Archive for Dialog

Humor and Sarcasm in Conflict

Humor and Sarcasm in Conflict


excerpt from the new book
Responsible Conflict: Building Trust and Respect
Responsible Conflict cover
Any humor at the expense of someone else is not humor
and instead, is an indirect form of hostility.


It is important to realize that everyone does not share the same sense of humor.  What might seem like harmless kidding to one person could offend or erode trust with others.  It can be helpful to use humor to lighten tension, however, a conflict or intense interaction is not always the appropriate time to do this.


We should ask what our intention is behind that with which we are joking.  While teasing someone about something may seem innocent, it may be perceived as trying to make fun of others or make them look bad.  When we turn something into a joke, we might be more serious than we let on.  A good exercise is to monitor ourselves to see what types of things we joke about.  If we find we are saying things that run people down, or draw attention to others’ shortcomings, we should learn to leave those comments out and explore why we feel the need to make them in the first place.

  • Are you nervous?
  • Is it your way to lighten things up or make you feel more comfortable?
  • Is there a more serious issue behind it?

Humor is important, it enables us to relate better to others, relieve the day to day pressures and be more “human” to those we lead and interact with.  There are different ways to use humor.  It is important to do what works for us, we should never try to act like someone we are not or in a way that is incongruent with our personality.  Problems arise when we use the wrong type of humor, primarily any type that is condescending, critical of others or is intended to embarrass.  There is great power in humor, both the power to bring people together and the power to hurt.

Humor may be used as an avoidance technique or a way to make light of serious issues.  People use humor to get away from having to deal with or think about things that are difficult to address.  This is a coping strategy that can hinder our ability to resolve issues or give it the respect it deserves.  When we make light of serious issues, we may be perceived as not caring or respecting those involved.   Joking about a serious issue can harm our relationships.  In the same way, we may use humor to avoid dealing with difficult issues.  Joking about a serious issue can harm our relationships with others.  If we make light of something important others may feel slighted or angry that they are not being taken seriously.

Snipers, or those with a quick tongue, often disguise their angry remarks in humor.  They can be masters at cutting others down or making them look bad in a covert way.  If confronted, snipers may act innocent using humor to make light of the situation or they may become aggressive and attack.  We must be careful not to show agreement or even laugh at the comments made by a sniper because doing so reinforces the behavior and increases the chances it will continue.  This undermines the person targeted and reflects negatively on us if we allow it to occur.

Some of the best ways to respond:

  • Test the validity of what the other person is saying
  • Ask or confront directly – “You just said_______.  What did you mean by that?”  Be prepared for further jokes or sarcasm.  You may need to pursue what their intentions were or what they really meant by what they said.
  • Inquire where their facts are from
  • Do not respond in-kind with your own sarcasm

Humor can be risky.  Some humor might be distasteful or offensive.  What is funny to us might not be funny to others for reasons we do not understand or respect.

  • What is funny to you?
  • Is it offensive or degrading to someone else?
    •  How do you know?
    • Do you care?


Responsible Conflict is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

now available on Kindle!


How to Restore a Team Suffering from Chronic Conflict to a Productive Team

How to Restore a Team Suffering from Chronic Conflict to a Productive Team

By Jagoda Perich-Anderson, M.A.

Misery is working on a team where conflict is a constant. Meetings often end in disagreement or worse, awkward silence. Trust and morale are low. Gossip and badmouthing create tension and people feel like they’re walking on eggshells. Some employees won’t even talk to each other except to get tasks done. People may have formed cliques that feed the feud and keep the group polarized.

Employees working in a group like this are unhappy.  The best ones will likely leave sooner than later to find another job.

Depending on how long conflict has held the team hostage, the original inciting incident may be forgotten. In fact, some of the people who were there at the start may have left by now. New ones joined the group but the work culture remains as toxic as ever. This is because group norms are powerful. Often, someone in the group is benefitting from keeping the team off kilter. Current employees will have taught new ones how to act. Those that wouldn’t comply got ostracized, adding yet another layer of conflict.

