Resolving Conflict without a Manual

This is about some reminders that are quick to access when we find ourselves erupted in conflict. I sometimes use the word “I” to share these experiences with you.

Let’s start with what is this article is about, and what we can leave behind.

When someone is doing something I don’t like:

  • Is it impeding me? Can I walk away?
  • Do I have a relationship with this person and want to stay?

If you do not know this person, and if you can’t walk away, call for help. This article is not about violence intervention.

Meanwhile, if you do not want to walk away, here is a brief summary of what you can do.

Pause, breath, wait, listen, feel, faith…..

Self-Facilitative Process

Conflict erupts.  It happens.  Pause. Acknowledge to each other something isn’t right.  The reason we do this is because a conflict does not exist until both people are aware of it. If one person is miffed and the other person is unaware, that is not a conflict, and cannot be resolved.  The other person needs to be made aware.  

If both people acknowledge something is amiss and worth solving, self-facilitated dialogue is possible.

Decide who goes first.

Person A speaks. Center yourself. Be specific.  Include your feelings as a part of the information to convey.  Resist reacting to reaction emotion from the other.  Person B listens. Center yourself.  You will be hearing a perspective different from your own. Absorb the story. Resist interruption.  
Be Specific.  Tell the story like you are telling a detective who is there to help you solve a riddle.  Tell the story like you were an observer in the event rather than a participant.  What you saw and heard.Deep listening means putting aside your own perspective and listening to the details provided by the other to gain insight as to how you both got here.  You will have your turn.
Include your feelings.  And state as briefly as possible why.  This person is listening to you and may help you understand yourself just by allowing you to vocalize what happened and how it made you feel.  For example: “When I saw you hug that person, I became really upset, meaning frightened, and angry.  It reminded me of my last partner and how we ended it.Bring your compassion on line.  Again, you will have your turn to convey.  When the other person shares his/her feelings, it is important to resist getting lost in them (over empathetic) or in denial of them (invalidating).  Whether you identify with the feelings or not, understanding the other person’s feelings is a keystone to the solution.
Don’t take it personally.  Now is the time to communicate your point of view, and this may surprise the other person.  Resist taking it personally if the person reacts to your perspective.  Resist Reaction.  This may be the most difficult.  The impulse to interrupt and correct is strong.  “Use the force, Luke!” Instead of interrupting, resist taking the story personally and listen even deeper.  You are getting closer to a big clue of how to resolve this.  

When it feels to Person A has exhausted his or her point, check in:

Acknowledge you are finished explainingOffer to say back what you heard.  This shows person A you were listening and you comprehend
Be gentle with misinterpretations. Correct the other person without punishing them for not understanding everything.Break up your summary into pieces, and check in. As a different example: “So I hear you missed the training, and it was because I gave you incorrect information about the start time, right?” …. “From this you feel I embarrassed you.  You are concerned this may affect the organizers’ opinion of your reliability, am I right?” 
When successfully heard, let the other person know it. Make sure you concede that is all, and take your turn listening as the Person B role.One last check in to see if there is anything else.  Now it is your turn to speak your story.

Non-violent Communication

Changing the way we say something can sometimes make all the difference in escalating or de-escalating a situation.  While not the only purveyor of communication skills, Marshall Rosenberg put together the wisdom to unlock the reasons why our use of language can make things worse.  We as a society have gotten into the habit of expressing emotions in terms of actions.  The problem is – especially with unpleasant emotions – our expressions that substitute verbs for emotions 

1) are thinly veiled accusations, and 

2) assumes we know another person’s intent.  

We will be better at communicating our truth when we come back to words that describe our own experiences and feelings.

