn’t defined their roles. As they hadn’t defined their roles, they kept clashing at a deeper level. We separated out the roles and it was much better. 

The second thing about learning from difficult behaviors is, if you define the problem as the behavior, you must see how you are strengthening that behavior. I have a young puppy and I’ve learned a lot from puppy training about how to deal with conflict. One of the things the puppy trainer said to me is, every time you pay attention to a puppy when they do something bad, you’re going to reward it. You are the greatest thing in the puppy’s life. You are the one who walks them, who feeds them, cuddles them etc. Every time the puppy does something bad, distract or ignore. Often when we deal with conflicts in our relationships, or in our teams, we reward bad behavior. A manager is most probably spending more time with a person who behaves badly than with a person who behaves well. I would suggest that you stop spending so much time on the bad behavior. Focus on the people who are doing well. Create momentum for changing your teams. Create momentum for changing your relationship. Don’t keep focusing on the trash. Focus on the fact that someone does something that shows you they love you. If you focus on that, perhaps you will have less time to focus on the trash. How are you rewarding that bad behavior yourself? If you’re in a relationship, you can complain about how the other person is always fighting, but you are the one who is rewarding it. Think about that. How am I rewarding? Catch people doing things right. It’s a much more rewarding way to spend your time and your lifetime.

The other thing I want to say about learning from difficult behaviors is that every difficult behavior represents a question we haven’t asked yet. I think people repeat patterns from their past. Every time you enter a new relationship or a new team, you’re between hope and fear. You think, “this time, it’s going to be different.”, but you’re afraid it’s going to end up the same way. When we’re under stress, we replay things from the past, because that’s what we’ve learned. We learned it earliest. It’s the deepest, embedded learning we have. You learned it in a normal nonverbal state. It means that it’s usually unprocessed. When people are under stress, they access that limbic system of survival and they will repeat patterns from their past, often conflicts from their past that are unresolved.

When I see difficult behavior, I often think, what story are you luring me into? Am I willing to play a part in this or not? Usually, the answer is not. It’s important to understand the stories people are repeating, and what is the smallest thing you can do to change that story by being someone different than they expect. I had a client who kept coming too late and I have a rule about coming too late. You come too late; you don’t get to participate. This time, I thought, this is a symptom, not the problem. I wondered what it meant. I took that person separately, and I said, “what’s going on here? In everything else, you’re punctual except in the space where you could have a possibility to change. As a matter of fact, you’re always 10 minutes late. If you’re always 10 minutes too late, you could probably always be on time. What’s going on?”. They told me a story of their past in which they grew up with an absent mother, and a very dominant father. The only way they could find freedom was by managing their time, by secretly always being a little bit too late. They still had a feeling of agency, that they had something to say in their lives. 

Obviously, as a child, you are dependent, it’s very difficult to find agency. Any little space where children find agency, I celebrate, it’s fantastic. I’m extremely happy about that. Instead of punishing the bad behavior, I said, “fantastic, please come later!”. I thought, how can I reward something that is actually healthy behavior? Behavior in which people can find their potency. I then explained to the group that the general rule is we must be on time, except for this person, they can come and go as they please. Lo and behold, from that day onward, they came on time, and started doing the real work. The work was around; How do I over adapt? How can I find freedom in any situation I am in? How can I belong and be free at the same time? 

My wish for you is, anytime you feel you are in conflict, look at the behavior and if you think it’s difficult, think about not defining the person. Check if you’re rewarding the behavior and look at what the meaning of this is. What is the smallest thing you can do to change the story of their past in this conflict?

I wish you wisdom

Conflict Resolution: Listen To The Tides Not The Waves — July 1, 2021

Conflict Resolution: Listen To The Tides Not The Waves

My name is Sari van Poelje. On the one hand, I train coaches and consultants, from beginner, to advanced, to team coaches and business coaches. I do that in Intact Academy. The other thing I do is, I help businesses innovate more quickly than their products to accelerate their time to market. I do that within my company Agile Business Innovation. 

