The Western Wall in Jerusalem

Day 1:  Cultural Confusion

The social norms in Israel, obviously different, felt unpredictable and so, uncomfortable.

A short trip to Israel happened.  Just 5 Days. 

Israel is a place that seems somewhere between uncomfortable and fascinating to visit.  Its’ history riddled with conflict of course.  Dare I say, the cultural expression of which still feels present.  To an outsider. 

Israeli’s sort of bristle.  Until you penetrate their coating of resistance.  When the pendulum swing to warmth can feel overbearing!

Not a single day went by on this trip, that I didn’t think about conflict in some way.  And wonder about the negative ripple-effect after ‘doing’ conflict. 

So, because it is in everything this week, that’s what I’m writing about.  Sparked by the history of Israel itself, to doing a family conflict and of course, career conflicts are often on the radar when coaching professionals as I do.

I offer you my discovery:  the secret ingredient to doing conflicts – well.

Day 2:  Voyeuristic in Old Jerusalem

The Old City, literally carved into quarters representing fiercely-held, conflicting beliefs.  Crucially, all working together to maintain a settled status quo despite their differences. 

While in Israel, we spent time with people who moved there some years before.  They had a surprising interpretation when we mentioned we’d noticed Israeli’s bristled. What was striking was their understanding and utter acceptance of the same social norms we were finding alien.

It was then something important started to come into focus. It doesn’t matter what conflict we experience – career-conflict or relationship conflict or even our own inner-conflict. 

Computing conflicts so we can do them well, relies on a particular response pattern.  And I’ve worked out this secret ingredient is something we never do when conflict shows up. It will change the way your conflicts go forever if you change that.  So, I’m offering one, simple tactic you can use to do your conflicts well.

Day 3:  Cultural Collisions = Zero

Delicious cultural co-existence!

While we sat in a fab Israeli-Arab restaurant, noticing diners represented the fullest spectrum of cultural and religious backgrounds, our ex-pat hosts explained the social norms carefully: 

In Israel they just don’t…queue (a fight had broken out in the toilets by The Western Wall!) / do customer service / seem friendly at first…and yes, you had glass bottles thrown at your car today… but that’s only a bottle! 

These are Londoners. Just ordinary people, like us.  But living in Israel.  So, hearing them so very philosophical about what felt so alien, made me think. Hard.  They were saying:

  1. It’s your job to understand their why (history hangovers).
  2. Don’t expect it to change. Meet them where they are.
  3. Have ready your preferred response pattern. Do that.
  4. Accept you can’t enforce change. Only offer progress. 
  5. Sounded exhausting to me.  But not to them I noticed.  

Day 4:  Floating in The Dead Sea. 

Where Everything You Think You Know (About Buoyancy In Water) Is Upside Down 

Here, you literally have to throw out everything you know about moving in water, take a minute to work out what works and then do something new.  So, I thought about that.  What if, what I know about successful conflict, is upside down. 

What was niggling in my head was the incredible acceptance levels we had heard.  As a conflict-response strategy, was that level of acceptance really tenable? Or Advisable?   How would that advice map onto conflict-resolution more generally?

Very badly indeed I thought.  Whose side should I be on when conflict situations show up?  Surely my own! We all know we need to fight for our rights (or at least put boundaries in place that satisfy). 

But what if first moving into the other sides’ perspective, long enough to accept it, is critical to doing conflict better? 

Now, I have coached professionals around assertiveness and boundaries often.  Because resentment is toxic if we don’t articulate where our boundaries are and then feel listened to.  But this knowledge wasn’t sitting well this week.  So, I did what I always do and dug into some psychology research. 

On one level, our typical responses to conflict seem more like avoiding them, not handling them actually.  And it’s seems like that’s very acceptable – too much so. 

The research reinforces it is deeply unhealthy to go along with something if you feel strongly against it.  And while submitting silently might stop the conflict escalating at the time, the issue can’t resolve unless you voice your perspective. And it is heard.  So, it festers and grows instead.  Denting emotional equilibrium and even your health, over time.  

