Conflict Without Casualties

Safe Doesn’t Mean Easy

I originally posted this article in 2017. Today, more than ever, we need to engage in difficult dialogue in safe ways. So I am revising and reposting my article for today’s challenges.

Is it reasonable to want a safe environment in which to live and work? Of course! Emotional, psychological, and physical safety are necessary if we want people to trust us, give their best and be transparent with us.

Don’t confuse safety with comfort, though. Safety isn’t always easy, especially during conflict.

It’s possible for me to be angry without threatening you.

I can disagree with you without undermining your dignity.

I can ask more of you without undermining your capability.

People can enforce boundaries without compromising safety.

When I disclose my pain you don’t have to take it on.

You can’t export your feelings to me. Neither can I export mine to you.

My feelings and behaviors and values are 100% my responsibility.


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Why Drama Is Your Greatest Threat During Crisis And How To Respond With Compassion

With the Coronavirus outbreak, the world is on high alert. People are anxious and afraid. It’s difficult to separate fact from fear and plain talk from politics. Drama is at an all-time high.

The real impact of this crisis on you your business depends on many factors that we can’t control. But the big question is whether our response will make us part of the problem or part of the solution.

Your response to crisis either makes you part of the problem, or part of the solution.

Here are three drama-based responses to uncertainty and crisis that only make things worse, and compassionate alternatives that help you be part of the solution.

Giving In

Do you shut down, believing you are helpless and avoid reality because you don’t want to face your feelings of anxiety or fear? This type of drama only magnifies irrational paranoia.

Compassionate Alternative

  • Get vulnerable with your own feelings. Let others know you are human too.
  • Empathize with others. People want to know they aren’t alone.
  • Validate other people’s feelings. People want to know it’s safe to talk about it.

Giving Unsolicited Advice

Do you swoop in trying to help everyone and masquerade as the expert? Do you feel more in control when you have advice and answers? This type of drama only creates resentment because it invites others to feel even less in control of their own destiny.

Compassionate Alternative

  • Get curious and ask permission before you offer help or information. People want to be included.
  • Ask people for ideas on creative solutions. People want to feel involved.
  • Leverage current opportunities and assets to adapt with purpose. People want to feel empowered.

Giving Ultimatums

Do broad generalizations, threats, and black or white statements help you feel powerful? When you blame and attack everyone else, do you feel more confident? Sadly, this type of drama only pushes people away, the very people whom you need most to find a way through the crisis.

Compassionate Alternative

  • Clarity the most important priorities, such as relationships, commitments, and safety. People want to know what to expect.
  • Focus on what you can control, especially your integrity and trustworthiness. People want to know they can count on you.
  • Apologize and make it right when you make a mistake or realize you need to adjust course. People want to know you will take responsibility.

By using compassion, humanity can overcome the negative pull of drama and rise to our best selves, especially in times of uncertainty and crisis.

Want help applying our compassion template to your crisis communication strategy? Call us for a free 30 minute consultation. +1 316 283 4200, email 

Next Element offers Virtual Training for Leading Out of Drama and implementing The Compassion Mindset. In just a couple of hours and without leaving their offices, your leaders can get training on new communication, compassion and constructive conflict tools.

Copyright Next Element Consulting, LLC 2020
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Conflict Is Not Approved For That Application

Arthur Brooks, economist and author of Love Your Enemies estimates that seven percent of the population profits from contempt. Contempt is how we feel when we view others as invaluable, incapable, and irresponsible. This is exactly the opposite of compassion.


Contempt-mongers make their living by using conflict as a weapon. They have honed the art of stoking division, emphasizing differences, inviting fear, and normalizing the degradation of anyone who gets in their way.

Conflict was never approved for use as a weapon.

Conflict is a natural consequence of diversity. Diversity is a natural and wonderful part of this world we live in. The purpose of conflict is to create, not destroy.

Conflict has been approved as a viable energy source for creating something amazing.

Compassion is the mechanism for harnessing the positive potential in conflict.