We’re talking about conflicts and conflict resolution. More specifically, we talked about the ladder of dealing with conflicts in our last blog. This time I want to give some general pointers that I use when I’m dealing with conflict resolution. 

One of the things that really helps is listening. That’s an open door. There are not a lot of people who can listen well. A lot of people are listening for content, instead of for the meaning underneath. My general pointer when you’re dealing with conflict is to listen with your heart. Listening is a creative force. You need to listen, not for what people say but, for how they’re saying it, and for the story underneath. In my coaching school, people often say, “how do you know? It’s like magic!”. Partly it’s technical, but partly it’s listening both with my head, my heart and my hands. What I’m listening for is the tides, not the waves. The waves distract us. If you listen to the waves in the conflict, you’ll always be distracted by the trash. You’re not listening for what are the tides in someone’s life that brings them back and forth into this conflict. At best when you listen for the patterns in someone’s life, it’s a creative force because it helps you to unfold, to expand. 

The greatest enemy of learning is not ignorance, it’s thinking that you already know what’s going to happen. That’s the greatest enemy of learning. How they are behaving during the conflict tells me something about what they learned and what they haven’t learned. Thinking about the narrative underneath the conflict, tells me why they are in this conflict. It tells me something about the tides in their life. Listening as a creative force creates miracles. If you don’t listen for that, it’s going to cost you a relationship, it’s going to cost you vitality, and ultimately health. What I really, really want you to learn, even in conflict is to stay cool, listen for the tides. However, for conflict resolution, it’s not important what people are fighting about. What’s important is to listen for the patterns. How are they fighting? Why are they fighting? That’s the tides of people’s lives and create small miracles with that. 

The second thing I want to say is: help people separate what matters from what’s in the way. My strong belief is every conflict contains its own resolution, if you listen well. If you are stuck in being right, then you probably won’t be able to resolve the conflict. If you’re still talking about, “I’m right, because we made a schedule to put out the trash.”. You’re going to repeat that ad nauseum. This is like a Buddhist learning; you’re going to repeat it until you have the next best life. I encourage you to solve it in this life, because as far as we know, we only have one life. If we have many lives, I’ll be very happy, because there will be many different levels of learning. Spending your life on trash, not a good thing. 

How do you separate what matters from what’s in the way? I’m going to give you some pointers for that. One is to separate your position from the interests involved, explore the why instead of the what. It’s not so interesting what position of power you have, but consider what interest you have in resolving the conflict. Even if I’m right, in who puts out the trash, my interest is in not having these types of conversations in my life anymore, because it’s a waste of time. Anything in my life is replaceable, except time. My interest in resolving these conflicts is not to spend much time on that. It doesn’t interest me. I have a huge interest in getting out of the way of this type of conversation and focusing on what it is that is important in this. What is it that is important in our relationship? I will say to people that I want to find a way with them not to spend too much time on this. That’s my main driver now. I want to focus on legacy, I don’t want to focus on trash. 

The second thing in how to separate what matters from what’s in the way, is to separate people from their problems. This person is not my enemy, even if they’re in conflict with me. In fact the people who oppose me, teach me more than people who stand next to me. I’m focused on people who oppose me as a source of learning. When I was younger, I used to have a karate teacher. I have a brown belt in karate. I used to have a very small karate teacher, he was my little personal Mr. Miyagi, and my personal miracle. He used to push me over, stand on my stomach to see if I breathed out correctly when I was doing my situps. He taught me all sorts of things like, what do you do when someone wields a knife. I’d say to him, “I would do this move or that move.” and he would say, “You’re crazy, run away!”. I hated him at times, because he was such a tough taskmaster. He taught me more than ‘yes sayers’. I used to be a Director of multinationals and I used to hire people who would be ‘no sayers’ on purpose, because they would usually teach me something. Separating people from problems is an important one in conflict resolution. “Yes, we have a problem, you are not the problem.”. Remaining respectful in that sense is important.

