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The Patterns of Conflict

The Patterns of Conflict

By: Ross Paterson

This final topic in our series on conflict is so big, it deserves it’s own book. I will give you a link to a great source if you want to know more.

Almost every conflict follows a pattern. The complexity is that there are actually three conversations–and they are happening simultaneously.

  1. What Happened: Everyone has ‘their side’ of the story. This troubling mix of perspective, intentions, and blame often has a very self-serving theme.
  2. Feelings Conversation: Westerners, particularly Americans, are inclined to leave feelings out of our work. But in conflict, feelings are at the center of the situation. Anger is what we feel, but we have to dig in and understand the root of the anger (shame, betrayal, embarrassment).
  3. Identity Conversation: Our human psychology has a bad instinct to make all things binary. I am good or I am bad, I am right or I am wrong, I am competent or I am incompetent. In conflict we are often positioning ourselves as ‘positive’ while pushing our adversary to ‘negative.’


This is a gross oversimplification, but if you want to be a bridge builder and find resolution for conflict instead of winning battles try these three things:

  • Always look for the 3rd person perspective on what really happened.
  • Communicate your feelings and seek to understand theirs.
  • Begin from a position that neither party is perfect, each has a contribution.


Conflict is normal in every relationship. To be the leader who seeks out resolution it takes #XtraMile emotional intelligence. Review our conflict series here.

(A lot of our research for this topic came from Difficult Conversations: Heen, Patton, Stone. Study this book to create your healthy conflict breakthrough.)