Here Are 8 Strategies to Avoid a New Year’s Fight

Leadership coach Hal Movius, author of the forthcoming book Resolve: Negotiating Life's Conflicts With Greater Confidence, has developed proven strategies to help you become more confident when resolving conflicts

Even warring Santas can use these tips to make Christmas more merry and bright.
Even warring Santas can use these tips to make Christmas more merry and bright. Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

Whether you’re settling arguments with your family over the holidays or angling for a promotion at work in the New Year, the next couple weeks will likely feature a lot of negotiation in your life. But what’s the best way to get through these conversations without feeling pressured or overly stressed out?

Hal Movius, owner of an eponymous Virginia-based consulting firm, is here to help. The leadership coach and author of the forthcoming book Resolve: Negotiating Life’s Conflicts With Greater Confidence has developed proven strategies to help you become more confident and assertive when resolving conflicts at work or home. He shared eight of his best tips with the Observer:

1. Know your Conflict Crucible (no, not the play)

“There are three kinds of things in play in many or most conflicts, which I call the Conflict Crucible: we have material goals, and we think people might block us or help us in achieving those goals. We have social goals—we want to preserve our relationships and reputations. And we have emotional goals—’I don’t wanna feel bad, and I don’t wanna make someone else feel bad, and I worry that in this conflict one or both of these things might happen.'”

2. Think like a negotiator 

“You have to think really hard about what happens if you can’t reach agreement with the other side—maybe life is fine for them but terrible for you, or vice versa. That’s gonna influence your strategy, and how you get more motivated. Negotiators frame arguments in a way the other side will find more effective, and create value by inventing options that exploit differences. It’s counterintuitive because most people think about creating common ground, but you don’t have to do that. If you brainstorm and invent options that give people more of what they want, that’s really good negotiation.”

3. Master the necessary skills

“Most people think about confidence as a Goldilocks problem—don’t be overconfident or pathetic, stay right in the middle. But once you actually learn how to negotiate, you learn there’s a behavioral component. Conflict is unpleasant and so people avoid it, but you gotta get over that. Think about how to structure the conversation—that’s better than improvising. It’s like cooking—the first time you follow a recipe you forget to preheat the oven, but the 15th time you’ve made the dish you can do it without thinking.”

4. Prepare and practice

“You have to simplify your thinking—go from intuitive to systematic. Think about how the other side might see the situation, and what they care about. Your points need to be convincing to them, not just yourself—it’s not collaborative if you call someone a bastard. There’s a high probability you’ll forget something the first time, so make a checklist the same way an airline pilot or a surgeon does—this is complicated, even when you know it well.”

Marty McFly taught his dad how to stand up against bully Biff Tannen in Back to the Future .
Marty McFly taught his dad how to stand up against bully Biff Tannen in Back to the Future . Wikimedia Commons

5. Know how to deal with foes

“Some people will take no prisoners, and act as if the relationship doesn’t matter. But you have to maintain mastery of the situation and counter threats. Don’t think that since somebody is acting like a jerk, that means they are a jerk and they hate you. Rather than being intimidated by emotional behaviors like anger or criticism, take back the floor when somebody is being a know-it-all.”

6. Resolve conflict with friends and family

“Your sister’s gonna be your sister for the rest of your life, so don’t push her and say ‘we need to talk about this now.’ Start with a constructive framing—don’t focus on the irresponsible behavior but rather how you can have a better relationship. If you’re gonna deal with somebody a lot like a roommate or partner, set ground rules. For example, my wife and I don’t talk about important things after 6 PM during the week. It’s better to have a difficult conversation on Saturday at lunch rather than at the end of a long workday. You’re gonna fight like all couples do, so you might as well handle it better.”

7. Lead others confidently

“It’s not just the people across the table that may cause a problem, it’s that the people you’re representing can be just as critical and difficult and you feel like you’re stuck in the middle. Help your own people build agreements before you represent them. That way you’re not looking over your shoulder.”

8. Put all of this into practice for yourself

“People get trained in PowerPoint easily, but conflict is so messy. Instead of making progress, they blame themselves and say they’re dysfunctional. It’s really useful to think about what your crucibles look like—are you confident or anxious? That way you can predict what’s gonna happen. It doesn’t help to be a bull in a china shop and hurt other peoples’ feelings.”

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Here Are 8 Strategies to Avoid a New Year’s Fight