Category Archives: Workshop

Communicating When Conflict Arises and Using it to Your Advantage


Often when you present to an audience, you are communicating to a large diverse group, many of whom have different points view from you. The majority of your audience will likely have different thoughts and feelings due to factors such as; culture, education, beliefs, and life experience. When communicating to a diverse audience there is always a chance for conflict to arise, particularly during workshops or discussions where an agreement needs to me made. Whether it be in the form of a vocal minority making accusations during a Q and A session, or opposing groups arguing in a workshop conflict plays a major role in communication. As a communicator it is vitally important to not only be prepared for conflict and how to resolve it, but to also be ready to use conflict in a positive way to communicate more clearly and make your work better.

The majority of people in the world do not like conflict or confrontation and will generally will try to avoid it if possible. In many cases the word conjures up images of violence and ill will towards others. Although in reality there are many types of conflict most of which do not involve violence and can be used constructively. Conflict can be defined in different ways, such as; as a serious disagreement, an argument, an incompatibility between opinions and principles, or even a prolonged armed struggle. Despite the many definitions of conflict most of the time conflict centers around a simple disagreement of ideals. As a communicator being able to recognize and deal with conflict can help transfer knowledge to your audience and make for a smooth presentation. In this post we will see some examples of how to use conflict to improve a message as well as tips for resolving conflict. Here I am using the generic definition of conflict as a disagreement or incompatible point of view.

Using Conflict to Your Advantage When Communicating

The majority of us will attempt to avoid conflict, even if it blatantly obvious and unavoidable. This is the first misconception of conflict that needs to be changed. Conflict is not necessarily a negative experience, since it can be used in a constructive way to improve our work or character. Conflict can come in the form of a simple disagreement or it can explode into a storm of vitriol and hate. The key to using conflict as an advantage when communicating, is knowing when to speak your mind candidly without the fear of backlash. As with many aspects of communicating, preparing before you actually present is immensely important.

First, you must understand both sides of the topic or argument. Whether you think you are right or backed up by empirical facts is irrelevant in a conflict. Before you communicate it is more important to understand the entirety of the topic. Preparing with as much information as possible will help you learn where misconceptions arise and address before they turn into a conflict. Remember the old saying “there are three sides to every story, your side their side and the truth.” So keep in mind that most people, despite our best intentions, put a bias on the information we present. Try to keep the material as objective as possible to make your message clear and concise. Think about things like how the other side might perceive the information through a subjective lens, and prepare information to address those biases in your presentation.

Second, you will want to understand your audience, how they think, and how they might respond to your presentation. Remember that they may be more open minded than you give them credit for. For example in climate science there is actually a lot more people who believe climate change is happening than not. There is very vocal minority believe it to be a conspiracy theory.  And finally there is a large group which simply need more information to make a decision.  If someone were to disagree with what you present in a climate talk, it may simply be from being misinformed or lack of information. Knowing your audience can help inform people and resolve misconceptions within the audience with facts.

Third, consider how conflict might scrutinize your work and improve the quality of your message. If you present a controversial topic and create a large atmosphere of conflict in doing so, it may mean that your message is convoluted or difficult to understand. Knowing whether your audience is misinformed or that your message is not well constructed is key. Conflict can help you discover holes in your story, reveal unknown biases in your work, and address underlying issues or controversies. Instead of there simply being a misinformed audience, you may need to reevaluate your work and improve the way it is presented. Remember to not take anything too personally the idea is to use the conflict in a positive way to address issues.

Fourth, consider what the goal of your presentation is. Think about what your ideal outcome would be for the discussion session, workshop, presentation, Q and A etc. By taking time to think about the outcome you can make sure that what you are communicating is in line with the goals you mean to accomplish. Conflict will arise if your goals and what you are communicating do not align. If conflict does occur it may be a indicator that your message is unclear or that the audience has begun to mistrust you because your goals feel like a covert subterfuge. Make sure that your message and also the language you are using convey your goals clearly.

