Bob Eckert : The Story of Conflict

Creating Growth Through Innovation

The Story of Conflict

How to prevail over creativity-sucking conflict.

By Bob Eckert | Updated 4/15/16

Conflict at work (or anywhere for that matter) well… frankly… it sucks. Sucks away our energy. Sucks away our creativity. Sucks away our health, joy and profit. It's just no fun.

We can prevail over conflict. Yet it's not easy. Conflict percolates continuously… sometimes below the surface, behind closed doors or at the water cooler. At times openly. Enough to discourage even the most optimistic person about the prospect of change.

But change can, and has, been made by individuals. And when a critical mass of individuals in a work group decide to work towards effective change, we call them an innovation team.

So how do we get started to conquer conflict?

  1. By being humble.
  2. By taking responsibility.

Yup, the first two steps of the model, if you are a regular reader here. So let's see how we put this into practice:

A great deal of attention is focused on persuading people to make "I" statements when confronting another person with whom they are having some form of conflict. For example, "I feel (name the emotion) when you do (name the behavior)." "I feel angry when you tell me how to make I statements."

While this is good in that the speaker seems to take ownership of their feelings, the truth is that the real and only goal of an "I" statement is to get the offender to change their behavior. It's about fault-finding, and it rarely succeeds in the long run, because it doesn't give the offender a way to change.

We think a key element is missing here. Let's start with the underlying premise:

  • Your behavior cannot cause me to feel anything. It is my thoughts about that behavior that is creating my feeling. Assuming normal brain chemistry and function, (yes, I know, big assumption… good try… ) it is thought that initiates the chemistry of emotion. It is the STORIES we tell ourselves, consciously or unconsciously, that create our emotions… our feelings. The behavior of another person, even if it is inappropriate, is not what caused the emotion. It is the cognitive response to that behavior that creates the feeling. This is a very subtle, but important distinction to overcome conflict in a constructive way.
  • My thoughts are mine to control. I can turn my attention, my cognitive lens, to any story I want to tell myself. I can choose a focus or a story that energizes any emotion I want to, no matter what the external situation I'm experiencing. This is not to suggest that we accept all behaviors of others. Assuming good-hearted intentions from both parties, we look for that good-hearted intention, rather than tell ourselves stories of evil intent.
  • Certain emotions serve us in certain situations, and should be honored. We have the ability to choose the emotions that best serve us in any given situation by turning our attention to the STORY that creates the emotion of greater value. We can get ourselves angry when that is what is needed to cause a change. We can energize love when that is what will move things forward. We can intensify the fear we are feeling by saying the words that make us more fearful, so that we can examine the underlying logic of the stories we're telling ourselves. We can make ourselves sadder, so that we can be clear for ourselves exactly what the loss is that we are experiencing.
  • At other times, the emotions we are experiencing are an impediment to right action… to effectiveness… to honesty… to intimacy… to creativity. And it is in those situations that we need to challenge and change the story we are telling ourselves. And by so doing, change the root of our emotions.

Here's how it would work if you were approaching a co-worker to explore a conflict of some sort that you were having:

1. "I'm feeling (mad, sad, glad, afraid… or some variant)."

2. "It's being caused by a story that I'm telling myself, that may or may not be true. I want to see if the story is true, and I'm asking that you be totally honest with me."

3. The story is… Tell the story that you have created about the meaning of the other person's behavior/statements with respect to you). "Here are the behaviors you do and the story I translate them into. The story creates this feeling for me, here's how the story makes me feel, and here's what I desire instead." For example:

  • "When you yell at me, I believe that you think I'm stupid. I don't think I am, so I get angry. I don't want to be angry with you."
  • "When I am not on the CC list, I think that you're excluding me from the information. I tell myself the story that you don't value my input or that you are attempting to keep me out of the loop for some reason. Depending on the reason in my mind at the particular time… I feel frustrated, scared, angry, depressed. I hate feeling this way and it saps my productivity.
  • "When you criticize my ideas, I tell myself that you don't think I'm smart enough to have good ideas, and that you aren't interested or impressed enough by me to attempt to understand what I'm suggesting more completely. I end up angry and de-motivated. That's not good for either of us.
  • "Because you've shot down all of my proposals in the past, I've convinced myself that I'll never be able to get your agreement to anything I propose, which makes me sad and frustrated. I've got good ideas that I'd like to offer, I'm afraid I'm going to shut down.

4. "This feeling, and what it does to the productivity of our relationship is not good, and I'd like to do something about it. There are two things I'd like to do:

  • Check the validity of my story, and to whatever degree it's true, accept some feedback and/or change your perceptions.
  • Ask that you look at the behaviors which energize this story I'm telling myself and help me by modifying those behaviors.

That's it. Not simple you say? But of course! If this were simple, we'd all be relationship masters. We're not, but we could be!


Get good at it in ANY area of your life, and you'll be good at it in others… so maybe you don't care about the company's mission, or those morons you have to work with. Do the job, collect your paycheck, and go home. Use work to help you become a better contributor to your family. Why not practice at work, in order to perfect this skill for your other life?

No matter where you practice, this is a skill that requires both humility and responsibility taking in order to create a New & Improved you!

When all individuals bring these attitudes to the table, there is a huge likelihood of effective growth for all, and a concurrent increase in a productive, creative relationship.

Only fear stands in the way. And what's the story you're telling yourself to generate that fear? •

Next: How to Manage Emotions to Foster Innovation

©2004 Bob Eckert. All rights reserved.

Bob EckertBob Eckert is a Senior Founding Partner at New & Improved, LLC. His work focuses on developing innovative organizations and innovation leaders via training, coaching and facilitation. More »
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