Separating problems from solutions is another next step. Thinking about; what’s it about? Where did it begin? I work with a lot of engineers. They go straight to solutions, instead of looking at what the problem really is. The problem is not the waves, it’s the tides. You must do a good, “what is the problem here?”, before you go to solutions. That’s why I say separating problems from solutions is very important. Taking the time to think about, “the trash – what is it that is evoked in me? Where do we end up? What do we need to do at this level? Also, at the level of not repeating this kind of problem in our lives is important.”. Separating the future from the past seems obvious, however, people in conflict often repeat their past and they set you up to repeat their past. It’s very important to think about whether this is something that’s going on in the here and now? What will be the effect on our future? I’d rather focus on who we want to be instead of who we were. That could be an entrance to conflict resolution. 

One of the things that I think is important is, before you talk about a solution when you’re separating problems, talk about the criteria. How are we going to choose a solution? These criteria are something based both in fact and in value. It is important to say, “this is the problem. We’ve dug deep. We have found where the problem lies. How are we going to choose solutions? What is important to you in that? What’s important to me in that?”. Only then to move towards solutions. The important thing is to separate what matters from what’s in the way. Use that as a guideline to do conflict resolution for you. 

I hope this helps you get to the important stuff in your life, instead of sticking with the trash. 

Conflict Resolution: The Ladder To A New Self — June 24, 2021

Conflict Resolution: The Ladder To A New Self

My name is Sari van Poelje, I’m the Director of Intact Academy and of Agile Business Innovation. If you want to know more about that, please go to our websites: and We’ve got cool programs, and a great way of creating agile, innovative teams for you. 

We’re talking about conflicts and more specifically conflict resolution. I did an appeal to look at the emotion underneath and the meaning underneath the conflict for you, as a way of opening the door to opportunity. More specifically, I want to invite you to look at the hidden meaning of conflict. I want to talk about the ladder for finding the meaning of a conflict. If you go up that ladder, it’s much easier to resolve conflicts. 

There’s a conflict resolution ladder that starts at the top with, what are the material issues involved? What is visible? In the last example I gave it was about putting out the trash. If you want to ignore all the rest and just find a way to put out the trash that doesn’t always involve you and doesn’t always involve conflict, you need to talk about the material issue involved. What is it about? The trash? It could be  about time structuring. I don’t always want to be busy with household stuff. I want to have a life in which I’m not always putting out the trash. I want to be writing my book etc. That’s a material issue. Time. 

Another material issue could be money. Do we have to pay someone to put out the trash? You would contribute to the circular economy and not put out the trash yourself. Another material issue could be space. For instance, you could stop yourself from putting out the trash by having five trash cans in the house and just waiting until all of them are full. That would take up quite a lot of space in your house. 

The second step to conflict resolution is personality. As I said, in the last blog, some people seem to fight about a whole lot of different things, but at the personality level, the emotion involved, the conclusions you draw from conflict is based on what type of person you are. I use the Process Communication model to look at personality types. Personality is a great indicator of what kind of conflicts you get.. For instance, we have a rebel personality type. They’re always in and out of groups, they’re on the edge. Usually, they fight about when things get too boring, but their actual issue is, “do I belong or not?”. 

When I have workaholics in the team coaching, they’re usually going to fight about responsibilities and time. They find themselves doing more than other people. Then suddenly it stacks up and they start conflicts about, “am I the only person doing things around here?”.

We also have a personality type called Harmonizer. People who are focused on emotion and on relationships. They want to please others and forget to please themselves. Their conflicts are usually  about, “I’m always the one taking care of others but who’s taking care of me?”. 

One of the roads to conflict resolution is awareness of your personality: Can we solve the issue of needs and existential questions underneath instead of always having the same conflict? As far as we know you only have one life. Why not spend it on something that gives you more energy and more learning? Instead of repeating something you already know. 

