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Trevor E.S. Smith | Surprising conflict resolution strategy

Published:Sunday | July 1, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Could the air that we breathe influence our ability to relate effectively with others?

Is there an explanation for why toddlers seem to resolve conflicts more quickly than adults?

Could there be a conflict resolution strategy that has an exceptionally high rate of success?




I engaged the leadership professionals in the Certified Behavioural Coach programme on the issue of the differences in how adults and toddler deal with conflict. I suggested that my 'research' pointed to the reason being something different in the air that we breathe.

At the end of what some thought was a hilarious exchange, I threw out a challenge. I invited them to test the theory the next time they were involved in a conflict or were called to support the resolution of one.




Margaret Bolt, principal of Holy Trinity High School, was faced with two young ladies who would not be calmed. She decided to implement the strategy.

She invited them to sit on the ground ('different air') and hold hands. She reported an instant change of mood. Uncontrolled laughter replaced hostile exchanges. In short order, there was confirmation that the issue was settled.




The impact of a change in physical state on changing mindsets should not be underestimated. The simple act of changing location or posture can influence a change in thought processes.

Feeling stuck in a mental rut? Move. Exert some physical energy and allow it to seep into your thoughts.

Feeling down? Throw your shoulders back, hold your head high and go for a brisk walk.

Caught in a fit of anger? Breathe in to the count of four. Hold for the count of eight. Exhale to the count of six.




These concepts sound simplistic. These are serious times and people are under immense stress.

They are at a point where venting is easily triggered. How can simple 'tricks' really change adult behaviour?




It is time to stop making excuses for inappropriate behaviour. We need to start taking responsibility for our actions. We need to bridle our minds and bring them under our control. In the same way that horses can be tamed and dogs trained, minds can be transformed.

Practising simple steps until they become habits is an important first step. Go through the drills until you automatically respond to situations using one of the new techniques.

Replace angry outbursts with controlled breathing as an automatic response.

Change your physical state when you are getting trapped in a mental rut and put yourself in a position to get more out of life.

Adjust your posture and adopt a positive stance when we are feeling down. It will push-start your recovery and make you feel better about yourself.




On deeper reflection, the experiment carried out by principal Bolt has important lessons. Shifting the conflict to the floor places the parties in an unusual situation and has the capacity to move them out of their comfort zone. It will at least be a significant distraction.

Distractions are powerful tools in conflict and anger management.

The holding of hands is another powerful intervention. The shaking of hands - even among enemies - is deemed to be a signal of civility. Holding hands does the same thing.

I have a 'peace step' that I invite my granddaughter to sit on beside me when she is in a crying fit. She appreciates that sitting there is a time to stop crying and to verbalise the issue that she is having. We have a very high success rate.

You can create peace locations or use other triggers. Use them to indicate that you are calling a halt to what is going on at present and moving to a place or state in which resolution is expected.

Test the concept yourself with your conflicts and let me know how it turns out!




What if one or more of the parties refuse to participate?

Well, you are not any worse off. Every solution requires good sense to make it work consistently. Conflict management is complex and requires the application of a variety of techniques.

Choose the right time.

Work to establish what the parties want from the resolution.

Identify whether there are any hidden benefits from prolonging the conflict.

See if there are other issues driving the conflict that fall outside of the current situation.

A skilful conciliator or participant in a conflict that is determined to have it resolved should be able to get the parties involved to make seemingly innocuous physical adjustments. Compliance opens the door to resolution.




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- Trevor E.S. Smith and the Success with People Academy team prepare and certify leadership professionals and coach/mentors and develop engaged, high-performing teams. Hire smart with their recruitment solutions. Now enrolling coaches in the ICF/SHRM-Accredited Certified Behavioral Coach programme. Email: