- Next trainer development cohort 10th - 14th June 2024

Stop disagreement turning into conflict

17th May, 2024

Stop disagreement turning into conflict

Have you ever had to work with someone described as a ‘big personality’?


Back in my corporate days, I worked with a fair few.


I remember one screaming in my face, spittle flying through the air.  Why?  I’d committed the cardinal sin of putting his name second, not first, in a press release.


‘Big personality’ is generally a euphemism for A-hole.  


And unfortunately, at some point in our careers, we have to learn to rub along with difficult, egotistical and pig-headed people.  Because they’re ‘good for business’.


It’s a rite of passage when we figure out how to navigate disagreement without swearing, shouting or calling them ‘thick as mince’ (my dad’s favourite insult).


(There’s going to be a whole chapter on dealing with conflict in the new edition of Email Attraction.)


Julia Mintzen, associate professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, talks about the important difference between disagreement and conflict.


Disagreement, she says, isn’t a bad thing.  It’s when we think different things from someone, hear each other’s views and either come to a consensus or move on.  


Conflict, however, happens when we think we’re better than the other person.  That there’s something wrong with them.


We might think they’re too darn stupid to understand what we’re saying.


Or they’re too biased to see it.


Or maybe we suspect they have underlying motives <cue evil villain cackle> stopping them from getting it.


So how do we stay in disagreement mode and avoid spiraling into conflict?  


Mintzen says we have to actively seek to understand the other person’s point of view.  And tell them as much.


Her research discovered that, just by bookending emails with phrases that display curiosity, we can boost our chances of a positive response.


For example:  


Start withI appreciate this is a complicated topic and I’d like to understand your point of view. 

Share your opinion: I think that… 

End withBut I get that some people might disagree, so I’d like to learn more about your perspective.


Try it with your next ‘big personality’ encounter, and tell me how you get on!

University of Cambridge


- Next trainer development cohort 10th - 14th June 2024

Get Your Epic Email Checklist

Enter your name and email address to get your indispensable checklist and follow-up emails.

By signing up you consent to receiving regular emails from me (Kim Arnold) with updates, tips and ideas on communication along with the occasional promotion for my products. You can, of course, unsubscribe at any time. Click here for my detailed privacy policy.