Strategy is a Skill

It is important to note that strategy in managing people in conflicts is still considered by many to be a talent, rather than an attainable skill.

In a conflict, thinking about how to manage it effectively requires exercising all the same planning and engagement that engaging in the conflict in and of itself does.

However, the pushback against this type of thinking most often comes in the form of the complaints that “strategy is too hard” or that “people are unpredictable.”

Individual people may be unpredictable, but general human behavior is predictable, and outcomes from such behavior are even more predictable depending upon which conflict management behavior it is that a party chooses.

Good, effective strategy, that produces satisfactory outcomes requires intentionality.

To plan strategically, understanding three points intuitively begins the process:

  1. Know what you can manage in a conflict around stress, anger, fear, and failure. Without knowing yourself, knowing the other party becomes that harder.
  2. Have the courage to care and be curious. The number one reason negotiations around conflicts fail, is due to genuine lack of curiosity by one party, about the other party’s motives, opinions, and desires for resolution—or management—of a conflict scenario.
  3. Realize that the conflict process is messy and, unlike a chess game, if you plan one step ahead of the other party (rather than two—or seven) your conflict goals toward management and resolution have a greater chance of success.

There is strategy involved in attaining the skills of humility, self-awareness, responsibility, and even empathy.

Almost as much strategy as is involved in letting things “just go,” not paying attention, focusing on issues in the conflict that don’t matter, and not understanding the nature of the conflict (and the other party) that you’re in the arena with.

Strategy to manage and resolve conflicts is a skill that can be learned. Almost in the same way—and at the same level—that extending and not resolving conflict is a skill that is learned.

[Strategy] Pivot to a Stalemate from a Checkmate

There’s a bind for supervisors in the workplace, when they act as mediators, inserting themselves into conflicts between their employees, whether they want to insert themselves, or they are compelled to insert themselves.

When one employee won’t move, shift or change their approach to conflicts with their co-workers in any meaningful way and the mediator, acting as the supervisor, that party may try to maneuver the supervisor into a stalemate. This maneuvering could appear in three forms:

  • Game playing the mediation/supervision process through telling the supervisor one story, and then telling the other employees another story.
  • Gossiping by telling the mediation/supervisor nothing at all—or actively avoiding the interaction with the mediator/supervisor (or any other passive aggressive acts)—and then passing around a story about the other party in conflict.
  • Harassing the other party in the conflict and, sometimes harassing (or intimidating) the mediator/supervisor into making a decision favorable to them in resolving the conflict.

Stalemate makes the mediator/supervisor as the third party feel powerless, impotent and feel as if they have no chance to affect change in the outcomes of the conflict process.

But stalemate is really a checkmate—imposed upon the instigating party who won’t move—initiated by the mediator/supervisor, sometimes not consciously and based on the stories that the mediator/supervisor is telling themselves about the conflict process.

Which means the power really lies with the mediator/supervisor and not the party who thinks they have the power, the instigator of the conflict process, and the other party in the process who may be looking to escalate the conflict to satisfy their own motives.

Other mediator/supervisors in the past may have given up their power, to the two parties in conflict before, but that doesn’t mean that the current person has to continue those patterns of behaviors.


-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: