The ability to receive gracefully and fully may not seem to be a likely issue in conflict resolution. When we think of the conflicts that arise from imbalances in giving and receiving, we usually think of too much taking and not enough giving. After all, aren’t we told it’s better to give than receive?

It’s great to give. Many of us give regularly of our time and money. We want to be givers, to be better. But, if givers are “better”, wouldn’t that make receivers somehow “less than”?

This is where conflicts can occur in the dance of giving and receiving. We may want to be the biggest giver, but gaining a reputation as a really kind person can become over-emphasized. It can become our habit only to give, never letting others give to us.

We’ve all seen a small manifestation of this:  Two diners in a restaurant arguing over who will pick-up the tab. We joke about this situation, but there’s a subtle and real dance going on here about who gets to be the nicest, the most giving – and claim the moral high ground of generosity.

Moral high ground may sound overblown for such mundane incidents, but let’s think back to the last discussion over who would pick up the tab for a meal. How did the interaction feel?

If things are generally in balance between us and the other diner, we probably came to agreement fairly rapidly. “Okay, you can get it this time & I’ll get it next time” or “Let’s split it”. If a significant imbalance develops over time, though, it may begin to impact the relationship negatively.

What if others never let us pay? Sure, that sounds great financially, but it can be limiting to the relationship. If we know they’re always going to pay, we may feel we have to order the cheapest thing, no matter what we would like to eat. More significantly, if one person always pays, it binds the relationship into one pattern that hinders growth and change.

For example, in a family, as children grow older, the day eventually comes when the adult child offers to pay for a shared meal with their parents. This is an indication of the child wanting to show that they have reached adulthood, that they are moving into a different phase of life in which they no longer need to be supported by their parents. It is the mature parent indeed who can accept the offer and be “treated” to the meal by their grown offspring!

Between friends, paying for a meal says “I value you; I want to be your friend.” If the same person always pays, there’s no opportunity for the other friend to reciprocate, to say, “I want to be your friend, too.” When one person makes a point to always pay, the other person incurs a debt with no opportunity to repay the “favor”, and the relationship becomes unbalanced.

We get such a lovely, glowing feeling when we give a gift, physical or emotional, that is appreciated by the receiver. Giver and receiver are roles that need to fluctuate over time – neither is healthy as a person’s sole defining characteristic. To get along well, we must allow ourselves to receive sometimes in order to allow those around us to enjoy the gift of giving.

Wherever two or more are gathered, there are politics. And conflict. Exchanging views with others can be fun and interesting – it can expand our thinking. But troubles can arise at holiday get-togethers when political discussion is not the purpose of the gathering.

Someone bringing up politics doesn’t have to ruin the party. Say we’re at a gathering and Uncle Richard loudly makes a comment implying the natural role of women really is to stay home and out of government. There’s that sudden tense silence while everyone waits to see what happens next. If we strongly disagree with what he said, we’re in a bit of a bind. Silence is generally taken as agreement and we don’t want others to think we agree; but we also don’t want things to escalate into an argument.

We can learn to step into that silence and express our disagreement without making personal attacks or discussing it further.

First, we take a breath, and then calmly state that we disagree with the opinion just expressed. Point out that discussions of the issues raised could be valuable, but this is not the place or time. Be nonconfrontational, but firm. Using humor can be an especially effective way to address the situation. Just be careful that it doesn’t attack others. We must then refuse to engage further. Change the subject and move on.

It is important to our self-worth to stand up for our own values. We have a need to live in alignment with our beliefs as much as we can. Some of our dread of mixed-politics gatherings has to do with the unfairness of only one “side” getting to express themselves. Having to swallow our opinions too often just to avoid making waves leads to resentment and, often, we no longer want to go to gatherings we used to enjoy.

Of course, we don’t have to speak up about every comment that strikes us the wrong way – we need to let minor remarks pass. Which we consider minor is up to each of us to determine. A good way to tell is to ask ourselves, if, when the party is over, we’d regret not saying something in response.