Day 5:  How To Compute Conflict In Relationships

Our Last Supper All Together. Conflict Came Up And Wasn’t Done Well. But Revealed The Secret Ingredient To Doing Conflicts – Well.

We had a very difficult discussion all together on Day 5.  As families sometimes do.  About desperately important things.  One person has cancer.  Some folks aren’t on great terms with others. There are reasons and feelings.  Everyone cares.  A lot.  But differently.

And there it was:  history hangovers, in the way of resolution.  That need respect.  Why?  Because if different ‘sides’ aren’t aligned on the desired outcome, it can’t be about resolving.  It needs to be about listening and accepting – sometimes really sticky stuff.  Even when you can’t understand.   Even though that makes it hard.  Very hard.   

So, let’s look at recommendations to compute conflict in important relationships.  And then I’ll tell you what happened in ours!

First, be honest.  Have you held back from saying hard ‘things’ to your partner / family / close others until you’re ready to explode?  Then it comes out via anger, with an added layer of hurt on top.  And stress.  For everyone.  Yet avoids the actual argument.  For now.  Over time, tension builds up until the issue combusts into a bigger conflict.  By which time, resolution is harder to reach because everyone is that much more entrenched in conflicting perspectives.  A toxic spiral.

  1. Experts say it is far healthier to address issues head-on. Before they become explosive.
  2. Don’t be defensive. We just deny our part in the issue that way which stops either side feel listened to. 
  3. Do express what needs to be heard. How?  Assert your point of view and articulate it carefully:
    • Avoid over-generalisations (‘You always / you never’) which will likely spark indignation and stop the listening
    • Accept responsibility for your part in a problem but keep your own assertions specific
  4. Let go of needing to be right. There are no rights and wrongs.  Just other perspectives.  Seek to understand the ‘history hangovers’.  Why does the other person feel xx.  And be demanding so yours is also heard.  It doesn’t mean understanding or forgiveness must follow.  But acceptance is the only place from which you can collaborate on y and z – potential solutions that might work for both sides. 

Because here’s what happens when we don’t do conflict well. On this day in Israel, we skirted the historically contentious.  We hurtled into the hard stuff.  There was a choice at one point about how to do our conflict conversation, but we sped past that.  Too fast.  And if one side can’t remember / relate to / understand the others’ point, it’s not easy to change lanes later.  

The advice to accept anyway wasn’t in play.  So everyone was heard but no one felt listened to or understood.  The conflict finished (because we had to rush for a flight) but didn’t have an end. 

So that 5th day, the lessons from Israel got louder for me.  The bit about understanding the why above all else.

On the flight home, I wrestled with that unsatisfactory ending some more and that’s when the secret ingredient for doing conflicts better became clear.   

As much as it might be obvious – I know I leverage this for my clients, in coaching every day – we accidentally ignore this important step in conflicts and I know why.  Because we’re operating less consciously. 

So there is a simple solution to mobilising the missing step in your conflicts from now on.  If you choose to.  It will change how you go into and come out of your conflict conversations forever. And it takes seconds. 


How To Compute Career Conflict

But hang on… I coach professionals.  The conflict response needs tweaking again in a professional setting.  Doesn’t it?

While issues are important in the professional space, they may feel less emotive than those in close relationships.  Which can help in important ways, but also brings new watch-outs.

Here’s how to apply the advice to conflict conversations in your career:

  1. People often bring more curiosity to a conflict conversation when it’s professional.  Curiosity is also a tactic to employ when you want time to gather your thoughts if you use curiosity to shift focus to the other person for a time
  2. Do you give enough weight to the conflict you feel in your career? With awareness, we can literally schedule a time to raise the issue before it’s explosive at work.  So, put a time in diaries and do that.  
  3. We are more practised at professional assertiveness. That’s because we feel permission to assert.  In professional environments, it’s a recognised and valued skill-set and entirely distinct from aggression.  And without pressure for forgiveness that shows up in close relationships.  So, do that.  Clearly (you might want to practice a form of words so they flow for you when you need them).
  4. Let go of being right and get curious instead. A good leader will have the confidence built-in to operate on this level with their people. Because they care.  And know listening and accommodating professional needs is the fast-track to team loyalty. Which in turn, is the magic sauce when it comes to optimising professional performance.  So, a good leader starts out trying to understand your why and support it.


