Disagreements between two or more people are about what they want to happen next. The participants can typically resolve the dispute without bringing other people into the conversation.

Conflicts, however, are more systemic. They involve multiple underlying issues, longer timeframes, and complex family dynamics. Participants often have very different perceptions of the situation and each other’s intentions. Conflict can involve active fighting, passive avoidance, or a mix of both.

Disagreements and conflicts are inevitable in families, teams, and boards. At NCFP’s 2022 National Forum, Dr. Rebecca Trobe led a workshop on managing conflict more productively. Three of her many recommendations stood out for me.

Hoping to avoid disagreements and conflicts is understandable. We’re wired to protect ourselves and minimize stress and perceived sources of harm. But that natural inclination can turn into actively avoiding negative feelings, refusing to acknowledge problems, or fixating on positive thinking.

Even if well-intentioned, those choices have negative consequences. For example, they dismiss or demean another person’s hurt, sadness, or other negative emotion. And they can send the message that the other person is doing something wrong for feeling a certain way or is to blame for a circumstance out of their control.

Author and psychologist Susan David coined the term emotional agility. Practicing emotional agility asks you not to be immediately hooked by a negative emotion in yourself or others. Instead, you should:

  1. Show up—face your and others’ thoughts and feelings with curiosity and acceptance instead of judgment. Emotions are important indicators of things you or they need or care about.
  2. Step out—purposefully detach from the emotion, treating it as one of many sources of information for decision-making. Try to identify different vantage points on a situation and put the emotional response into perspective.
  3. Walk your why—return to your core values and principles to decide your next actions.
  4. Move on—make small shifts to align your mindset, motivations, and habits with your core values. You’ll strive to respond thoughtfully instead of reacting quickly.

Psychological safety is a shared belief that group members will not embarrass, reject, or punish each other for speaking up. On a personal level, you can be yourself without fearing negative consequences to your self-image, status, or career.

Read the full article about  conflict management in family philanthropy by Tony Macklin at the National Center For Family Philanthropy.