All this said, there are definitely people who make inflammatory remarks not to express a true belief, but to stir the pot. We can generally tell who they are and we don’t have to play that game.

If we choose to confront statements we find highly objectionable, we will need to increase our tolerance of the discomfort that comes from calling out those comments. We can become more comfortable with allowing open disagreement. And that includes listening to others expressing disagreement with us. In spite of our best intentions, we all make mistaken assumptions about who agrees with us.

If we usually love the hoopla of the holidays, we don’t have to dread them because of political differences. We can still love our Uncle Richard, strongly disagree with his political views, and continue to enjoy family gatherings. This is not necessarily easy. But in these times of very visible political divisions, this is necessary work for getting along during the holidays and beyond.

We don’t usually think much about power, unless it’s being blatantly abused. But power dynamics are always in play in relationships. Today, let’s focus on power issues at work.

We’re most often aware of power when someone has power over us, for example, a boss. How our workday goes depends a fair amount on how our boss uses their power. A few wield their power lightly, providing leadership and support while we do our jobs. These bosses are as wonderful as they are rare!

Bosses who lord their power over us can make our workplace miserable by micromanaging, demanding impossible schedules, berating our efforts, and showing disrespect in other ways. When we have an overbearing boss, we need to concentrate on the power we do have to our best advantage. Most importantly, we need to keep our own center, remembering that our self-worth is not dependent on our boss’ opinion. If we keep our cool, we can be strategic in our choices, choosing what to say and when. We might brainstorm with colleagues we trust to improve the situation. Updating our resumés will give us a head start in case another job with a better work environment becomes available.

When the situation is reversed and we are the boss, we have a lot of choice about how we wield our power. Of course, we can spend our time strutting around importantly and telling those under us what to do. But remember how it felt when others did that to us. We can bet that the ones on the receiving end of our heavy-handedness will feel the same things and will be doing everything they can to undermine us or get away from the situation.

So how do we use our power wisely? Right use of power for a boss rests on compassion and awareness of our impact on others. Yes, we can get away with more when we have more power, but taking advantage of those below us on the ladder diminishes us. Think about it – those who use power over others for their own gain are called bullies. Instead of being a bully, we can take the needs of others into account, listen to their concerns or feedback, and make the choices that benefit most.

When we are subject to the power of others at work, it’s important to be aware of and make use of the power we do hold. It may take time, energy, and the help of others to make improvements. It may even mean changing jobs. But even as we do this for ourselves, we are acting as role models, showing others what is possible in a difficult situation. Using power well earns respect, bringing more power to us.

We must keep in mind that there are cultural aspects of power, too, regardless of the organizational hierarchy. Our experience at work and the options available to us are affected by the amount of money we have, our race, our level of education, our gender, etc.

We don’t want to focus on power relationships all the time, but it’s good to check in periodically with how we’re using our own power at work. Regardless of whether we have a lot of power or not much, are we using what we have effectively and responsibly? The more respectfully we use our power, the better people we become, the more power we earn, and the more easily we’ll get along at work.

We have all done things we wish we hadn’t. We say something mean, yell at the kids, eat or drink too much, don’t tell the truth, etc. That’s just part of being human. How we deal with those things greatly affects how we get along.

Once we acknowledge that we did something wrong, we can react by feeling guilty or by feeling ashamed. Guilt and shame are not the same. With guilt, we feel bad that we’ve made a mistake; the focus is on our behavior. We can admit our mistake and seek to make amends. When we feel shame after doing something, we think we’re a bad person. We focus on our personal unworthiness. The only way to make it better is to “fix” ourselves. When we think we are defective, we feel vaguely unhappy a lot of the time. When we feel that way, we tend to treat others badly. This just heightens our sense of shame and the spiral continues.

According to Brené Brown, the leading researcher into such things, we can break this cycle of shame. First, we need to start talking to ourselves the way we would talk to someone we love. That may sound corny, but think about it: we can be incredibly mean to ourselves. For example, we may say to ourselves “I’m such a stupid idiot to lose my temper!” or “What an undisciplined failure I am to still be overweight!”. How many of us would say the same to someone we love – our kids, spouse, or best friend? Such nasty self-criticism undermines our happiness and our ability to respond to others in a positive way. Instead, we need to catch ourselves saying mean things to ourselves and change our focus from who we are to what we have done.

Shame thrives in secrecy and silence. We need to reach out to someone we trust and tell them the story of what we did that brings us feelings of shame. Of course, we need to pick that person very carefully. They need to be empathetic and worthy of our trust. Our shame stories are incredibly personal and we become vulnerable when we share them. If the listener dismisses our story or judges us, that only reinforces the shame.

Often, we feel shame about something over which we have only partial control at best: body size or shape, the amount of money we have (usually shame for not having any), whether we have a job or what kind it is, how we were raised, etc. Knowing what triggers shame for us can help us begin recognize what’s going on and catch the shaming thoughts when they happen. Having another person empathize and validate our inherent goodness after hearing our story can help us rein-in negative self-talk.

Apparently, feeling shame is very closely connected with addiction, depression, violence, aggression, bullying, suicide, and eating disorders. It’s easy to understand that we would likely feel shameful when we’re addicted, depressed, and all. But it also goes the other way: when we feel shame, we’re more likely to become addicted, depressed, violent, aggressive, suicidal, eat too much, and bully others. When we think of our behavior, rather than ourselves, as bad, we are less at risk for those dangers. So, it seems that changing our thinking from being a bad person to having done bad things actually helps us be better people.

Also, we need to be careful not to foster shame in others. When we have issues with someone, we should focus on their behaviors rather than judging who they are. This can be difficult to remember in the midst of a disagreement, but it is one more way we can each work toward getting along better.

Supporting each other is a really good way to help us all get along. One key to our own happiness is to contribute to the happiness of others. Remember how it felt the last time you did or said something another person really appreciated? We feel a kind of glow.

First, let’s explore supporting those we know. We can readily see the needs of our friends, family, and coworkers. But we need to be careful to act in ways they would find helpful, rather than what we’d like done for us. We don’t want to make life worse for others in our hastily chosen attempts to “help” them. For example, it may do more harm than good if we swoop in and weed a friend’s garden, if that’s one task they find rejuvenating. So, take a few moments and think about what they’ve complained most about doing – do they dread grocery shopping? Taking out the garbage? Cleaning the car? Just doing one of those things, out of the blue, can make everyone’s day.

To make sure our efforts will actually be supportive, just ask. A wonderful question to hear is: “How can I best support you right now?”. If they aren’t sure, it’s good to have a few suggestions of things we’d be willing to do. Making them a special meal, taking them out to dinner, or getting them tickets to a local theater production might bring them a touch of joy. The offers don’t have to cost anything, either. Time is a great gift – taking a walk and focusing on listening to them can be just the thing. If a coworker is going through a tough time, maybe volunteering to take over organizing a meeting would lower their stress a bit. And what parent wouldn’t appreciate the offer from a friend to give them a break and take the kids to the park for a few hours?

We can also be supportive with our words. Expressing appreciation for who they are and what they’ve done is always a good bet. Maybe we can cheer on our friend who is nervous about going for that promotion at work. Or the best assistance may be to remind a family member to take a break from the stress of caring for an elderly parent.

It may seem backwards, but one way of supporting others is to let others help us. Remember that warm and fuzzy feeling we get when we help others? By accepting help from others, we allow them to feel good.

It’s important to only give what we can. We need to honor our own boundaries, even as we reach out to others. If we try to give too much, or the wrong things, we risk feeling resentment, which supports no one.

It’s also good to support those we don’t even know. We can make a big difference in the lives of people we may never meet by donating our time and/or money to assist local non-profits. We can donate our time as volunteers to help out with the work of these groups or with their fundraisers. Besides experiencing that inner glow from being of service, we model for our kids and grandkids the importance of pitching in. There are also plenty of opportunities nationally and internationally to support others.

Life can get crazy. No one should have to feel that they’re going through it by themselves.

With the primary election only a few weeks away, people are more likely to be speaking up about their preferred issue or candidate. And that’s good – in a democracy, we all need to make our voices heard in order to create an effective and positive government. There are many other places, however, where we also need to speak our minds to make life better, even if it’s sometimes uncomfortable in the moment.

Just because there is no explicit conflict doesn’t mean all is well. Sometimes we need to make the issue visible by addressing it directly. We’re not creating the conflict, simply bringing it to light so we can deal with it. This usually means some difficult conversations. However, in some cases, intervention, political action, or even law enforcement involvement is necessary.

Lots of situations happen at work and home where the need for intervention is obvious, but unacknowledged. We don’t give voice to what we see or feel. We tell ourselves that if we ignore it, the conflict isn’t there or will go away on its own. A too-common example is hearing a neighbor yelling and swearing at their spouse night after night – we don’t want to get involved, so we say nothing, and the verbal abuse continues.

Rightly or wrongly, silence is construed as agreement with whatever is going on. When we remain silent, it reinforces the fear others feel about saying anything. Others who see the same problem feel isolated and question whether their concerns are real. We’re social animals. We look to others for cues about behavior. Silence begets silence, and conflict grows.

In the workplace, derogatory talk is a big issue. Individuals are ridiculed for the way they dress or talk, or simply because they are different. Being bullied tends to make the targets feel less power to stick up for themselves. It’s easiest for those of us on the sidelines, those not under attack, to help stop the bullying. But precisely because we are not directly involved, it requires more effort to choose to act.

Of course, speaking up is not a justification for an unfiltered spewing out of whatever we think. Not all thoughts should be spoken and not all desires should be acted upon. Nor is it an excuse to tell others how to live their lives. They are not going to welcome our unsolicited opinions on their choice of clothing, hair, parenting, career, etc. It’s also not helpful to make our comments into a personal attack on who they are. For example, “You need to stop yelling now.”, is much more effective than “You are a loud idiot!”. We need to interrupt injustice without mirroring the injustice.

Speaking up is about setting limits and defining acceptable behavior. We must be frank about behavior that is not acceptable at home or work, or even beyond – at the county, national, and international levels. Passivity by those of us for whom action is least risky escalates situations until we’re all at risk. Think how much suffering we can prevent if we can only find the courage to speak up. Bullies will be thwarted and fewer people will be harmed.

Many of us carry grudges. Over time, the burden can get heavy, using lots of our mental and emotional energy. Our lives can become so wrapped up in the perceived wrongs done to us that we can no longer enjoy the present.

The weight can also create the impression that life is completely out of our control and unjust because the past pain is still alive in us, skewing our sense of balance. Eventually, this focus can lead to bitterness and distance from those we love.

The decision to drop our burden is within our control. We can’t change the offender or the past; the reality of the situation cannot be undone. Letting go is a decision we can make; we can gain some control over our thoughts and feelings. Like trying to collect long-overdue bills, continuing to carry our grudges often costs us more than just writing them off.

So, how do we lay down our load?

As usual, we start with taking several slow, deep breaths. As we do this, the body begins to relax. Our relaxation allows more blood flow to the reasoning parts of the brain. From this calmer place, we can revisit the incident(s) that felt hurtful. Our natural tendency is to run from facing the memories directly and dispassionately. But if we’re still carrying grudges, we haven’t really gotten away, anyway. It’s important to allow ourselves to acknowledge the impact the past bad behavior of others has had on our lives.

Now it’s time to make a choice: Are we willing to continue feeling hurt and angry toward family and friends? Is our resentment helping us? Or should we bite the bullet and do the work of accepting difficult past incidents?

It may be difficult to let go of our anger, of the comforting feeling of being the blameless victim of the thoughtless person. It can help to imagine what we’d rather be doing with the energy and time we now use in replaying our hurt. Picturing how we’d like our days to flow, being well-rested and focused on our own life, for example, can pull us through the change we’re making.