We can check our language when we ask the question, who is the actor?  For example: 

  • “I feel attacked!” literally means someone is doing the attacking.  Who?  The listener hears “You are attacking me”.  In fact, “attacked” is not a feeling at all – it is an action.  Who is doing the attacking?
  • “I feel challenged!” and the listener may retort, “I’m not challenging you!”  Again, is that what the person is doing or intending?
  • “I feel rejected.”  How does one know what is in someone’s heart unless someone says, “You are right – I am rejecting you.”
  • “I feel loved” – which is great.  I hope we all feel love.

Instead, maybe one of these is closer to the truth:

  • I feel hurt when you yell at me.
  • I feel angry when you question my decision.
  • I feel fear when you don’t answer my texts.

People don’t need to defend themself when one speaks their true feelings. “I’m angry” is not an accusation: it just is.

What are you feeling when you read those statements?  I just wrote them and I am feeling, wow that really puts me out there.  I would be vulnerable to actually having a conversation about how much fear I have inside.  I’m being honest with this person and realizing, it isn’t that person’s fault at all.  I got some work to do… as so on.

Yes, being honest with someone else might help us be more honest with ourselves, and maybe it is okay to feel a little need to breathe through that.

Which of these words are actions that can occur?  Which words express emotions one feels inside?











Remember:  The worst we can do is tell someone their experience is wrong. So if someone puts you on the defense by saying, “Your behavior makes me feel rejected”…. Pause. Breath. Wait for the emotion word and reflect that back.  “I hear you feel afraid I am rejecting you, am I right?”

Don’t Take It Personally

Because it is all personally – meaning, your experience is personal to you.  Another’s experience is personal to them.  Avoid taking on someone else’s experience as your own.  

When we “take it personally”, taking on more than our fair share, we confuse the problem.  Absorbing more than what is ours belies our responsibility in the situation as well as taking away the burden of responsibility from the other.  

When we take on more than we should, we are tacitly relieving another of their power to own their actions, feelings, or mistakes.  How are we to learn if we do not walk the path fully?  By remaining aligned with what is truly our responsibility and no more, the other person in kind is able to do this as well.  The truth – even if momentarily uncomfortable – still feels better than confounding the issue with false guilt, shame or blaming the other or yourself.  

I take it personally that our teenager doesn’t wash the dishes in the kitchen sink or pick up after himself in the bathroom.  Why?  I want to use those spaces, and I take his mess to mean he wants me to feel frustrated.  The truth: I am blocked from using these spaces cleanly.. To use them, I will need to clean up after him, which sets a precedent that when he leaves a mess, someone else will clean up after him.  The deeper truth:  That scenario is just my fear whispering to me.  I don’t know what he is thinking, and I cannot see the future of a learning teenager.    That fear is all mine, and I don’t have to borrow what might be another’s intent.

Pause, Breath, Wait, Listen, Feel, Faith…..

There are many paths to choose in resolving conflict, putting wrongs into correctness, addressing imbalances.  No matter what culture guides us or practices we use, most situations benefit from

Pausing.  With some exigent exceptions, most situations benefit from pausing before reacting.  A purposeful pause gives space for a thoughtful response to seed itself.  

Breathe.  All over the planet, traditions train in breathing towards calm, health and enlightenment.  Why not implement this quick, accessible practice in moments of stress, if not always?  Regular breathing calms the nervous system and helps the brain process.  Bringing consciousness to our breath and sound can enhance this re-balancing.

Wait.  Patience is called for the wisdom to glide in.  Assuming your body has not reacted yet to evolutionary mandates, ask yourself, what does your mind say?  Then ask, what does your heart say?  What your mind says may be influenced by “shoulds” or history or good advice from ancestors. What your heart says may be influenced by remorse or desires or kindness that forgets your boundaries.  What does your wisdom say?

Listen.  To others involved, to your deeper truth, to unexpected messages in the environment around you.

Feel.  Feel your body and honor your emotions.  Witness yourself as you would a child who doesn’t understand.  Let compassion accompany whatever you are feeling.

