Personal Mastery, Mental Models, Systems Thinking, Team Learning

In conflict, be fair and generous
Tao te Ching


Sonya told me that her family’s Thanksgiving was ruined by a big blowup she had with her brother, Doug. “He is so bullheaded,” she said. “He was just asking for it. I felt as if I didn’t have a choice.”

Sonya is a new coaching client of mine. She genuinely wanted to see another way she could have handled the situation, because she loves her family and will be with them again at Christmas. Her fight with Doug put a damper on everyone’s holiday, which she regrets.

Here are some of the questions she grappled with:

  • How am I also bullheaded?
  • How is Doug not bullheaded?
  • How do I cause him trouble?
  • How is it to be on the receiving end of me?
  • What does Doug want in our relationship?
  • What do I want?

It turns out that the trigger for Sonya and Doug was a difference in political view. She is liberal and he is very taken with the Tea Party. (In how many Thanksgiving dining rooms did this drama play out?) On reflection Sonya realized she arrived at the gathering with a closed heart, ready to pick a fight with Doug, knowing it would happen. In fact, she started it, with what she meant to sound like a tease. But it was really a nasty dig. She was hurt by some of what he said, but said she would not have wanted to be on the receiving end of herself.  She got mean, bringing up things from the past, embarrassing him in front of the whole family. Then she carefully recruited her sister to her side, while an uncle enlisted on Doug’s side. It was all-out war.


 I asked Sonya if she had any fond memories of Doug as a child. She softened, got quiet and told me that he’d been her favorite sibling. Close in age, they’d both been adventurous and had climbed trees together and walked in the creek near their house. They once built an amazing fort high in a tree. She had taught him to read before he was 5, and the two of them were the readers in the family. She missed that closeness.

From that softer place she was also able to say that she’d been impressed and delighted at what a patient and attentive dad Doug was to his 8 month old son, Dylan. She suspected that Doug’s wish was much like hers, in truth, to be close to his family….including her.

At the end of our session I asked Sonya what she felt to do for Doug. She said she wanted to send him an e-mail reminiscing about how much fun they’d had together as kids playing in the woods (she was even going to attach a picture of the tree fort that she’d recently scanned.) She’d tell him how cute Dylan was and what a good dad he was. She’d apologize for her bullheadedness and suggest they agree in advance not to talk politics at Christmas, because she loved him too much to let their political differences polarize the family.

 Once we remember the humanity in the other, our hearts can soften. From this softened place we can see that we DO have a choice. We can be fair and generous,  even in conflict. (Would that Congress would realize this.)


If you find yourself in conflict with someone, ask yourself:

  • In what ways might I be wrong?
  • What’s __________’s fondest hope?
  • How might I be making that difficult?
  • What’s it like to be on the receiving end of me?
  • How might I be fair and generous toward _______?
  • What small or large thing might I do for _______ now?



Please join me for a 45-minute telegathering to explore conflict resolution the more deeply Tuesday, Dec. 13, at noon Eastern (11:00 a.m. Central, 10:00 a.m. MT, 9:00 a.m. Pacific)  1-218-862-1300 PIN 276583.  No need to register….just call at that time!


This approach to conflict is based on the philosophy described by the Arbinger Institute. To learn more, read the seminal books, Leadership and Self Deception, Getting out of the Box, and The Anatomy of Peace, Resolving the Heart of Conflict, both by the Arbinger Institute. There is also an 8-week transformational telecourse called the Anatomy of Peace. Check it out at


Reach me: 1-888-907-HOPE (4673)or e-mail I am a personal and executive coach and would be happy to offer you a complimentary coaching session by phone. Each month FRESH VIEWS focuses on a single topic, relates it to one of the five disciplines of a learning community, and offers a coaching tip and a follow-up telegathering. Please forward it to friends and colleagues. My purpose in writing FRESH VIEWS is to nurture, prod and encourage readers to think and talk about these topics with their families, friends and colleagues. Mine is only one view. Multiple conversations may deliver us to insights only hinted at here. Such a process sustains the vitality of learning relationships, learning families, learning organizations and learning communities.

Sharon Eakes | 720 Maple Lane | Sewickley, PA 15143

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