Communicate out of Conflict

Long ago, a man was riding his horse along a country path. Up ahead, he saw 3 young men fighting in the dirt.
As he pulled alongside, he called out to the men and asked why they were fighting.

The young men stood up and looked at the stranger.

They told him that they were discussing their father’s will.

The father had left 17 horses for them. Half the horses go the eldest, one third to the second and one eighth to the youngest.

The brothers were fighting because they couldn’t do that without cutting up one of the horses.

The stranger thought for a moment and offered his own horse to the men in order to resolve the issue.

The brothers thought for a moment and started counting.
Nine for the eldest. Six for the middle brother and two for the youngest.

The brothers looked up at the stranger telling him that only covered 17 horses, there was one left over.

The stranger asked them to give him back his horse and he would continue on his way.

What is this thing called conflict?

ConflictSometimes, what appears to be an insurmountable problem simply needs to be looked at with a fresh perspective in order to find a solution.

A conflict isn’t necessarily an all-out war.. It can be an argument over dirty dishes or a disagreement on the process of an organisational restructure.

So, what is conflict? A very simple definition is that conflict comes from unmet needs. We are simply not getting what we believe we are entitled to get.

Most conflict arises from communication problems. We may have a lack of information, a missing detail, incorrect information or we may have an information processing issue.

When studying Neuro-Linguistic Programming – commonly referred to as NLP – we learn that we subconsciously seek evidence to support our maps of reality, or our view of how the world is. So even in situations where we receive quality information, we can find ourselves in a conflict by focusing on what we want to hear and discarding the rest. We have all met that person who doesn’t let facts get in the way of a good story!

A lack of information won’t stop us from making 1 and 1 equal 3! We add our own information to fill in that which is missing; we make assumptions. It comes naturally to us to generalise or distort what little information we have, into something that makes sense to us.

How do we resolve conflict?

Resolving conflict is not always simple or easy, however, there are a number of NLP techniques that can help.

Any chance of resolution requires that the conflicting parties attain a level of rapport on which to build the process. Rapport is the relationship that people create when they find a positive and harmonious connection with each other. Rapport often occurs naturally but sometimes we need to consciously create this state. This step cannot be overlooked!

Now we need to determine who is in the problem state. Who has the unmet need? In NLP terms, we are removing any lost performatives that may exist. Lost Performative is when someone says something that contains a rule or judgement without anyone taking responsibility for it. For example, ‘You should do this….’ Who says I should?

Once ownership of the problem has been resolved, in other words, the person or group with the issue is identified; we are able to determine the intervention point. For the purpose of conflict resolution we can define the intervention point as the place the problem presents. The intervention is an attempt to stop, start or change the issue that is identified in the ownership phase.

In conflict resolution, it is important to be clear that owning a problem does not imply fault. The only conclusion we can reasonably make, is that someone is not in their desired state.

The skill of the NLP practitioner is to facilitate each party in reaching their desired state, without creating another problem state in the process.

Perceptual Positions is a very effective technique for managing conflicts. Using this process, we voice our own concerns, see the issue from an objective, ‘fly on the wall’ position and as best we can, from the other party’s viewpoint. In this way, we begin working towards a mutually satisfactory outcome. Using this approach allows both sides to feel that they have been heard and understood.


To resolve conflict, we need to know what we want. We need a specific end point; an acceptable outcome for all involved. Chunking is a wonderful NLP technique that takes us out of our restrictive personal view and lifts us up to a more general level where we can access our solution state and find this acceptable outcome.

At this meta level, agreement is easier to find as the distinction between behaviour and intention becomes more obvious. Those in conflict are now able to work from a solution state rather than a problem state.

Having accessed this higher-level interest, we can now look for other points of agreement. The more agreement points we have, the greater the chance of a solution being found. When we have recognised the obstacles in the conflict, the leverage point can be identified and alternative outcomes explored; this is chunking laterally. With agreement reached about the positive intentions and desired outcomes, we can now chunk down to the solution specifics.

The process can be illustrated by a recent situation in a developing business. The accounts officer complained that too much money was being spent on buying high quality paper and stated that money could be saved by simply purchasing a lower quality brand. The sales manager disagreed with the accounts officer and stated that presenting to clients on a higher quality paper created an impression of a business that focused on quality.  The first question to both parties could be ‘what would this do for the business?’ The answers would be a chunk up from the issue of the paper and focus on ‘reduced costs’ and ‘an increase in sales’ respectively.

Chunking up one further step and we come to an agreement level of ‘an increase in revenue for the business’. Now that we have the solution state of agreement, we can discuss the best option for the business. This is chunking down. Discussions that begin from the solution state are generally much more productive and of course, civil!

By skillfully applying the techniques learned in NLP certification training, we can access our solution state and hold space for the others. From this position we can determine the direction in which we need to proceed, in order to get those dishes done.

If NLP is something you would like to learn more about, this article is a good place to start. What is NLP?

Categories: INA