Faith.  Some of the best lessons I have learned in all the scuffs and scary conflicts I’ve been in are found in the unexpected gifts that come on the other side of the unknown   “Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to.*  Perseverance.  Admit you don’t know all the answers.  Come back to the reason you don’t want to give up.  All these heartfelt decisions come in faith that somehow, some way, a new truth will reveal.

* Kris Kringle, “Miracle on 34th Street”, 1947

Facing Judgement from Others

Waking up to toxins

Marvel Comics

When experience is normal to us, we tend to not question it. We breathe, we wake up, go to sleep, our hearts beat…. For those of us who make it a practice to pay attention in such places as meditation, or yoga or other body awareness practice, we learn to feel our heart beat, witness our breathing, and even learn to speak to our bodies in such a way that can calm the heart, release hypertension, cool down a hot headed reaction, or smooth into an appropriate life-saving response.

These practices can be used as well with other environmental factors that oftentimes gets lodged into rhetoric, glances, and for some of us, no sensory observations are needed to know the toxins are in the air. Point is, when we are used to it, we do not pay attention to the harm it causes to our being.

Energy body awareness practices reveal these realities like coming to understand the physical realities of cortisol or prolonged depression. We are exposed to energetic toxins every day. They might come in the form of

  • Fear, within our self or in others
  • Judgements, usually a masked form of fear
  • Anger, usually caused by lack of understanding coupled with fear
  • Confusion or numbness when a response is needed
  • Accusations, another common expression of fear

Fear can be good, like sensory pain to warn of immediate danger. That fear that comes up in the moment – because you are existing in the moment – can save a life. The list above, however, are examples of fear that are generated from something remembered in the past, and consequently projected into the future. For example:

  1. Historical Fear Thought: “I am afraid of going into that salon because last time my hair was pulled so hard it hurt.
  2. Momental Fear Thought: “……” [In the moment, there is no time to form a conventional thought – only to respond to the baby who figured out to take the protective plug out of the electrical outlet and now is about to lick it.]

In the momental fear has no thought and can be helpful. Then the moment is over. Momental fear might give rise to lessons to avoid future momental fears. The person who acts this way – responsive to the lessons of momental fear without storing fear – will again be present in the moment for what baby will do next.

My favorite toxin

I am hypersensitive to judgment, especially in its most unkind form, ridicule. When I let my past murk up my present, this memory of painful stabs from others grew in me like a crab weed the fear of being around a lot of people. I Love People, so understand my strange pain to want to be around them while also needing to avoid crowds. Living in the moment promises relief.

Living in the moment is the subject of yoga and meditation and esoteric wisdom. The moment of an afternoon. The moment of a hummingbird that pauses near you. The moment of one heart thump. The smaller and more simple the moment is, the more difficult it seems to be there. Or is it?

Experiment with this micro-moment…..

And now this longer one…..


I flew to Africa for the first time when I was 18 years old, just two weeks out of high school. Alone. I came to understand the 22-hour moment. To be clear, I was in the moment, which, translating into clock time standards, was about 22 hours. Even so, the moment was the space of one heart beat. The cool thing about being in the moment is there is no pain, there is no fatigue, and there is no fear. Not really. The instantaneous momental presence of fear for assessing a situation goes away once the message is heard by the muscle that moves to respond. Having 22 hours to stretch through this observation was a gift.

So how does this help me (or anyone) get over my fear of others’ mass of judgments. I grew up with them, meaning people, got to know well through jabs and public humiliation, and find I cannot be around them without fear of being ostracized? I must ask myself to return to the moment that has no time, therefore no past nor projection of the future where peace exists. And it is here. I can see.

Some might ask me, “Well, why are you around judgemental people anyway?!!” While I have an answer for that, the question gives me yet another opportunity to feel someone’s judgement.

In answer to both queries, I settle into the moment where fear does not exist, and in that space of instantaneous curiosity, I ask, “What fear underlies that question? Does my experience of humiliation remind the questioner of theirs? Are they afraid for me, or afraid of me?