The third step in conflict resolution is: what emotion is involved? I already talked about emotions in the last blog. Within transactional analysis we talk about racket emotions and authentic emotions. A racket emotion is an emotion you’ve learned in early childhood, to replace the emotion you weren’t allowed to express. For instance, my client grew up in a family where fear was a no, no. There was a lot of reason as a child to be scared. However, fear was not talked about in the family. Instead, people did anger. Interestingly, when this client is in a conflictous situation, that’s the first place they go. What they should be concentrating on is the authentic feeling underneath, which is usually fear or sadness. Anger over fear is traditionally seen in men. Sadness over anger is traditionally what we see in women. If you feed the racket feeling, you’ll never resolve the conflict, because it’s not the real feeling. It does not lead to the real need. At the third level; What emotion Am I feeling? Is that real or not real? Is it authentic? Or is it a racket feeling? What is the authentic feeling? What does that tell me about the need in that conflict? 

The fourth level we look at in conflict resolution is focusing on the needs and wants underneath. Emotions are a great gateway into understanding the needs underneath. One way to talk about needs is just to sit down and say, “forget about the trash and who takes out the trash. What is the need I have in this relationship?”. Then, surprisingly, perhaps people will talk about it. “I need to feel that we’re both sharing the load. I need to feel that I’m not the only one thinking of the things that need to be done. I need to feel that you love me by the small things you also do in this household.”. 

Talking about the needs underneath is important. The difficulty is if people are in the heat of the moment, it’s very difficult to talk about needs and to take them seriously. I used to live in Saudi Arabia, and we used to say, “never drink the tea while it’s hot!”. I don’t know where that actually comes from because drinking hot tea in a hot climate cools you down. But  in a conflict that’s a handy saying because it’s very difficult to talk about needs and wants if the conflict is hot. If you’re still stuck on the trash, it’s hard to say, “I want to feel supported around here.”. Wait until it’s cooled down. Announce, “let’s talk about it later.”, then breathe, go out, whatever you need to do. Then come back and say, “. Let’s talk about….”. John Gottman says, “Your goal, if you love someone, is to help them realize their dreams.”. Not your dreams, their dreams. 

The fifth level of conflict resolution, going down that ladder, is to talk about values and self-esteem. Often conflicts come from the fact that you’re confirming people’s view about themselves. Within transactional analysis we talk about life positions. There are four basic life positions. We say plus plus, that means I’m okay you’re okay, and we’re in a flow together. Probably you won’t have conflict if you’re in that position. We talk about plus minus, I’m a little bit more okay than you are. George Orwell said some animals are more equal than others. If you do a conflict from that position, I’m a little bit more okay, then the other person will feel less okay. Obviously, if that’s their basic life position, it’s painful to confirm that in a conflict. What’s underneath this is, “you’re the one who puts out the trash because I think I’m a bit more okay than you are.”. We also talk about minus plus, I’m a bit less okay. Then minus minus is very bad because you get extremely bad conflicts. In that way, you say, I’m not okay and you’re not okay. If you take it seriously that in a relationship your intention is to help your partner fulfill their dreams, then an interesting conversation to have is, “how does this conflict confirm your life position?”.  

At best in a partnership, a relationship, any form of relationship, that you help each other become your best self. What people mean by that is to stay in plus plus. A conversation about how we can stay in that plus plus position, you’re okay I’m okay and we’re okay together, is a good conversation to have. After the tea has cooled down and you’ve talked about values, about needs and wants. It’s ok to talk about, “I’m confirming my old vision of myself. That’s not okay. I’m putting it on you. I’m enticing you to start this conflict with me, so that I confirm this old version of myself.”. That also makes who you have a conflict with less personal. In fact conflicts feel extremely personal, but you’re just picking people who will confirm your old life story. Not what does it say about you, but what does it say about me? For instance, if I do anger over fear, I get other people pissed off and I don’t get the help and support I need because I’m actually feeling scared. It confirms a minus plus position. It’s good to have a partner, in whatever shape or form, who can help me overcome that old stuff. It takes a lot of heart to have a conversation like that, but it’s very, very important. If you can be your best self together, that’s a fantastic partnership to have. 

