Avoid Conflict


Without clarity, nothing works.

To lead change, inspire others and help your team perform at their best, communication has to be crystal clear. Especially if done virtually!

That is, if you want to do these things well.

Inspired by the writings of my first Gestalt teacher Paul Barber, here are 4 simple guidelines to make your communication clear and avoid unnecessary (time-killing!) conflicts:

  • Clarify your intention – be clear if you are supporting, challenging or seeking clarification.
  • Make direct statements – be specific; simplify statements, don’t elaborate.
  • Ask ‘how’ rather than ‘why’ questions – ask others to share their observations rather than explain their reasons.
  • Engage in dialogue – speak directly to others; avoid speeches, monologues, etc.

By clarifying your intention, your communication will leave no room for misinterpretation.  Nor unnecessary conflicts.

But if you want to be clear to others, you have to be clear with yourself FIRST.

“After all, if it’s not clear to you how can it be clear to someone else?”

Here are 5 questions to clarify your intentions with yourself:

  1. Am I lecturing about “what ought to be” rather than dealing with what is right now?
  2. Do I say “I can’t” when I really mean “I won’t”?
  3. Do I say “you, we, one” when I really mean “I/me”?
  4. Am I pretending that I’m looking for information when I really want to make a statement or give my opinion?
  5. Am I broadcasting into the air rather than speaking directly (connecting!) with people?


Do you have a team where a conflict is starting to grow? Already in full bloom, perhaps? Are misunderstandings a constant reality of your teamwork?

Whether you want to improve collaboration with one or multiple work relationships, the most important and most effective thing you can with that person/s is to exchange this 1 question and 1 statement:

  • What do you need and expect from me?
  • This is what I need and expect from you:

One simple question. One clear statement.

Why is that?

It cuts to the essential. It leaves no room for storytelling. No room for finger-pointing. No room for misunderstanding or resulting conflict.

Direct, clear and open.

I believe these are the 3 most critical success factors for effective communication, thus teamwork.

After all, without communication there can be no real collaboration.

This simple exchange is one of the first and best activities I do with every team I work. 

Incidentally, there are great tools like Zoom which allow you to do this virtually.


Of course you can’t control how the people around you communicate. In every team and organization there are people who operate with hidden agendas.

However, by modelling this communication style with your collaborators, you can inspire them to do the same.

If you’d like my support instilling this spirit in your team, virtually or f2f, drop me a note.

  • Tim, I certainly think the points you make above can help get a discussion “unstuck”. The techniques you write about really do get people to put aside assumptions about the message they are hearing. Great stuff!

    • Thanks, Steven! BTW, as you heard/read a lot of Paul’s guidelines first-hand, I’d be curious to know which of them really stand out for you?

  • Unnecessary conflict should be avoided – whatever it is and maybe, if someone speaks up there is always a reason and not unnecessary for that person. Rather than neutralizing I want to lever conflict. Conflict in organizations must be used to increase effectiveness. Conflict is essential to a team’s creative collaboration. Without differences of opinion, no synthesis of ideas or debate about important issues is possible. But when conflict is mismanaged, it destroys creative collaboration and increases probability of destructive behavior – like finger pointing and destruction. It is less about having no conflict and more about having a fertile ground on which conflict can be tranformed into constructive and imaginative energy.

    To say it with Drucker: “Disagreement converts the plausible into the right and the right into the good decision. The effective decision-maker does not start out with the assumption that one proposed course of action is right and that all others must be wrong. Nor does he start out with the assumption, “I am right and he is wrong”. He starts out with the commitment to find out why people disagree. […]” – and to find the most applicable solution together. Leave conflict on a factual level & protect relationship level.

    Grandiose article, Tim – thanks for your thoughts and agenda of stance. The points you compiled are practically very useful.

    • THanks for your comments, Andreas! And yes, I totally agree – anything, including a conflict, that creates a “a fertile ground that can be transformed into constructive and imaginative energy” should be welcomed with open arms!