Tag Archives: conflict

You Should Never Say You Should

When you say, “You should . . .” you imply

  • You are smarter than me
  • You understand better than I do
  • You have better judgement
  • You have moral authority
  • You have the right to direct me

You may not want to imply any of those things. And I may not hear those things. But I might.

When you say “you should” you risk spurring the other person’s defenses. And there are other phrases you can choose instead.

  • I can see value in making this choice . . .
  • The risk I see is . . .

So I don’t really want to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. After all, I know no better than you what is best for your situation. But I certainly see value in choosing words other than “you should.”


Right vs. Right

It is right to take issues straight to the top. We should obey the chain of command.

Speed wins. Quality can’t be beat.

Listen. Inspire.

Work. Life.

Need for change. Safety in the known.

Save more. Live for today.

Winning is everything. How you play the game is what counts.

With great risk comes great rewards. Slow and steady wins the race.

The opposite of what is right and obvious is often also right and obvious.

Yes vs. No

Think about the last time you had a strong disagreement with your boss, spouse, coworker, or kid. You give a reason why you are right. They counter with a reason of their own. This rarely leads to a change of mind or heart by either party.


Once we establish our opinions and begin the work of convincing someone else, we may not realize it, but we are also working at further convincing ourselves. Every argument we make is a statement to our own egos that we are right, making it less likely with every step of the argument that either side will be capable of changing course.

How do we redirect this calamity?

Try this question. What would have to happen for you to consider another view?

“What would have to happen . . .” signals to the other person that you accept and even respect their right to the opinion they currently hold. It also acknowledges that the future allows for change.

The word “consider” offers the other person the opportunity to explore the possibility of a new opinion without fully committing. This safety is critical to helping someone back down off the ego ledge they have been pushed (or pushed themselves) onto.

So, what would have to happen for you to consider trying this question?

Who, me?

As Jerry Seinfeld once put it, “People! They’re the worst.”

If people were just more reasonable, smarter, more understanding, more attentive to my obviously correct view of the world and my perfectly reasonable needs, we’d all get along just fine.

Sound good so far?

One of the great challenges in dealing with frustrations with other people is not to help them see your perspective. Rather, the great challenge is for you to explore and fully understand what challenge you are creating for them.

Try these questions:

  • How am I contributing to this problem?
  • What do I do that most frustrates you?
  • (And an old standby) What’s more important here, building this relationship or being right?

What’s the Goal?

Sometimes fights have a real purpose. Much of the time they are meaningless.

For example, whether or not we change our gun laws or tax policy has great meaning. But if you debate this and even fight over it with someone you know (assuming you aren’t a politician), the only meaningful outcome is the damage to your relationship.

We have these meaningless fights over politics and in our marriages and our businesses. We pursue winning and hurt over laughter, joy, and camaraderie.

Instead try this. The next time you get into a heated discussion. The moment you feel the temperature rise, say the following:

I’m sorry. I care more about you than I do about winning. Can we talk about something that will make us laugh instead?

Truth or Opinion

Why do people get into really heated arguments? One reason is that they confuse fact with opinion. Consider the following:

  • The market is volatile.
  • We need to cut back.
  • Layoffs are the best way to reduce our expenses.

These three statements share a lot in common. They are uttered frequently. They are stated as and accepted as fact. And they are all opinions.

When someone disagrees with a fact, they sound like an idiot to the person who knows the fact. Often the response can be emotional, condescending, aggressive, dismissive. Of course, if the “fact” was really an opinion, there’s a lot of room for reasonable disagreement.

Our arguments become unreasonable when we state opinions as facts and treat anyone with a contrary opinion as completely divorced from reality.

This happens with business and politics. It happens in marriages and with kids. And there is a way (not foolproof) to reduce this phenomena.

Take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. On the left side write down the facts. On the right side write down the opinions. Once you stop blurring the line between the two, you might discover that your adversary is a lot more reasonable than you thought.

Fight Right

I was recently asked how to differentiate between valuable disruptive conflict and negative conflict. There are two simple measures.

1. Is it making your answers better? Valuable disruptive conflict encourages participation in order to improve the final answers. These conflicts lead to better, more informed, more clearly and widely understood, more value creating answers.

2. Is it making your people better? While they may not always enjoy the conflict itself, it should leave them feeling better overall. Valuable disruptive conflict leads to more people feeling they’ve been heard, more buy-in to decisions, higher engagement and morale, and better informed people.

So ask these two questions to see if you are fighting your fight right.