The problem is usually evident to people outside of the immediate unit who have to interface with the team. They will either conduct “work-arounds” to avoid having to deal with the negativity or complain about how hard it is to work with this team. This puts a burden on the larger organization and costs thousands of dollars in inefficiencies, low productivity and poor quality work results.

“People don’t perform because of their salary. hey perform because of their motivation. When you have conflict or dissension within the company, people do not produce at their highest level.”                                                    — Dr. Jeff Zimmerman of Avon’s Beacon Behavioral Services LLC.

It doesn’t have to stay this way.

No matter how long this situation has existed, it’s not too late to turn it around. In fact, if you’re a manager, you can’t afford to let this situation continue one day longer.

If you’re like many of the managers I’ve helped with team dynamics over the years, you probably feel scared and intimated by the very idea of needing to intervene in a chronic conflict. If you’ve been the manager in that group for a while, you may feel hopeless, frustrated and at the end of your patience. You’ve tried a variety of ways to change the dynamics but they persist. As a new manager who inherited this team, you probably feel overwhelmed. You don’t know the history or the origin of the conflicts or where the landmines are buried.

There is a proven process that can break the conflict cycle without having to revisit the past and re-open old wounds. In a reasonable period of time, you can improve the work climate and do it in a way that your employees will support.

The following steps are used by professional team building facilitators. If you feel that it would be helpful to have a neutral, third party help you start this process, by all means bring one in. However, I’ve also seen managers with good communication skills apply these steps themselves and obtain positive results.

1.       Ask for ideas and commitment to change the work climate

This step is best begun with individual conversations. It’s a good idea to write a script for yourself to help boost your confidence and stay on track. I also recommend having your first conversations with the most promising and positive employees. This will give you insights to further tweak and tailor subsequent conversations. Use neutral and non-judgmental language but be honest. Don’t use euphemisms when you talk about the situation.

The conversation has two parts:

  1. Statement of the problem (general, one sentence) and of the goal to make things better. For example, “We both know there is a lot of tension in this group. I believe we can make this a good place to work again but I need your help.”
  2. Open-ended questions seeking input. Say, “I’d like to get your thoughts and ideas on what we can do going forward.” Ask questions such as these:

i.      What kind of work climate do you want? (If you get a response about how it wouldn’t be possible here, just say, “That might be but for the moment let’s pretend it is. Describe what a typical day would look like and feel like if things were different.)

ii.      What specifically gets in the way of us having the kind of climate you describe? (Allow, even invite, an honest discussion about the conflicts in the group. Also ask about how organizational systems and procedures might contribute.)

iii.      If it were possible to achieve your vision, what do you think it would take to create it? (Accept all ideas, even if one of them is about moving someone out of the group. Just don’t let it be the only suggestion. Draw out as many ideas as possible.)

iv.      What advice do you have for me as your manager—what could I do better or differently—to increase the likelihood of success?

v.      What could you do differently to increase the likelihood of success?

vi.      Are you willing to do your part to help make things better?

vii.      Close by explaining that you will be speaking to everyone and will share a summary of what you learned at an upcoming team meeting.


2.       Facilitate a team meeting that calls for change

Sometimes it is helpful to hold this meeting off-site to get away from work distractions and send the message about its importance. Allow at least 3-4 hours. The goal of the meeting is to share the summary of the conversations you held and obtain a group commitment to change the work climate. The agenda for this meeting is two-fold:

a)      A high-level summary (bullet points are fine) about what people said (no names) they wanted to be different and their ideas for how to start moving in that direction.

b)      Ask for additions. Some people will want to rehash or raise more problems about why this won’t work. Refocus the group, as often as necessary, on what they want and how to start down the road to getting there.

c)       A public confirmation committing to the changes. You want to get verbal statements from each individual. If you can’t get everyone, go for a majority.


3.       Cement the commitment to change with a symbolic ceremony


This can occur at the same team meeting as above or at the next one, depending on time. It is important to create a ceremony that uses as many senses as possible to make it memorable. It can be hokey, serious, funny, somber or irreverent. It just needs to fit the group. You might even ask one or two (the most committed) employees to help design it.