So what’s up with the seven percent? 

  • Ignorance; we don’t know and don’t want to know about those other people
  • Greed; compassion threatens our personal stockpile of stuff
  • Fear; I don’t know what would happen, but it’s probably bad
  • Upbringing; it’s how I was raised
  • Us vs. Them; we are right, they are different, they need to be eliminated
  • It pays off; contempt-mongering gets me what I want

The good news!

93% of the world prefers compassion.

Who is your role model in the 93%? Will you give them a shout out on this post?

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Mis-Communicable Diseases

Mis-communicable diseases are illnesses passed from person to person through miscommunication. That’s because miscommunication infects people with negativity; inferiority, guilt, shame, and fear. Forget the basic cases of not understanding each other. I’m talking about getting hooked, and the next thing you know, you’re under the weather. (more…)

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Don’t Buy My Book For Christmas: Six Reasons Why

The book is called Conflict Without Casualties: A Field Guide for Leading With Compassionate Accountability.

Don’t buy it today

Here are six reasons why buying my book for Christmas is a bad idea.

1. There’s nowhere to hide.

People who have read my book and gone through our Compassionate Accountability training say,

“There’s nowhere to hide. Your model quickly exposes all the ways I waste the energy of conflict struggling against myself and others.”

So don’t buy my book and avoid exposing your own drama. Of course, everyone else already knows it, but the longer you avoid knowing it, the happier you will be.

2. Compassionate Accountability is exhausting!

Drama is much easier and doesn’t require extra effort or discipline. You already know how to do it. The holidays are all about taking it easy, so don’t buy my book.

3. I’d have to challenge my belief system.

Compassion requires we accept that people are worthwhile, capable, and accountable. If this contradicts your world view, then don’t buy my book.

4. Nate might ask me about it.

If I find out you bought my book I might ask you if you liked it. What if you didn’t read it, didn’t like it, or didn’t understand what I wrote? Awkward! Better off not buying the book.

5. I love feeling justified.

Drama is fueled by justification. Compassion thrives on safety, curiosity and consistency. If you don’t want to give up your drug, don’t buy the book!

6. I’d have to be responsible.

Seriously! Learning more effective ways to communicate with people means you can no longer pretend you don’t know any better. People might expect you to do something different. For heaven’s sake, don’t buy the book for yourself, get it for everyone else!

Don’t buy my book today.

Sarcasm and reverse psychology were extensively applied in the creation of this post. Yeah, I just did that.
Copyright Next Element Consulting, LLC 2018
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Conflict Without Casualties Blog Launches on PsychCentral

I’m delighted to announce the launch of my new blog, Conflict Without Casualties, on PsychCentral, one of the world’s most visited sites for mental health and wellness resources.

The Conflict Without Casualties Blog will focus on helping people:

  • Unlock the positive potential in conflict.
  • Transform their relationship with conflict through the practice of Compassionate Accountability.
  • Achieve greater effectiveness, happiness, and satisfaction.

I post once a week on Tuesdays. Check it out, tell a friend, and if you have topic ideas for me to write about, I’d love your input.

One more step to help build cultures of Compassionate Accountability one person at a time. Will you join us?

Buy the book and get a free Drama Resilience Assessment.

Attend training

Get certified in our Adaptive Communication and Positive Conflict Models


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Drama-Based Storytelling Lowers Emotional Intelligence

Storytelling is fundamentally human. Stories give meaning to our lives and make connections between people and across generations. Stories can also mislead us in ways that reduce our ability to think clearly, respond thoughtfully and seek the best obtainable truth, especially when emotions run high. In his TedX talk, Tyler Cowan, an economist, warns us to be suspicious of stories that oversimplify the messiness of our lives in exchange for media hype.


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Is your 360 preventing you from doing a 180?

