Resolving conflict: This tip may surprise you

Resolving conflict: This tip may surprise you

Have you ever heard something that got your attention so hard it turned your head sideways and made you seriously think about it? This happens to me fairly regularly, but this particular time it was about resolving conflict and it literally changed my paradigm. 

It was many years ago, during a period in my life when things were crazy-busy and the pressure to do, be, and have it all was high. I was at church, the message was about marital relationships, and I was hanging on every word.

Our pastor made one statement – almost in passing – which ended up turning into a huge self-and-other awareness for me. One sentence, in a 30-minute message, and I pondered it for days. 

It was simple on its surface, and it made so much sense. I started noticing its truth as I moved through my days. Pretty quickly I realized, when I applied it, resolving conflict got faster and easier. 

His one idea has helped me navigate tricky relationships and build cohesive teams. It has been a pillar in my career resolving conflict as a mediator, facilitator, and coach. It continues to be my starting point for shifting myself and others away from frustration and anger, into calm and clarity. 

Ready for it?  Yes, it’s time:

“Conflict is always preceded by an unmet expectation.”  

There you go. Conflict is always preceded by an unmet expectation.Conflict is ALWAYS preceded by an unmet expectation. Conflict is always PRECEDED by an unmet expectation. Conflict is always preceded by an UNMET expectation. 


The unmet expectation may be mine, yours, or someone else’s. It may be realistic or not. It may be widely accepted or obscure. It may be all in your head or between multiple people. The expectation may be obvious, but often is not. 

I’ve learned both internal and interpersonal expectations are like onions. You may need to peel back the first (most emotional) layer, and get down to the heart of an unmet expectation. “I expect you to stop being a jerk!” is the surface layer. “I expect you to value my time as much as your own” is at the heart. 

Now that I’ve shared the trigger for my epiphany,
here’s your one-tip for resolving conflict: 

Figure out what the true unmet expectation is,

then begin to problem solve, mindset shift, communicate, plan,

collaborate, and/or take action.

One more complimentary bonus tip: 

Clearly communicate your expectations – ahead of need 

and combined with seeking mutual understanding and agreement.  


So good! These two tips have helped me prevent and resolve so much conflict. Just consider how they could help you at work: Think due dates, formats, levels of detail, target numbers, key messages, stakeholders…Assumptions and misunderstandings around expectations create unnecessary re-work, diminish results, tarnish reputations, and kill opportunities.  

Whether personal or professional, the one statement proclaimed by my friend, Rodney Gage, (which he doesn’t even remember!) is the best starting point for resolving conflict. “Conflict is always preceded by an unmet expectation.”  ????

Contact us today for more information on resolving conflict at your workplace.