LEAD Your Way Through Conflict

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My One Word for 2020 was PEACE, and I became laser-focused on learning everything I could about mediation, peace building, and conflict transformation.

A lot of what I’ve learned could be summed up in a simple four-letter acronym that you can memorize and start applying to everyday conflict situations in your own life.

BEAR IN MIND that if you are dealing with an escalating, long standing, seemingly intractable conflict, this simple formula is NOT A SUBSTITUTE for working with a trained mediator.

But it’s a place to start. And for those pesky conflicts that arise from day-to-day in your family, workplace, or relationships, this might be all you need.

Today I’ll give you a brief overview, and then over the next four days I’ll go deeper into each principle.

How to L-E-A-D your way through conflict:


I can’t say enough about the importance of listening. I have come to believe that our inability (or unwillingness) to listen to each other is THE MAIN CAUSE of the conflict, division, and polarization that is tearing our country apart.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that listening is a skill we can learn. Listening is a superpower that changes things. And listening is the key to conflict resolution.

I’ll say more about listening and HOW TO DO IT tomorrow.


Once you’ve listened to each other deeply, you’re ready to start exploring. What’s really going on here? What are the deeper issues, wants, and needs behind this conflict? What are the options for moving forward?

One of the things you definitely want to explore is the difference between your “positions” and your “interests”:

  • “Positions” are demands. It’s what you say you want.
  • “Interests” are the reasons behind the demand–the real need, principle, value, or desire that drives the statement of what you want.

The classic illustration is the story of two children fighting over the last orange. Each child’s position is “I want the orange.” But when they explore the interests behind the position, they discover that one child wants the peel, and the other wants the juice.

I’ll say more about exploring in two days.


Once you’ve listened deeply, and explored feelings, positions, interests, and options for moving forward, you’re ready to answer the question, “What CAN we agree on?”

Maybe, as in the orange example above, you discover a win-win solution that satisfies everyone’s needs.

Maybe the answer is not clear at all, but you are able to agree on some trial solutions that you will experiment with and revisit later.

Maybe you conclude (together) that there is no solution, and the time has come for you to part ways–honorably, amicably, in the most loving way possible.

What CAN you agree on? Get clear on that. Shake hands on that (or elbow bump if you’re social distancing). Move forward with that.

I’ll say more about agreeing in three days.

D = DO

This is important: Once you’ve agreed on something, you have to DO it.

Don’t walk away from the “negotiation table” and after second thoughts (or pressure from others), renege on your agreement.

That’s a great way to destroy trust, deepen resentments, and escalate your conflict for years to come.

Conversely, DOING what you said you would do–and doing it quickly, thoroughly, and with good faith effort–develops goodwill, builds trust, and lays a foundation for resolving future conflicts with the other party.

More about that on Friday.

For now, just remember LEAD:





Four steps that are easy to remember. Not easy to DO, mind you! This is some of the hardest work you’ll ever do.

But it’s worth it.

Because PEACE matters.