Me vs. Myself: 

How Handling Inner-Conflict Isn’t Different.

How different is the advice when the conflict you’re experiencing is your own incongruence?

This kind of inner-conflict comes up when what you’re doing sits in contrast with what you believe or want for yourself.  Your values.  It’s often invisible to others, which of course contributes to the damage it can do if you feel stuck, forced to live your inner-conflict every day.

Take for example, one successful professional I worked with.  She happened to be a mother.  The point was this.  Two identities.  Two roles.  Leading one life.  Her conflict hit hardest because the role she felt to be more important to her (mothering) was not the role given most of her time (work).

In the end, if a satisfactory solution can’t be negotiated, one role-identity will always surrender to resolve the psychological conflict instead.  And so, mothers who want to work, ‘choose’ their children.  Because that is their need.   And needs win.  For all of us.  Whatever they are.

The value of coaching is that the client realised what is going on under the conscious.  Her conflict. In other words, she actually wanted the two roles to integrate so they didn’t need become a self-ultimatum.  Lining that up that took a lot of awareness, bravery, some financial problem-solving, planning and a sprinkling of luck.  And much support. But it worked.  Well.

As with the more obvious forms of conflict, we need to recognise toxic feelings as a call to action.  We need to change something, or risk being driven unawares to a destination that gets our needs met but may not be aligned with what we want.  Ideally, we learn to do this early, when they are small undercurrents.

See how the inner-conflict advice maps compares:

  1. Understand what you need. It will be hidden amongst your values. So dig deep to find them. Then bring them to the surface so you operate with them in mind.  Top of mind.
  2. Accept your need. These are not luxuries.  Even if they go against what you thought you knew or what others expect.  Understand any history hangovers (your why) and accept that also.  But be careful here.  These are not reasons to maintain what isn’t working.  The opposite. 
  3. Be choiceful about change. Now you are operating with awareness about what is (and is no longer) meeting your needs, commit to realigning what you do with what matters most.  This is a process.  It’s right to take proper time here but hold focus on what matters until the right-fit action clicks. 
  4. Don’t toy at this. Trying is the same as not doing if it goes on too long.  So, assert your need for alignment … Learn what you’re saying no to and how to say so.  Then be your own boss, or find someone who will hold you accountable, so you become the change you need.


4 steps for handling different kinds of conflict have been mapped out here, so you can easily apply them to your career, relationships and even inner-conflict whenever these different parts of your life are badly aligned. 

But the secret ingredient for handling conflict well in any situation is #5.   It might surprise you.   I know its power will when you use it. 

Do let me know how this simple 5th step changes the landscape of your career conflicts…


  • Helen Hanison

    I'm a leadership coach helping seasoned professionals who are at a crossroads, with a growing need to redesign their career but feeling blocked. And worried about that. Together we make a plan realigning work they love with what matters most so they can finally make aligned, confident transformation instead.

    If you'd like to receive actionable advice about redesigning your career, I'd love you to sign up:

    My story could be called 'from career to motherhood and back again'! With a 20 year 'tour of duty' in the worlds' largest PR firms, I came to a career crossroads after I transitioned from woman to mother. I got lost for some years and having moved country (and back again), and tried a bunch of different ideas both sides of The Pond, I went back to University for a second time - to do psychology. My efforts were well rewarded with first-class honours, an energy ‘reset’ and clarity about the fresh career ladder I wanted so badly. I had found Leadership Coaching and subsequently completed a (rigorous!) programme of training with the world’s largest coach training institute – CTi and have since become a narrative therapist too. Now I love that my commercial edges and marketing savvy work alongside my brand of positive psychology coaching, and know the integration is a powerful one for my clients. I passionately believe we only get to feel as alive and aligned as I do today, if we shape work we love around what matters most and that has synergy with the life we want to be living. In some ways my story represents the hard way to figure what work-life synergy looks like. And that's what I help others with now. If you feel stuck and wish you knew how to make a plan to change that, I'm happy to offer a complimentary clarity conversation. Just email me - [email protected] - and we'll organise that.