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1 Nov 2010

Managing Conflict – Venting Technique

Many studies show increases in the amount of time spent on managing conflict. This takes up more and more time of human resource professionals and other leaders. The solutions of these studies tend to focus on strategies and policies.

What is even more helpful is managing conflict close to the ground. This means seeing it early on. It means using some basic techniques. I have found one very effective. It is easy to learn and do.

Spotting Likely Conflicts

When managing conflicts, the first thing I do is assess personalities. This is because almost all other conflicts stem in some part from personality ones. These sour relationships. Poor relationships cause the bulk of performance problems.

I also assess job security and status. Even in high-growth firms, people can be anxious about these. For instance, hiring more people changes the “pecking order.” Growth can be a threat.

Signs of Stress

People do not need to be upset to show signs of stress. Stress can cause conflict. I find these as signs of stress when they differ from the person’s normal state:

  • More or less talking
  • Unusual forgetfulness, mistakes and errors
  • Faster speech
  • More or less engagement
  • Overwork

For instance, introverts tend to talk more when stressed, extroverts less. In most cases, they behave almost the opposite. That is why we look at it from the person’s norm.

Technique for Managing Conflict

This technique works very well. It is based on the talking cure. By getting people to talk, we can “suck out the venom” causing angst. This lowers stress.

Managing conflict begins with allowing the person to vent.

Managing conflict begins with seeing the value in venting.

Venting Process – General Concept


  • Avoid stifling venting; you want to clean the air for your solution so you can present it on good ground.
  • Encourage venting through your questions and demonstration of interest in their situation.
  • Empathize with them by saying something like, “If that happened to me, I would be upset too.”
  • Apologize if possible.  Depending upon the situation though, apologies can carry legal ramifications so a good apology can be along the lines of “I’m sorry that you feel that way.”  Consult your legal counsel if need be.
  • Present your solution after the venting wanes; presenting it too early might leave deeper resentments unaddressed.
  • Don’t worry about solving the problem; sometimes, all it takes is listening.


It is key to clear the air when managing conflict.

Clearing the air sets the stage for managing conflict.

Venting Process – Steps

  1. Person (red square) vents to you (blue circle)
  2. You (blue circle) pull the vent from the person by encouraging it
  3. At some point you will feel the bad energy dissipate (less talking, longer pauses, quieter tones)
  4. Begin to isolate the vent by clarifying details and summarizing points
  5. Share a plan (if possible) to solve the problem

This helps even if there is no conflict in sight. Simply working hard can cause stress. Managing conflict works best when we tackle this stress before it flares up.


5 Responses

  1. Pingback : Bitch Session Redux | Mike Lehr's Blog

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  4. Mike, I’m really lost in Considering this post. First and foremost, the post is about conflict; conflict involves two or more people but I only see one in your “flow chart.” Then, I’m wondering why you use venting; I agree the mediator has to insure all the information is identified. But I’d want to keep the tone as far from venting as reasonable. Indeed, that’s the key for leader awareness through careful observation and listening – as you note, detect potential conflict if possible. Finally, you used the phrase, ‘share a plan’ – suggesting the leader’s decisions; I would strongly seek involvement of all involved in plan development.

    What am I missing???

    1. Mike Lehr

      There are two people, John. In the first diagram, it’s red and blue (Hostility & You). In the second, it’s the red square and the blue circle.

      This technique is not about finding solution, it is about the expression of emotion so the table is set to begin finding a solution. I often compare it to litigation in which the plaintiff receives awards for “damages” and “pain and suffering.” This technique is about addressing the “pain and suffering.” It is not about addressing damages. It does though set the table for having a good discussion about them.

      I’m using the term “venting” very liberally here. It can be anything from anger to nervousness to talkativeness. I do not know what you mean by reasonable. The key is to allow the venting of as much negative emotion as possible. Granted, you do not want to stir negative emotions where there are none. On the other hand, you do not want to leave ones festering to be tapped and triggered later.

      Yes, share a plan can mean including their ideas. Hopefully, that is what your plan does if you have listened well with this technique. Usually though, when the other person is under some kind of duress or anxiousness, it’s incumbent upon leaders to begin the solution process. If for no other reason, it serves as a transition to get the other person thinking about solutions. However, keep in mind that this technique can work even if both find no solution.

      If you read more about the talking cure (see embedded link in post), it will give more detail. This technique is based on that one.

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