Getting accurate feedback about performance and behavior is difficult. Self-report is notoriously biased. Reports from supervisors often miss important perspectives from peers, co-workers, or clients. Thus the 360; a “full circle” assessment that includes feedback from multiple angles. Usually conducted in the context of an annual performance review, the 360 supposedly offers a more comprehensive and accurate assessment of a person’s performance. Most 360 evaluations are conducted anonymously, and the employee receives only aggregate feedback. Rarely do such evaluations involve direct conversations between the person being rated and those doing the ratings. Often the supervisor or HR will “interpret” the results.

Advantages of a 360

  • Feedback from multiple angles gives a more thorough picture
  • Peers, employees or customers may report unrecognized performance gaps
  • Can improve accuracy of self-perception

Disadvantages of a 360

  • Replaces daily conversations around performance and behavior
  • Avoids necessary conflict between people who rely on each other every day
  • Delays important conversations about behavior
  • Turns conflict into a number instead of a conversation
  • Gives people a mechanism to feel justified instead of taking personal responsibility
  • Prevents us from doing a 180 and reflecting on our own behavior

Getting feedback from all angles is absolutely necessary. Doing it once a year in an indirect way that avoids conflict is drama.

What would you gain if you taught people to practice healthy conflict instead of filling out surveys about each other?

  • Just in time conversations about today’s behavior
  • Healthy conflict that promotes higher levels of accountability
  • More trust and commitment to the team
  • More clarity and responsibility around how my behavior contributes to, or detracts from, the team goals
  • Knowing we are worthwhile, curious, and consistent

Conflict is the gap between what I want and what I am experiencing at any given point in time. That gap is neither good nor bad, but it does generate energy. Using that energy to have regular, healthy conflict with each other is the best way to keep yourself, your team, and your company on the right track.

How to have daily conversations about performance and behavior

  • Share how you are feeling about the gap, without accusing anyone
  • Explain the gap between what you want and what you are experiencing
  • Identify what’s most important to you. What are the boundaries or principles at stake?
  • Check in with the other person to gain their perspective
  • Repeat if necessary to gain their buy-in for struggling together towards a solution

Learn how to use conflict as a daily source of energy for positive change

Get the book that started the Compassionate Accountability revolutionConflict without Casualties

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How To Tell Your Boss About Your Goals Without Making Things Worse

You’ve got big goals. That’s awesome!

How do you tell your boss about them without making things worse?

There’s nothing wrong with having big dreams and bold plans. How you approach it with your boss, however, can make the difference in whether you are seen as a threat, dismissed as having your head in the clouds, or taken seriously. Here are some tips for making that conversation a success.

Embrace and respect the gap

There’s a gap between where you are and where you want to be. That’s OK. Recognize that this gap creates energy and conflict. Conflict means a potential for damage if not handled well. Not everyone will see the gap like you see it.

Disclose your motives

Nothing invites a boss to feel defensive quicker than hidden motives. Be honest about your end-game. How do you want to feel differently than you feel now? What will things be like when you reach your goals? What are you trying to accomplish.

Engage with humility and curiosity

You can’t reach your goals without a lot of help from others, including your boss. Go into the conversation with attitude that you have a lot to learn, and are willing to be curious and open. Ask your boss to share information, advice and wisdom that could help. Get their perspective and feedback about your goals. If they are skeptical, get curious about it and learn what it would take to gain their confidence and support.

Accept the consequences

Pursuing goals requires dedication, sacrifice, and choices. The more you learn about and accept the consequences of your goals, the more people will want to help you.

Find the WHY

Why are you doing this? Deep down, what is this really about? What principles or values are at stake? You’ve got to connect the dots for yourself, and for your boss. Without purpose, it’s very difficult to keep focused on your vision.


Put yourself in your boss’s shoes. What are they experiencing and how do your goals impact them? Tune in and listen for their perspective and show compassion for where they are coming from.

Try these strategies to engage your boss as a partner in your success rather than an adversary who’s getting in your way.

Copyright Next Element Consulting, LLC 2018

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Compassionate Accountability Personal Development Kit – Our best resources for embracing positive conflict.

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