Finally, in Margaret Heffernan’s TED talk she explains how conflict can be used to solve problems, improve quality of work by a group or individual, and how taking a risk of dealing with conflict can actually save lives. Margaret gives a good overview (not to mention that she is a great communicator in general) of how we need to change our outlook towards conflict and use it in a positive way.

Resolving Conflict Through Communication Skills

In times when conflict is not beneficial to you or your message it is likely that resolution methods be used. Examine what the source of the conflict is and  try to see if it can be quickly resolved by meeting someone’s need. You can then try to negotiate to resolve the situation, but if that doesn’t work you will need to manage the conflict carefully to resolve it. the manner by which conflicts are resolved can have big impacts on the relationships between people and organizations. 3 Avoiding conflict or trying to superficially smooth over a problem between interested parties can help in the short term, but doesn’t solve the overall problem and therefore conflict will likely occur in the future. 1

Often conflict is not the caused by the literal problem or topic at hand, but rather caused by the response of the people who are invested in the problem. 2 As a communicator one way to dissolve conflict is to begin by understanding the problem thoroughly. Learn who is involved, what it is about, type of conflict (misunderstanding, dependent on circumstances, misdirected, etc.), and overarching personal beliefs.  Being able to trust and work together between parties that have opposing views is critical for success, with communication being the key to building trust. Knowing the cause of the conflict can then help you work towards a resolution that will diffuse it. 2 Work with the people involved to develop a better understanding of both sides of the situation. Consider how the conflict evolved over time or is expressed, and think about potential solutions that will be mutually agreeable. 2  Most people will recognize that investing time and resources to resolving a conflict is mutually beneficial to everyone involved. Be straightforward and name the conflict and point out that it is in everyone’s best interest to resolve it.

In the most extreme cases a third party may be needed to intervene as a non biased moderator. In these cases relationships and trust can be rebuilt through the mediator. It is important to remember that even with the help of a mediator and all the resolution techniques, sometimes you may not be able to resolve the conflict. In those cases it is probably best for everyone to walk away, allow emotions and tempers to calm down and try again another time.


1. Dant, R. P., & Schul, P. L. (1992). Conflict resolution processes in contractual channels of distribution. The Journal of Marketing, 38-54.

2. Girard, K., & Koch, S. J. (1996). Conflict Resolution in the Schools: A Manual for Educators. Jossey-Bass Publishers, 350 Sansome Street, San Francisco, CA 94101..

3. Mohr, J., & Spekman, R. (1994). Characteristics of partnership success: partnership attributes, communication behavior, and conflict resolution techniques. Strategic management journal, 15(2), 135-152.

How to Communicate Like a Negotiator in 3 Steps

Although this blog has focused exclusively thus far on how to communicate in a presentation setting, there are times when having the skills to communicate in a back and forth discussion are extremely helpful. Being competent in skills such as negotiation, debate, and communication, is helpful when working large groups that have varied interests. Negotiation, however, usually gets a bad rap in most people’s view. The common sentiment is that people who negotiate are usually rude and confrontational. Imagine talking with some pushy salesperson trying to trick a customer into a purchase that they do not want, or some a rude business executive giving ultimatums if they do not get their way. The reality of negotiation as a communication tool could be nothing further from the truth. Negotiating is an important skill that the majority of people are not very good, due to fear of confrontation and conflict. 3 In this post we will explore how using negotiation tactics not only will help create a positive atmosphere for discussion, but also allow trust and goodwill to be fostered between opposing groups.

BP Oil Flood Protest in New Orleans 30

Step 1: Decide upon a goal or outcome before you begin to negotiate.

A self assessment is one of the most important things you can do as a communicator, asking “what do I want from this?” will go a long way to being clear and concise when it comes to negotiating. 3 Decide what the outcome should be before you begin communicating or writing down what you will say. For example, do you want a cooperative agreement or are you trying to convince the audience that your way of thinking is best. Considering the possible mutual gains for both you and the audience will make sure you are not perceived as an adversary whom needs to be opposed. 1 Evaluate who you are speaking to and take into consideration what they are wanting to accomplish and compare this with what your personal goals are for the discussion. Developing empathy for your audience can be one of the most powerful tools that you can use to improve communication. Keep in mind while you think of the goals, that you are trying to create a positive relationship with others and find common ground.

