The strongest steel is forged in the hottest fire.”— Anonymous

What do you do when there is a spark of conflict that looks like it could become the hottest fire?

In last week’s newsletter, I promised to provide a new frame on the challenge of how to make a conflict useful.

Many people view conflict as undesirable, something to be avoided, and absolutely something to get out of as soon as possible.

Many people are missing out on a wonderful opportunity.  When there is conflict, there is passion.  When the passion is in opposition, there is heat.  The heat of conflict can be used in at least three ways.  

It can be destructive, where people try to outshout each other. The protagonists ignore each other, don’t recognize each other’s moments of truth or moments of useful ideas.  This leads to the destruction of the trust each person has for the other.  It can lead to a logjam delaying the outcomes needed.

It can be handled by each party, avoiding the center of the conflict.  They will quickly compromise. They will work to ignore the center of where the heat of the argument could be. The outcome is likely to be better than the logjam in the first situation. However, it is also almost certainly weaker than the third option.

The third way is the best. Frame the conflict as an opportunity to use the heat to create something new!  Here are a few of the vital things to do to make this ideal a reality.

  • View this as an opportunity to get to know the other protagonists better.  Their experiences are different from yours. Their goals might be different from yours.  They might know something you do not.  The first step is to truly hold the view in your own mind that this is not a conflict where someone wins and loses—this an opportunity for everyone to learn.
  • State the learning goals to the others you may be in conflict with.  Say, “This is a terrific opportunity for each of us to learn!”
  • Ask what goals the other people’s approach is achieving. Ask why they think that approach is the best way to achieve that goal.  Ask what experiences they have that has led them to their beliefs.
  • Reflect back on what you heard. Make sure you understand them before trying to be understood yourself.  (Yes, that is one of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits!)
  • Ask if they are willing to listen to your goals and why you believe your approach has merit. It is advantageous to ask permission first.  That gives the other people the opportunity to know that it is your turn to share and their turn to listen.
  • Look for ways to merge the best aspects of each idea.

At the very least, when you use this approach, you will know the other people much better and why they have the ideas they do.

At the very best, you will have forged together a new, stronger idea.  

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

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