Getting yourself ready for Conflict

Last week I wrote about how I dealt with a conflict situation on my flight over to San Francisco.  What could have been a horrible 10 hours turned out fine because I remembered to the use the magic word “IF” rather than responding in my usual Accommodating fashion.  I ended up feeling good about myself rather than having to sit there feeling disgruntled, disempowered and weak.

It sparked off an unusually high level of interest and comment, all of which was from people who said that they too would have found the situation difficult, and might also have been tempted to accommodate the man who asked me to relocate whilst not wishing to do so.  I guess it’s a situation most of us can relate to, and we know how stressful those airports and aircraft can be.

So here’s the thing:  I’m flying back tonight and have reserved myself, ever the glutton for punishment, the same seat (28D, full leg room, no galley or toilets nearby).  It is distinctly possible that the same situation may arise again, and someone with an infant asks me to relocate because they forgot to check in early enough to sit together.

I have been running, it so happens, a Leadership training programme this week, and the subject of Conflict has arisen.  People have taken the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Preference test, and in the training room there are some Avoiders and Accommodators like me.  We have found ourselves discussing the “IF” word (using it to extract a concession from others when we are being asked to make one ourselves), and what to do if we prefer to avoid conflict or to be overly helpful when others ask us to do things for them.

One technique for Avoiders and Accommodators is to think through their response and rehearse their arguments in advance.  Which is exactly what I have done in readiness for my flight tonight.  It will therefore come more naturally to me, I will be using my neocortex to access a Conscious behaviour rather than my limbic system (which can leave me out of control and responding instinctively).

So, mister, I am ready for you.  Here goes:

This time I am ready for him

AGGRESSIVE DUTCHMAN: “Would you mind swapping seats so that I can sit next to my wife and help her to cope with our two year old?”

COOL HEADED BRIT WITH A FULL TOOLKIT OF RESPONSES (ME): “I appreciate your situation, however I chose this seat months ago for obvious reasons, and see no reason why your problem should become my problem.  However, IF you can find me a seat with equivalent legroom I’d be happy to help you.”

(Take seat, put on noise cancelling headphones, stick nose into book and wait for events to unfold).



I can’t wait.  I am enjoying building this Assertiveness muscle.  Reaping the benefits last time I exercised it has encouraged me to use it again.  Bring it on!

© Odua Images –

© Jörg Hackemann –

About Michael Brown Training

I'm a business skills trainer, facilitator and coach. I've been helping people to learn for 16 years, working all around the world on topics such as Negotiation, Conflict Handling, Sales, Leadership, Consulting and Personal Effectiveness. I'm an ENFP, constantly looking for new and inspiring things to do. I love my job for its variety and the stimulation I get from it, and spend most of my time seeing how far we can go with the subjects we work on in the training room. I've recently started a new venture in making video on how NOT to do things, which you can find at
This entry was posted in Conflict, Leadership Skills, Life Skills, Negotiations, Personal Development and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Getting yourself ready for Conflict

  1. Amber Wood says:

    Sorry, Michael, but I do have to correct you on one small point… A true aggressive Dutchman wouldn’t ask you to exchange seats. He’d either a) let his wife manage it on her own while he sleeps & watches films available on the plane that haven’t been released in Holland, or he’d b) hassle & swear at you, even though he’s angry at the airline for separating him, & tell you that it’s your responsibility to give him the seat. 16 years & counting here, & I STILL can’t quite make out the “I’m just being brutally honest” behaviour, which often crosses the line into rudeness… ; ) Well done on the flight over, though – yet another lesson I’ll look to incorporate when given the chance…


  2. Good luck with your trip. I’m sure it will go well because you’re mentally prepared for anything.


    • Thanks Anneli. “Prepared for anything”: not sure about that! What about if he bursts into tears: not sure I would hold my line quite so well if he does that 🙂


      • Give him the crocodile test. If they’re real tears, well…there’s a place for compassion, but if they’re the kind you can turn on and off in an eyeblink, stick to your IF. As long as he doesn’t show signs of going postal over it. This is a relatively new ploy, but very effective. We don’t always know which buttons we’re pushing so even your IF response has to be carefully done.


What do you think? Please leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s