As with any communication you must know the topic and become well versed in both sides of the argument. Good negotiators strive to understand where the opposing views, thoughts and feelings are coming from. Knowing your audience as thoroughly as possible is key to your success, since you will need to tailor your information to meet their needs. You do not want to end up in a situation where you are using negotiation tactics with an audience that will not benefit from it. 1

Step 2: Stage presence, keep your composure while communicating.

Consider the relationship you already have with the audience; are you an unknown? an adversary? or a trusted source of information? Whatever category you fall into will impact how you communicate with your audience. 1 Take into account (but do not obsess over) the fact that you will be judged on your presentation and make sure that you are well rehearsed and relaxed. Focus the tone of the presentation on completing objectives and solving problems rather than trying to change opinions or beliefs. 1 Work slowly so you are coherent and fluid you do not want to concede anything you have not had time to think about. 1 Remember you are the communicator and therefore set the pace for discussion, make sure to use this ability to your advantage. A general rule of thumb is to stay focused on the positive when possible and maintain a relaxed composure. Do not take anything personally and try to take a break or recess if you lose your cool. If you have done your homework beforehand you will likely already be composed and things will go smoothly.

Step 3: There are no losers, everyone walks away with something.

Negotiating can be a difficult task, since often you will be working with an audience that is passionate and has many different opposing views. Keep in mind that negotiating is a two way transfer of knowledge with the ultimate goal of solving a problem. 2 This means that no one need feel as though they are conceding something in a sort of compromise, but rather that everyone is working in a positive manner to come to an agreeable resolution.  The overall success when negotiating your desired outcome, often is heavily based on the relationship and trust between the parties involved. 1 Separate the personalities from the problem so that no one takes something personally but instead is focused on working together to solve the problem. 1  Negotiate on the audience’s ultimate desires and goals and not their personal opinions. 1 For example, think about how most people support renewable energy whether they believe in climate change or not. Try to avoid using ultimatums when communicating since they can make people feel like they are cornered or trapped. 1

You will want to take into account how passionate the audience is about something and stay aware of conflict that might arise. If you think that conflict is likely, then prepare beforehand ways to calm down the audience so that you will be able to diffuse the situation before it gets to intense. 5 One way to avoid potential conflict is to keep people busy by task sharing. Breaking the problem up into smaller parts and then distributing them out to all interested parties is an effective way to come to an agreement. 2 Stay positive and remember that often when negotiating one side will make measurable gains while the other will simply strengthen their relationship and feelings towards the whole community. At the end of the day if every feels good about the agreement or resolution then the negotiation was successful.

TAA–University bargaining, 1970

A final note.

Using negotiation in a presentation does not mean you need to be “tough” by playing hardball or being confrontational. Nor does it mean you should be “soft” letting others manipulate or walk all over you. Using negotiation while communicating means that you will need to; evaluate each situation differently, make sure that you are working towards a goal, address the needs of everyone involved, and finally create a positive  agreeable outcome. 3 Focusing on the needs of the audience and solving their problems is more effective than trying to convince the audience to think the way you do. Remember the audience will respond to problem solving and constructive conversation, but they will quickly shut down if they feel that they are being manipulated or pressured. 4 Use the right tools for the topic, but be aware that there are some issues that cannot be negotiated on, and as a communicator it is important to recognize and steer away from these. 5


1. Anderson, T. (1992). Step into my parlor: A survey of strategies and techniques for effective negotiation. Business Horizons, 35(3), 71-76.

2. Davis, R., & Smith, R. G. (1983). Negotiation as a metaphor for distributed problem solving. Artificial intelligence, 20(1), 63-109.

3. Leigh, T. (2012). Mind and heart of the negotiator. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

4. Rackham, N., Kalomeer, R., & Rapkin, D. (1988). SPIN selling. New York: McGraw-Hill.j

5. Rubin, J. Z. (1983). Negotiation An Introduction to Some Issues and Themes. American Behavioral Scientist, 27(2), 135-147.