For this exploration, what the questioner might be afraid of is a mystery. What matters is, in this moment, I find compassion for the person I am facing. I can see that their judgment is thinly veiled fear, their fear. Their judgment of me is – and always has been – a plea for me to take this stress from their shoulders and wear it as my own. Their anger is their fear. Their accusation is their fear. In the momental space of heart-centered compassionate sight, I am curious for what wrong can be righted, what fear can be lifted, what confusion can be cleared, what humanity can be restored.

So just as I am eating healthier, looking at the ingredients and sources of my nutrition, I am look deeper into the ingredients of the social and energetic toxins that surround me, and that includes how I prepare them in my heart and mind. I more regularly understand they are formed from basic elements from a historical culture, that works through people, who are also just hoping to detox.

A Meditation

I put on some of my favorite background music. The kind that when I hear it, my face relaxes. The muscles that pull my ears back and taught against my skull noticeably let go. Then I breathe, and notice my sternum is crunched forward and I lift my chest up and out to let more air in. My lower back is twisted, because my pelvis is tipped one way or another. I balance it and my lower back says “thank you”.

I am calm, in the moment, and I begin. I focus on the first word:

Belief. What do I believe? I focus on that one thing I believe. Onto the next word:

Statement. I say what I believe, in one simple phrase.

Action. I contemplate something I can do, right in this moment, that expresses this belief with motion.

Feeling. What am I feeling in my body as I focus on this belief. Does it match or is my feeling telling me something different? I stay here until I feel my belief. If an emotion comes up, I name it.

Perception. Does my understanding of what’s going on match this feeling or does it shift? How has my view of the world changed? I sit with this. Breathe. Relax. I focus on my belief, I say it out loud, I act on it with my physical being, I note what and where I feel it, and I see with this being-ness I am consciously creating in this moment…..

Assumption. I incept this experience. Like a seed, I plant this experience into my quiet mind to grow a response within me for all situations.

Faith. As I do not yet see the sapling break through the soil of my mind, I know Nature knows best. Those young greens will be my new automatic response to the world, based in my belief. I hold compassion for my garden that needs tender loving care and also forgiving space to grow. I have set my intention the garden will bloom from all the seeds I have planted.


Where did we meet?

We met, and then we traveled together, and then somehow got lost. We traveled through first days at school, un-accepting in-laws, debt, arguing over curtain colors and whether we share our politics with others.

But where did we first meet?”

What is it that brought you two together? Sometimes where you came to today can be traced to the choices you made year ago. Choosing to be be quiet when your needs were not met, choosing to hold resentment when you know in your heart ill intent was not present. As unpleasant as those sound, we meet there too, in the lack of communication and connecting via old habits that do not serve us in a healthy way.

So recall, further back, where did you two meet? What was it like to see each other those first few times when you knew, This is the one.

It could be a physical place. Recall that place. What time of year was it? What was the weather like? How did you feel physically?

Now recall, where were You emotionally? Were you excited, lonely, contented, anxious?

Where were you financially? Did you have security, or were you a risk taker back then?

Where did you meet? Were you fully conscious of your decision to be together, or did it just happen and life took the lead on its own? This question, “Where did you meet?” intends to prompt you to remember the value of your union, and perhaps reveal with hindsight choices you made and since forgot.

In this, make note of what you have forgotten over the years. Include your dreams, your compromises, your agreements and promises. Include in this list your Self. You are changed since then, and maybe parts of yourself are left behind on purpose, and forgetting was a part of letting go.

Remember these choices and prepare to be more conscious of the affects these choices had on your relationship. Nothing is right or wrong; they are just choices. But being aware of them helps us understand we can make new choices going forward.

No One Wins

A long time ago, my lover and I were looking for activities to do together. Tennis. He helped me find the right racket and shoes, and we found a court we both liked… But neither of us knew what the other meant by “play tennis.”

