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The speaker’s message was clearly meant for me. “Don’t bury the hatchet with the handle sticking out.” I was convinced that I had buried the hatchet in a very painful disagreement with a family member, but this advice made me realize that I still knew where the handle was. I hadn’t completely forgiven this person and it would be much too easy to grab that handle and resurrect all those negative emotions.

Ending Conflict

This concept originated with two Native American chiefs who buried their hatchets when they agreed to end a conflict. Think of all the energy required to constantly butt heads or avoid someone. Better to spend your energy burying the hatchet and the handle.

How to Start

  •  Forgiving – acknowledge both parts in the conflict and commit to forgiving the other person unconditionally.
  •  Identifying what you have in common – a shared goal or a common adversary, perhaps a competitor.
  •  Taking responsibility – “I would really like for us to find a way to work together more effectively. What can I do to make that easier?”
  •  Accepting neutral – turning an enemy into a friend doesn’t happen overnight, but getting them from negative to neutral is a good first step. Just don’t stop there.

I invite you to ask yourself whether you might be holding onto something – would it be better off buried?

I suppose there are some people who enjoy conflict, but most of us prefer to avoid it. In several client meetings recently, we discussed reasons for avoiding difficult situations such as telling a subordinate that their performance is unacceptable or standing up to a bullying boss. People typically put off those conversations because they don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or because they are afraid of possible repercussions.

Consider Cost vs. Benefit

I asked my clients to evaluate the cost of avoiding the conversation versus the benefit of having it. Being honest with a subordinate who isn’t performing up to expectations means we are supporting the rest of the team in meeting deliverable commitments. What is the cost to our credibility and our health when we allow our boss to treat us unfairly?

We then explored what might happen if we chose to reframe conflict as an opportunity for collaboration:
• Disagreements could be addressed in a timely manner
• Colleagues could know their strengths and areas for development
• We could establish healthy boundaries for how we expect to be treated

How to Reframe Conflict

Reframing conflict isn’t easy. It requires:
• Understanding what makes us uncomfortable
• Considering the cost and benefit of each possible reaction
• Choosing how we will respond

I invite you to think about a recent conflict you experienced and how the outcome might have changed if you had approached it with a different mindset.