Let’s NOT Agree To Disagree: Four Steps For Breaking Through An Impasse

Posted on May 9, 2016 by Nate Regier / 2 comments
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Let’s agree to disagree could mean a lot of things;

  • I am tired of the conflict but don’t want to give in either
  • I want you to stop badgering me
  • I don’t see any chance of finding a common ground
  • Compromise is not an option
  • I respect your position and will stop trying to convince you
  • I’m right, you think you’re right, and I won’t push it
  • Whatever!

Usually, it means we’ve reached an impasse and rather than escalate the conflict, we call a truce.

What happens next? How do you feel? How does it affect your relationship? Do you ever find a solution?

There might be a better way. It’s called Compassionate Accountability. Conflict doesn’t have to be avoided. In fact, conflict can be a creative force when used correctly. Here are four steps to continuing healthy conflict when approaching an impasse. Try these to increase the potential for a breakthrough.

Step 1: Disclose how you feel

Are you angry? Anxious? Embarrassed? Defensive? It’s OK to share that. Revealing your feelings, as long as you take responsibility for them, is OK. Don’t blame anyone, and don’t use feelings that give the other person power, like “attacked” or “disrespected.” These aren’t legitimate feelings because they absolve you of responsibility. Sharing your feelings can be scary, especially when you’ve been working hard to protect yourself from what seems like an adversarial interaction. Ironically, it’s quite disarming.

Step 2: Offer resources and options

What are you willing to contribute to to help work through this conflict? What information are you willing to share, hear, or go get in order to move things forward? What are you willing to do to help the process along? Whatever you do, avoid offering advice to the other person. Keep it focused on you.

Step 3: Discern and share what’s at stake

What is this really about for you? What core principles or values are at stake for you? Is it a belief system you want to hold on to? Your pride? Your reputation? A commitment you made to another person? If you don’t dig deep and identify why you are having such a hard time finding common ground with the other person, you will continue to behave adversarially.

Step 4: Open up and listen

I bet that right before you agreed to disagree you were vehemently advocating your position, or finding fault with the other person’s position, or approaching a boundary you didn’t want to cross. It’s OK to temporarily put that agenda on hold and take some time to really understand the other person’s point of view. Imagine you are guiding them through steps 1-3 above by asking questions to learn about their feelings, resources, and principles at stake. You’d be amazed how flexible another person can become when they feel heard.

Here are a few examples. See if you can decipher the four steps.

I feel angry right now. I am willing to continue this conversation later when I am less worked up. For me, what’s at stake is my loyalty to our company. How are you feeling about this conversation?

I feel defensive right now. I would be happy to explain if you are interested. It boils down to maintaining my sense of integrity between what I say and what I do. I’d love to learn more about what’s at stake for you.

I am anxious right now because I’m torn between wanting to defend myself and also respecting you as a friend. I’d be willing to take the time to learn more about your position without judging it. Ultimately, it comes down to mutual respect. How do you feel about this?


For more on the principles of Compassionate Accountability applied to a variety of life situations, I invite you to take a look at my new book, Conflict Without Casualties: A Field Guide for Leading With Compassionate Accountability.

Copyright 2016, Next Element Consulting, LLC,  All rights reserved

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Photo of dude
Posted on May 20, 2016

and what if the other person wields control over your job, money, health or other significant need? and what if they are a liar or twister of truth? or the kind of person that exploits your feelings/honesty for further control and manipulation of circumstances. or a sociopath?

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Nate Regier
Posted on May 21, 2016

Great question Dude. It’s always your choice how hard and in what ways you want to struggle “with” someone else instead of against them. Ultimately, you have limited control over the other person and all that’s left is the choices you want to make for yourself.

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Michael Warden
Posted on May 29, 2016

This is great, Nate, thanks. Very timely. My coaching partner and I just encountered this situation with an NPO client in a training this past week. We were training a team of internal auditors who really need to know how to navigate a conflict impasse with other departments that often view them as the enemy. We gave them some good places to look, but this framework really provides solid handholds for navigating toward a workable resolution. Thanks!

P.S. Great to meet you briefly at the ATD Conference in Denver. Love the work you guys are doing!

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Nate Regier
Posted on May 30, 2016

Michael, thank you for your kind words. Great to see you in Denver. I am glad this blog helped. I looked at your website and can see we have a lot in common. Important and meaningful work you are doing. I’d recommend anyone looking for a great coaching experience to contact Michael.

All the best!

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