I knew how to serve, the line rules for singles and doubles, and I even knew the score keeping lingo. I understood “game, set, match”. But that is not the tennis I wanted to play. I just liked hitting the ball across the net, and if I could help my partner get some exercise in there, all the better. What? Stop the ball from play? For what reason would we do this?

For a while, we “played” the “game” and I became frustrated. It was playing and more placating to an arbitrary structure. I wasn’t getting any better by the sudden and oft stopping. Admittedly my fault, it was disruptive.

The energy behind doing something together diminishing, I started thinking about what to get at the grocery store while I once again poised to receive a volley.

My partner saw this and asked. I told him outright: keeping score was no fun. I did not want to compete with him for a score and up to that moment, did not realize how deflated I had become. Was it just because I was losing, I wondered to myself? Was it pride? No, it was more simple. Getting into a grove was being thwarted by stopping the game every time the ball hit an arbitrary line. How could we get better, more accurate, find joy in sweat and running if we were lurching to a halt every 15 seconds?

I was a swimmer in my early years, so tennis was a different sort of motion, which is why I liked it. My partner also liked tennis, but I found out that afternoon for very different reasons. He agreed – we would keep playing, even if we hit the net on a serve, or the ball was out of court or we needed to hit it twice to keep volleying. And we would not keep score. We played, and I was happy.

Until I wasn’t. I could see his deflation, his loss of interest. He wasn’t enjoying this extra energy nor the rhythm of waves back and forth. Mind you, he was is good shape, so the consistent running was not the issue. We stopped as he was visibly frustrated. For him, if we were not keeping score, it lost meaning for him. He needed to compete. For him, competing brought out his best. The score was the goal to reach for, and without it, his motivation waned and so did his stride.

What were we to do? The very thing that deflated my interest is the very thing that fed his interest.

On our own terms individually, we both enjoyed tennis. (Please don’t blame me if I call hitting a ball across the net the sum total definition of “tennis”. I get it – there is a competitive sport called “Tennis”.)

The other thing we saw in each other is we both wanted to be better at it. The way he meters his skill level was by the score. The way I knew I was getting better is how often the ball landed where I intended. Getting better made him happy, not the score. Getting better made me happy, not breaking the rules.

So we found common ground. I was willing to stop the game and have a serve if we needed to double-hit or if we hit the net. We could both hit the line and keep playing. I could blissfully enjoy our time together without competing with each other, and he could blissfully keep score privately in his head as he competed with me.

We were able to derive meaning and therefore enjoyment from the same activity in very different ways. This happened not because either one of us is brilliant. It took caring about each other, each of us caring about our respective self to speak our truth, and mutual respect for our differences. In that, no one wins – we both did.

Allegory of the Cave

Remember those philosophy lessons? Socrates, Homer and Dante? Confucius, Hafiz, Rumi and Lao Tsu? Plato, a student of Socrates, was able to put into a metaphor the simple concept of how we come to understand things. Simply put, we comprehend the world, people, and ideas to the level at which we are ready to perceive. The good news is, if things are confusing, we can know it doesn’t always have to be. Our world changes as our perception of it expands.

What is your understanding of people? Do we naturally argue? Or do you believe there is something wrong and amiss with the world that causes us to conflict so much?

To the extent that we feel discomfort from discord is evidence enough that something is “wrong”, out of place. If it was completely ordained in nature, nature would make sure it felt okay or benign to prevent changing it. But conflict does not feel good. I’m not talking about a healthy game of basket ball: I’m referring to fighting conflict, and the fear, anger and harm that it escalates into.

Having said that, there is no way really to avoid it, because nature did something wonderful: we are all unique.  Separated into bodies, unique as a snowflake or a fingerprint, even identical twins have differences. And with that, we see, hear, witness, perceive, remember, retell and are affected by the world in uniquely different ways. A husband and wife who have been through everything together in their 30 years of marriage will still argue over the dinner they last shared at the restaurant that was “next to the bakery…”  “No! it was next to the clock repair shop, and it was nonfat dressing, not oil-based dressing ”  ….   We comprehend the world, people and ideas to the level at which we are ready to perceive.