Dropping our resentment is not excusing any harm done to us. Our pain is valid. And certainly, we should not stay in situations that are currently hurtful. Letting go of our grudge burden is about reducing the ongoing impact on our lives of past hurts. This actually reduces the negative power the offending person has in our lives. The hurt no longer defines us and our relationship with them.

Now we can create a phrase that sums up our current feelings and our decision to make peace with the situation. An example might be, “I can’t change the past and I’m moving forward with my life”. We can then use this phrase as a reminder whenever the familiar thoughts start, until the old hurt no longer has such power over us.

Might we still wish things had turned out differently? Absolutely.  But releasing resentment is not about letting the offender off the hook, it is about giving ourselves the gift of putting the situation into perspective and moving on with our lives.

To ward off the creation of future grudges, expect a certain amount of imperfection in those we love. Expect some social clumsiness and inexpert communication, even with family and friends.

Part of getting along with others is being willing to let go of the grudges we hold for past behavior. Dropping our burden of resentments can change our relationships to bring us more peace and happiness. Summer’s a great time to off-load unnecessary resentment baggage, leaving us free for playing.

Handling conflict at work can be a challenge. We spend a large portion of our days at work, putting in more waking hours there during the week than at home. This guarantees that tensions will arise periodically. The stakes are high at work – our job is our livelihood, so conflict there taps into our survival mode. Unfortunately, survival mode is not the best place for making good decisions about how to react to conflict. Though it may feel good in the moment to yell or stomp out of a meeting, that will seldom improve our career prospects.

We can manage workplace conflict, however, regardless of our position in the organization. First, it’s important to manage our expectations. We often have the expectation that our lives should be conflict-free, but that’s just not realistic. We don’t have much control over who we work with, so there can be a mixture of personalities that aren’t very compatible. Even at the best jobs, conflict happens. We’re all unique individuals with different perspectives and approaches to life. Tension arises as those differences butt up against each other.

We also need time and space to refocus on things other than the conflict. During breaks, it helps to get away from your work space, preferably even going outside – nature has a wonderful way of widening our perspectives. In addition, sometimes try to steer the subject of conversations away from any tensions. Avoid recounting stories of disputes over and over, with others or within your own mind. The less we focus on the conflict, the more likely we’ll be able to imagine creative ways to minimize any negative impacts of differences.

We need to separate opinions from the person expressing them. Don’t make disagreements personal –others are not worthless idiots just because they have a different opinion that we do.

Treating others with respect goes a long way toward easing battles over differing ideas or opinions. Unless open disagreement shows us otherwise, we all tend to assume that everyone else sees the world the way we do. The value of conflict, when handled well, is to help us understand one another better. Coming from a foundation of respect, we will be more likely to actually listen to what the other person has to say. With more information about the issue, we may even find ourselves adjusting our opinions.

And don’t worry too much if tensions develop at times between other people – it’s not your job to keep everyone happy.

If tensions are continually interrupting productive work flow for you, however, take the lead in addressing the problem effectively. Find a time when the situation is relatively relaxed to talk with the other person and explore their perspective. When we become curious about how others view the situation, it’s not uncommon to find that apparent disagreements are actually due to misunderstanding each other. For example, introverts and extroverts can see the same behavior differently – spending time chatting in the doorway may signal friendliness to an extrovert, while an introvert may feel frustrated at what they feel is an intrusion.

Occasionally, after direct approaches have failed, it may be necessary to call for help from a trained neutral third-party, either from within the organization or outside of it.

We all benefit from learning to handle conflict in the workplace. Besides improving our working experience, it will increase our job security – getting along pays.

We seldom think about grief when we think about getting along better but paying a bit of attention to our own grief and that of others is an important part of having a healthy community. Shared sadness can be just as bonding as shared happiness.

We all experience losses, large and small. Many of us have experienced the death of someone we were close to. We have had disappointments and other setbacks. Each new loss reminds us of all the others we’ve had and can trigger a stronger response than we might expect.

When we don’t allow ourselves and others to grieve, we create barriers. Unacknowledged sadness comes out in unpredictable ways. We may function okay for a while, then have a meltdown. We may withdraw in our pain. Others may avoid us because they don’t know how to be around us and are uncomfortable with our pain. Often, they feel guilty about this, which leads to more separation. Our grief can come out as anger, impatience, heightened sensitivity to perceived slights, and all sorts of other behaviors that push others away. 