That brings us straight to the last level of conflict resolution. Every conflict tells you something about something that’s unresolved from your past. At worst, you’re just replaying scenarios that have been unresolved from your past. As I was saying, this fear over anger, not getting the support, minus plus position, is not something that’s relevant in my life today. However, it was relevant when I was a kid. That’s how I felt. At the deepest level of conflict resolution, if you want to have that conversation with the person you’re with, it’s good to talk about how you felt as a kid, what emotions came up, what kind of conflict you replay this in. Maybe together you can find some kind of stop word, gesture, joke, or a symbol that you can exchange with each other. Even saying, “we’re going there again.”. Just stop whatever you’re doing, go and make some tea, have a walk outside, come back and talk about, “that nearly was something that I remember from my past.”. Then have a conversation about, “what did I contribute to this conflict? What kind of relationship do I want with you? What do we need to agree to avoid this kind of situation in future?”. That will deepen your relationship. You won’t be talking about who puts out the trash, you will be talking about, “I did it again. I need some help here.”. I wish you a relationship like that. You’ll possibly never become completely conflict free, but your conflict will be the doorway, not to your past, but to your future. 

Conflict Resolution – What Are The Feelings Underneath? — June 17, 2021

Conflict Resolution – What Are The Feelings Underneath?

My name is Sari van Poelje. I’m the Director of Intact Academy and of Agile Business Innovation. We help businesses innovate more quickly than their products so that they can accelerate their time to market. If you want to know more about that, please go to our websites: and

We were talking about styles and types of conflict. Now we’re going to talk about conflict resolution. Conflicts are something that appear in our daily life, but also over a lifetime as well. I sometimes wonder what does a conflict actually mean? A conflict can be the pathway to re-deciding your life. For instance: You start fighting about who puts out the trash, and you end up walking away thinking, “nobody loves me anyway!”. Or you’re fighting about who puts out the trash, and you walk away thinking, “I always have to do everything around here!”. Or you walk away and think “Tenderness is more important than trash”. Conflict can be a pathway to reconfirmation of what you already know, or a conflict can create a doorway to something new in your life. 

You can redesign your pathway in life. You could have that same conflict about who puts out the trash and decide, “this person loves me and this is just a conflict about who puts out the trash. How are we going to deal with this?”. Or you could have the same conflict and think, “obviously, I’m in a relationship where everybody does something to their own ability, and maybe I’m taking too much responsibility. Can I let go of that responsibility and relax into being instead of doing?”. At the social level, we talk about who puts out the trash, but our experience of conflict is always emotional. What might be interesting is to find the word that expresses what you usually feel in a conflict. 

My experience of conflict between people is that the feeling they have after a conflict is always familiar. No matter what conflict they’re having, or with whom they have conflict, that person who puts out the trash walks away thinking, “nobody loves me!”. They always feel a victim of circumstance after conflict. They always feel this impotent sadness, which hides the anger underneath.

For many reasons that person who walks away thinking, “I always have to do things around here”, walks away angry. Underneath they are always sad, because they feel alone, nobody’s supporting them in what they’re doing. If it’s about the trash, or it’s about their new job, or it’s about the strategy within the organization they are in, they’ll always walk away thinking they must put out the trash in whatever form that takes.

Focus on the feeling and think about  what it is you are missing. Each feeling gives us information about the need you have underneath. The guy who walks away thinking, “I always have to do things around here”, walks away with the sadness of never being supported. That feeling of sadness tells you something about the need for having that arm around their shoulder. Having an experience of support. 

The other thing that you could focus on during a conflict is to step away and think, “I’ve had this conversation about trash  many times. Yes, I’m feeling that way but what opportunity does this give us?”. You could have that same conversation, have a laugh together and say, “we’ve been here before. What is it we haven’t thought about together that gives us an opportunity for change in our relationship?”. 

You could start hearing an attack as a way of reaching out by someone who doesn’t know how to reach out differently. I know people focus on the slap in the face, but the slap in the face is also a hand reaching out to you. Can you hear the attack as a request for support? If you can, not only of the other person, but also of yourself, what does that tell you? 

Those are my three invitations. The reasons for a conflict seem grounded in fact but are actually very emotional. Look at the feeling underneath, the opportunity, and the request for support. 

That’s the first step in conflict resolution.