Conflict is uncomfortable, but why should our differences be? Maybe we are destined to experience this life as separate unique beings as a gift, but why does that become such a burden? If I’m in my cave of dry sandy walls where I can draw pictures, and you are in your cave of crystal studded walls where you can channel light, does our conflict come from our inability to understand each other’s cave, environment, possibilities? We are yelling at each other through the walls, trying to get stuff done, trying to have our point of view understood by the other, such that we forget we are yelling through thick cave walls. No wonder we’re grumpy, exhausted and hurt.

The conflict described here is not the difference of our unique gifts, not caused by diversity. It is the harm we inflict on ourselves and each other by forgetting we are unique. We suffer the passive amnesia that no two people, no matter how intimate, will ever see the world the same, will ever have exactly the same relationship with their maker as another, will always see the color green a little differently. And in that we forget what a beautiful gift nature created with all those differences.

We will all have a different take on a subject, something to offer the conversation, a unique piece of the puzzle to solve. The discomfort comes from forgetting who we are, and forgetting the other is in the same boat. Remember: You don’t have the full picture, and neither does your partner. Listen, hear, try to experience the other’s cave. And if you can’t, no worries. That you paused in your own world to respect someone else’s point of view, even if you don’t understand it or agree with it, is huge in making those walls that separate us a little thinner and possibility for connecting a little closer. So maybe conflict is inevitable, but the discomfort doesn’t have to be.

Courage: Quality of Heart

Sacre Cour is a place in Paris, France. A beautiful part of the city, one of the mountains that define the landscape under the old Roman / Gaul cityscape. Sacre Cour is also the name of the church that dominates that borough. Sacre Cour, sacred heart, reminds us that the root of courage is heart, not mind.

We do not know where we will end up when we decide to reconcile. The place where we will end up is always unexpected, not where we planned. Why is this?

Because the place where we are heading is undiscovered county, a place we have never been. It is brand new territory. Traveling in a strange land with a different landscape, climate and language, we understandably feel anxiety, trepidation, excitement. Or maybe we avoid it, stay home where it’s safe and familiar.

This is why true reconciliation feels uncomfortable or strange or exciting, because it is supposed to be a place that is unfamiliar if true change is occurring.

Remember though, this strange place may be a place you have been before.  Unknown with the mind, yet familiar in your gut?   In fact we have all been there: connected, understanding, compassionate. Many of us lose our way back, many more forgot how we left.  Re-conciliation is a return to the place of connection. Take heart, feel courage in knowing once you travel far enough in, you will recall the steps, remember the language, and return to heart.

Resolve to Reconcile

Peace is not for the faint of heart.  It takes courage, a little bit of faith, but most detail2importantly, conviction.  Choosing to live in peace means choosing a direction and heading there:


  • Remain conscious – west
  • Sustain curiosity – south
  • Embrace compassion – east
  • Live in a state of gratitude – north

All other experience – anger, confusion, feeling betrayed, rejected or lost – is the juicy stuff that people pass through to the other side.  The light is there.  Keep at it, and remember your compass.

Staying Together = f(Balance)

One of my favorite tarot cards is Major Arcana card #6 – The Lovers.  Aside from it evoking romantic images of two different beings, balanced in power, one interpretation makes it clear that the way they succeed is to respect the differences and the perfect space between.  In their union, they maintain that gentle duality, that individuality, that is necessary.  They need this to create the complementary nature of this card’s energy.  Indeed, without it, the inertia of their union would stop, solidify and die.

Asteroid belt around binary stars.  Image:

Much like the value of yin and yang, balance of opposites, and physical forces of friction in the universe, a healthy relationship needs space and needs differences to keep it moving.

How does gravity function in your relationship?  How do you handle the build up of energy?

Learn more about Binary Stars

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