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Conflict Resolution: Why do people Act the way they do?


Coauthor of the international bestseller Dealing with People You Can’t Stand, Dr. Rick Brinkman explains how to resolve conflict through different communication styles based on specific behaviors.

Conflict can take many forms. It can be in your face, or passive aggressive behind the back. It can be caused by a specific context like meetings where typically assertive dominate while passive people drop out. The first step to successfully exiting a conflict or preventing it in the first place, is to understand why people act the way they do, which will empower you to transform and prevent conflict behaviors.

In order to do that I would like to introduce you to the Lens of Understanding, from our book, “Dealing with People You Can’t Stand, How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst.” We have a green Cooperation Zone and people have four basic intents operating within them: the intent to Get Things Done, to Get Things Right, to Get Along with people, and to Get Appreciated by people. Which of these becomes the priority will vary according context, where are we and what’s going on, and relationship, who we are with.

Behaviorally speaking if a person is in a Get-it-Done mode they will be focused on the task at hand and become more assertive to make things happen. If things are not getting done they have a tendency to go into the yellow Caution Zone and will become more controlling because if they can take over they can make things happen. Taking charge is not necessarily a problem and can be a solution to moving forward.  However, if they go into the red Danger Zone, they can easily become a Tank. A Tank declares martial law and runs right over you. Life is simple to them. You are part of the solution or you are eliminated. They can rip you apart personally and the irony is, “it’s nothing personal”. You just happen to be in the way of an end result. 

Control has other expressions too. When people suppress anger or resentment, Sniping is often the result. At a meeting their attack is hidden in put-down humor, snide remarks and sarcasm. This can also be behind your back in the form of sabotage or malicious gossip.

The third controlling behavior is Know-It-Alls. They control through knowledge because they really know a lot but are closed minded to everyone else’s “clearly inferior ideas.” They will dominate meetings and take the group down endless irrelevant tangents pontificating what they know.

Shifting gears to the intent to Get it Right, we find people focused on the task but less assertive because they have to slow things down to make sure all the details are covered. If they move into the Yellow Zone they become more perfectionist. The positive expression of this is all the details definitely are covered. But in the red Danger Zone, they can get to a point where no one including themselves can achieve perfection and begin to feel helpless or hopeless. When people feel helpless, Whining is the result. When people feel hopeless, Negativity result and they become No people. What they both have in common is they speak in generalizations that, “everything is wrong, nothing is right, and it’s always that way.” It is these generalized problems that drive everyone around them crazy, because the first step to problem solving is specifics and you can’t solve a generalization.  

Other people in the face of that unattainable perfection just get frustrated and give up. That’s when you hear, “Fine, do it your way. Don’t come crying to me when it doesn’t work out.” From that point they become Nothing people and give up.

You also get Nothing behavior from a different area of the Lens. Out of the intent to Get Along, they are friendly and helpful. But the Yellow Zone becomes all about getting approval from others.  Their motto is, “If you don’t have something nice to say, then don’t say it at all,” so they become Nothing people. Agreeable Yes people also stems from this motivation. Out of the desire to get approval, people don’t consider their own needs or share what they think. They just agree with whatever anyone else wants.  Maybe people can also originate from this zone. We’ve all at some point told a sales person, “I’ll think about it.” Were you really planning on thinking about it? No, that’s approval oriented behavior. Passive aggressive behavior also originates out of this zone. People are nice to your face, but become Snipers behind the back.

Shifting to the intent to Get Appreciated by people, we find the focus is still on people but behavior tends to be more assertive because what goes hand in hand with receiving appreciation is contributing to others. If they are not getting the appreciation they feel they deserve, their behavior gets more attention seeking. The Red Zone version can be a temper tantrum or what we call the Grenade. It is different than a Tank attack in that the Tank is focused on a specific person and you know what the issue is. Whereas a Grenade blows up in 360 degrees, and everyone gets hit. You are more likely to hear statements that make no sense given the present context like, “It’s the government’s fault! That’s the problem with the world today.” A Tank is demanding action whereas a Grenade is demanding attention. 

What you also get out of a need for attention is another kind of Sniper; friendly fire. These are people who like you and use put down humor, teasing or friendly gossip as a way of showing their affection. There is no ill intent, but it can still have unwanted consequences.

Last but not least another behavior with an extreme need for attention is Think-They-Know-It-All behavior. Here you have someone acting like they know what they are talking about but they don’t. They can make a bad idea sound good and lead to disaster. You also get one-upmanship in this category. If you had a great vacation, they had a better one. If you were sick, they were sicker. If you had a big inauguration, they had a bigger inauguration.

Tanks, Snipers, Know-it-alls, Think-They-Know-it-Alls, Grenades, Yes people, Maybe people, Nothing people, No people, and Whiners are the top ten-problem behaviors people face. But the good news is communication is like a phone number, you need all digits and in the right order. There is a “right number” behaviorally that you can dial which will pull people out of the Red Zone and even better prevent them from going there.

Detailed strategies for all the behaviors are beyond the scope of this article but are certainly available in the book, Dealing With People You Can’t Stand, and in the meeting context, Dealing with Meetings You Can’t Stand, both published by McGraw-Hill.

To download a PDF Lens of Understanding and see a live in-depth presentation of the Lens of Understanding in Dr. Brinkman’s trademark Educating through Entertainment style visit:

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Dr. Rick Brinkman is the coauthor of the international bestseller Dealing with People You Can’t Stand, which has been translated into 25 languages. His new book, Dealing with Meetings You Can’t Stand, How to Meet Less and Do More is available now. He is a top keynote speaker and trainer on leadership, teamwork, customer service, effective meetings, difficult people, and managing multiple priorities.