Top 10 tips to resolve conflict mindfully 

“Conflict occurs when things change in relation to one another, and as things are always changing, conflict is always present.”

– Gillian Higgins, international barrister, mediator and mindfulness teacher

Last week I attended a masterclass with Gillian on the Art of Resolving Conflict Mindfully. Having mastered the art of creating conflict, I was acutely aware (thanks mindfulness) of my lack of mastery in resolving it and welcomed instruction on how to do better.

Soon after Gillian started sharing her insights with us, it became apparent how prevalent and overt conflict is in a career as a barrister and mediator, something that though blindingly obvious now I write it, I hadn’t given much thought to. My working life to date has of course involved conflicts along the way, but without realising it, I had seen these as undesirable incidents rather than part of the natural landscape of the workplace: I am much more familiar with conflict in my personal and internal life than I am at work.

I also realised that prior to this workshop I had (subconsciously) assumed that mindfulness would help me prevent conflict arising in the first place (though anecdotal evidence would strongly suggest otherwise), rather than support me to engage in it more artfully. Well, with my perspective completely turned, now viewing conflict as an inevitable phenomenon not good or bad, just what it is, I welcome the opportunity to put these insights into practice.

Without further ado, here are your top tips for resolving conflict mindfully…


1.       Mindful listening

When we’re in conflict we’re not listening to one another. Mindful listening is the art of truly hearing the other person, not waiting for them to finish what they are saying so you can say your bit, or planning what to say while they are speaking, or scrolling through your phone until they’ve finished. It is being highly attuned to the other person, as well as yourself.


2.       Empathy

See the common humanity and in doing so bring greater understanding to the situation. This helps us respond appropriately to the feelings of others. We may not always be willing to be empathetic to the plight of others nor to be open ourselves – that is a choice – but know that this will impact the situation.


3.       The Mindful Pause

Stop. Literally stop moving physically and take a moment. Give yourself the chance to move from knee-jerk reactions into responsiveness. Sounds simple, but if you’re riled up it may not be your first instinct! Like all these skills and behaviours, it can be learned and embedded.


4.       The power of self-compassion

This stems from our ability to be aware of how we feel and then ask ourselves, “What do I need right now?” It will look different for all of us as in practical terms, it is working out what kindness is to you. Gillian suggested a cup of tea, which immediately resonated for me as I’m sure it will for many a tea-guzzling Brit. Bringing this self-compassion with us will affect how we step into the arena, or not.


5.       Recognise the impact of attitudes and assumptions

Mindfulness teaches us to pay attention without judgement. Judgements happen instantly though: we are making them all the time. Gillian described them as lenses through which we see life without even realising it, and these lenses can have a massive impact on conflict. Ask yourself, “What assumption am I making about the people I’m in conflict with and what impact is that having?”


6.       Be soft on the people but hard on the issues

This was my favourite of the night! Conflict can feel really personal and being hard on the other person can leave both of you feeling awful. A mindful approach inherently is a compassionate one and can help us see where others are coming from, what their interests are and how emotionally able they are to express their perspective. We can be open, soft and understanding toward those we’re in conflict with without compromising and rolling over on the issues.


7.       Own up to your own poor behaviour

We have ideals that we aim toward, and at times we can fall short of meeting them. If we have behaved poorly in a situation, made a personal attack, become aggressive or contemptuous, pride, shame, embarrassment or denial can prevent us owning that. Mindfulness teaches us to turn toward the difficulty, rather than avoiding it. In recognising the uncomfortable we can take responsibility for our actions and do the right thing to move the situation forward.


8.       When it goes wrong

Inevitably there will be times it doesn’t quite go to plan, especially for those of us who don’t get as much practice as criminal barristers or are conflict-averse. When this happens, deploying our mindful approach enables us to rectify the situation much more quickly. It also helps us to be compassionate toward ourselves rather than beat ourselves up about the situation.


9.       Pick your battles

Think about which battles you do need to fight as you can’t fight on all fronts. Why are you doing this, can you let it go?


10.   Bring a state of wellbeing into conflict

For me this was perhaps the most important message of all – that we can bring a state of wellbeing with us into the most challenging of situations. It’s not always about using mindfulness to rebalance after we’ve been tested, but to look after ourselves throughout, so we prevent situations depleting us in the first place.


According to Gillian, being fully present in a state of conflict changes everything, regardless of what the other person is bringing. If you would like to learn how to be more present, even in the midst of challenge, call me on 020 8348 9944 or email or use the contact form to get in touch.


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