Learning the ABCs of Conflict Transformation

Sylvia Lafair, Ph.D.
Posted: 06/15/2011

Just take a minute and imagine sitting around your family dinner table as a kid. There you were with someone in charge at the head of the table; maybe dad, mom, aunt, uncle, foster parent, maybe a caretaker. Then for most of us,there were siblings. Maybe one, often more, of various shapes, sizes and ages.

Okay, now think about the present. See yourself at an office meeting. Not that much different. There is someone in charge and then there are your co-workers all vying for attention, appreciation, and acknowledgement.

Back to the past and answer this question: what happened at home when you were a kid and there was conflict. Did your family duke it out in a contentious manner? Did they scatter as fast as possible in all directions? Did someone, maybe even you, just stay frozen, like a deer in the headlights?

There are three main ways we learned from early on to handle conflict; fight, flight or freeze. These are the way our ancestors behaved and we have the genetic memory to keep this going even if it no longer is the best way to respond to conflict.

These less sophisticated ways of conflict resolution led to the ABCs of anger, betrayal and chaos.

  1. ANGER: it happens all the time and it is not so bad; really anger has its place. Anger is a force that can ultimately drive us to manage relationships so they don’t dissolve. Anger does, however, need to be managed. Here the key is to OBSERVE yourself at the same time you are super angry. Not easy yet doable. This is the way of mastery. Once you learn to watch, as if you are in a film, you can nail this and be the captain of your emotions rather than just one of the crew. How you handle anger in present time is directly related to how you handled anger as a kid.So, take some time and jot down some scenes of past angry times and notice the similarities. I promise they are there.
  2. BETRAYAL: When conflict comes we all tend to pick sides. There are really only two: you are either for or against. Often we want to win at any cost, because if we don’t well……we will get cast off the island. Sometimes those we trust will go over to the other side, what we think of as the dark side. We feel betrayed. Betrayal is hard to reconcile. However, if not tended to it can erode relationships for years, even a life time. What a waste! Jot down how people handled feeing abandoned and ignored in your family. It will give you great insight into how you handle betrayal now.
  3. CHAOS: Like anger, choas can be used for good or naught. In the midst of confusion when nothing seems to make sense there is a place where you can come to a new understanding of what is going on. When chaos leaves you breathless take a time out. Just a few minutes and take some notes. Think about who came to your aid, how you asked for help and what the outcome was. This will give you clarity and help you stay steady the next time conflict and anxiety come into your life.


In most families and organizations we do not handle the fearful energy of conflict with ease and grace. We walk away with hurt feelings, physical ills, and emotional scars. Learning how to tame this most dreadful of times is the sign of a true leader and one who can be depended upon during the worst of times. There are better ways once we get in touch with the older patterns that we need to release.

Sylvia Lafair, Ph.D.
Posted: 06/15/2011

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