The message of the ceremony is letting the old go and moving forward with the new from here on forward.


4.       Develop and work an action plan


Prioritize ideas for early implementation. Identify who will do what by when (including you) and follow up. As the manager, you are responsible for removing roadblocks to success and providing resources as needed. For example, you may wish to provide training on personality style differences, effective communication or conflict management. You may need to make structural changes—how the work space is organized, new roles assignments, or procedural improvements.


Chances are most people are weary of the poor work climate and will welcome a change. Expect them to be scared and mistrustful at first. One or two, the ones who got power from maintaining the status quo, may resist the most and be slow to do their part. Consistently let them know that the old ways and behaviors will not be tolerated. Protect the process you’ve started and those who are doing their best to make things better.

Remember, you can always bring in a professional to help with any part of the process. You don’t have to do it alone. But you do have to act.


Jagoda Perich-Anderson, M.A. is the founder of Conflict Tango whose mission is to help people reduce stress and increase confidence in conflict situations. She is the author of Conflict to Creativity A to Z.   Jagoda is passionate about combining creativity and conflict management skills to empower innovative solutions.





Overgeneralizations and Conflict

Overgeneralizations and Conflict

“He always…”, “She Never…”, “They’re a bunch of…”  At one time or another we probably have been guilty of using overgeneralizations; the problem is they can set us up to expect or believe something about others, which might not be true, or at least, not all of the time.  If we are not careful, we can even use them against ourselves, “Why can’t I ever…”, “I always…” or “I’m such a…”  While this might seem harmless, it can create a pattern of thinking whereby we come to expect certain things of others and ourselves, which might not be accurate or fair.

In conflict, over generalizations can fuel anger and defensiveness and in some cases  even create a conflict where one did not exist before.  Think about a time where someone accused you of “always…” If you are like most people, your first reaction is to be defensive or respond with examples to the contrary.  This typically leads to mere contradiction and debate when instead we might be better off to invite the sender to explain what is going on in order to discuss it further.  If we get stuck on defending the generalization we might spur the conflict on and direct it away from what is at the heart of the matter.  Once the issue has been discussed and defenses are lowered, you might be able to address your concerns about the overgeneralization.

  • In what ways do you overgeneralize?
  • How did someone’s overgeneralization of you make you feel/respond?


Mark A. Adams

Author of Courageous Conflict: Leading with Integrity and Authenticity

President, Achievement Edge, LLC




©Copyright Mark Adams 2013

Can You Find Validity in the Other Side?

Treat PeopleWhen we talk about conflict resolution it is a good practice to try to better understand where the other side is coming from, but what does this really entail?  We can see (or believe we see) where the other side is coming from but still find fault with it.  Too often, we only look for places we believe the other side is wrong instead of acknowledging valid points or concerns they might have.  Sometimes we don’t want to do this because we believe recognizing these points might weaken our position or threaten our belief about something.

True conflict resolution takes courage to look at issues beyond our position or how we want things to be.  We have to be courageous enough to look at information, points and facts, which are contrary to our position.  This can be unsettling to some whereby they fight harder to prove their point instead of acknowledging key points from the other side.  Oftentimes, the harder we try to prove our point, the more we tune out important information.  If we treat a conflict as win or lose, the easier it is for both sides to get stuck in ego and competition instead of resolving a problem at the highest level.

Acknowledging or validating a good point does not necessarily mean we are wrong or should give up our position.  However, it can help us appreciate the issue and the people involved on a deeper more respectful level.  If we want or expect others to listen to and respect our opinion, we have to be able to do the same for them.

Think about the last time someone said, “That is a good point” or “I hadn’t thought about that”.  It feels good to have our input acknowledged instead of the typical counterpoints and the shutdown of ideas, which serve to further entrench us into defensiveness and drive us deeper into our existing positions.  The simple act of validating where we can, can help ease tensions and improve our ability to communicate, remain receptive and hopefully resolve the issue.

  • Do you acknowledge or validate important points made by others?
  • How?
  • If not, why?


Mark A. Adams

Author of Courageous Conflict: Leading with Integrity and Authenticity

President, Achievement Edge, LLC