Our grief may be very personal, such as the loss of a family member or a close friend. Or, it may be on a large scale, like the deaths due to massive wildfires, floods, acts of terror, and so on. The losses may be somewhat amorphous, too: some feel a loss of safety, of cohesion, of community. This is complicated by events that seem to cause sadness for part of the population and celebration by others.

Reach out to those who are grieving, regardless of how different they seem to be.  It does not lessen the validity of our faith to reach out to those of another faith who are heartbroken. It does not compromise our values to support the mourning of those who do not appear to share our values. We don’t have to like country music to share in the grief when there is a shooting at a country music festival. In fact, opening our hearts to others as we grieve is a powerful way of connecting as human beings.

We also don’t have to agree on potential solutions in order to acknowledge and share in the shock and grief that follows an act of violence. No one is unaffected when someone shoots children in school and everyone wants those shootings to stop. If we continue to connect to that common thread, we can have more effective conversations about how to solve the ongoing problem.

We don’t even have to know the cause of another’s grief to acknowledge it. We may not understand why a friend would mourn the death of an ex-spouse, but we can acknowledge their pain and be with them. Lots of us mourn the loss of a sense of national unity, though perhaps for opposite reasons. Talking about our shared sorrow can help build relationships across political lines that will allow us to find jointly acceptable improvements. If we can get over our discomfort with acknowledging that we all hurt, much good can actually result.

The more we can be with each other’s sorrow, the more we will also be able to share joy, and the stronger we’ll all be. It takes effort to get along, but the result is the only real option.


There’s lots of anger out there right now. Perhaps more people are feeling angry or maybe folks are just expressing it more freely. Either way, anger is blooming all around us. When we don’t use anger constructively, it’s hard to get along together.

Most of us don’t like anger – our own or others’. Anger is uncomfortable and physically stressful. It takes a great deal of energy. Because of that, we might pretend we aren’t upset or, worse, blow off steam by lashing out at someone who is not the real cause of our anger. It’s the nature of anger to dominate our attention and perpetuate itself, keeping us revved-up and thinking obsessively about the triggering event.

But anger can also be an ally, showing us when there’s something not quite right in our lives. If we learn to recognize it, anger indicates that a boundary has been crossed, a fear has been awakened, or an injustice has been done. For example, we can get angry when our kids run noisily through our office, when they know better. Or a child angrily shouts, “That’s not fair!”, when his sister gets a bigger bowl of ice cream. If we are afraid that we aren’t good enough to do our job, we can get angry if anyone tries to give us feedback about our work.

All of that angry energy can give us the courage to do what needs to be done. We can stand up to defend our limits against intrusions, or work to ensure that justice is done. Fear converted to anger helps us make the changes needed to be safe.

Sometimes we can have a large reaction to a seemingly small trigger – that’s a good sign that there’s another issue making us upset and we need to address that issue. For example, maybe a driver delays the smooth flow of traffic by not paying attention at the four-way stop, and we lay on the horn and make a rude gesture. That may even trigger other drivers and begin a wave of anger.

It’s important to understand why we’re angry, so we can determine what needs to change. That sounds easy enough, right? Unfortunately, when we’re upset, we’re not thinking clearly. Our nervous system goes on high alert, so it’s almost impossible to think things through in the moment. As usual, pausing and breathing deeply is a good first step. That helps our system calm so we can access our reasoning powers.

Once we’re calmer, we can ask ourselves why we’re feeling angry. Often, when we take the time to listen, we know the answer. If not, talking things through with a good friend or spouse helps clarify things. When we understand what’s not working, we can begin to come up with possible changes that will improve things.

All of us get angry, and that can be a good thing. We don’t want to get rid of our anger completely, because it carries important messages. We do, however, need to learn how to recognize what’s really going on and use that angry energy to make positive changes in our lives and the lives of others.