Get “CLASSY” in Conflict

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This is an excerpt from my book. (It’s in there as Appendix B.)


What is CLASSY?

CLASSY is a mnemonic to help you during times of conflict.

The C is a reminder to bring your C’s.

These are the helpful words that start with C. (Helpful words people, HELPFUL.) Close your eyes and try to think of as many words as you can that will help you when dealing with conflict. If you can’t think of any, one of the things we keep referring to is this idea of not being furious, but rather being…. (Starts with a C… Doc Amen always says this…) Curious!

Okay, now that you opened your eyes back up, I bet you came up with a long list of words. I love doing this with groups because they all give me the best C words. Here are some of the C’s that I like to think about – calm, cool, collected, curious, connect (as in connect the dots… connect with the other party), clear communication (concise communication), curiosity, compassion, courtesy, co-creation, constructive attitude, collaboration….

By taking the time to think of a list of C’s to bring, you are entering a better headspace than if you are letting yourself get worried, apprehensive, worked up, or angry about facing someone. Of course, you need to be prepared to speak with them – and we will look at some of the ways you can prepare, for example, if you need to enter a negotiation… The CLASSY mnemonic will help you to remember general tactics for dealing with conflict.

Another way this helps you is that it can give you a certain sense of CERTAINTY. Our amygdalas hate, hate, hate uncertainty… so what can you be certain of? (Don’t kid yourself… think about things you can be truly certain about… maybe…)

  • I know this process
  • I have solved conflicts before… even BIGGER ones…
  • I am in the right headspace
  •  I am empowered because I know how to keep a pulse on GREEN/YELLOW/RED (Check out this diagram!)
  • I am great with relationships and here to focus on that…
  • I am going to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich after this…

Also, by starting to think these things up, you are activating the executive part of your brain… pretty cool right? My aunt called me up because she was watching a crime show and the protagonist made the crime victim start doing math problems to get her brain kickstarted into higher order functioning… My aunt wanted to know if this sounded true. I said sure. I prefer jokes, but to each their own!

The key is that you need to be in green and you need the other party to be in green as well. Keep a pulse on that! In a minute we’ll look at ways to tell if you are slipping out of green.

We have an intent when we communicate and on the receiving end there is an impact. Sometimes you may hear someone completely disregard the impact, but saying things like “they’re just too sensitive.” But to be a rockstar, you have to realize that you do have some control over your impact on others. At Fierce Inc they call your impact your emotional wake. As Stacey Engle writes on their blog “After any interaction, you are either leaving behind an afterglow, an aftermath, or an aftertaste. Which one do you want to leave behind?”

Considering that emotional wake is indeed important. What the “C” in classy is concerned about is how SAFE the water is throughout the conversation. We need to feel safe to be in that green state and have our “social engagement systems” turned on. When the water is safe, the emotional wake is more likely to leave behind an “afterglow” rather than an “aftermath.”

The L is for “LAY IT DOWN.”

In the case where you are the one who is starting a conversation that deals with conflict, you can “lay it down” with LOGIC… Lay down the facts. I had a dog trainer mentor (say that 2 times fast) who didn’t like to see her customers label their dogs… “He’s reactive, she’s aggressive, she’s disobedient…”

She would always ask “What does that look like?”

Focus on the facts and the behaviors you can observe.

Facts and behavioral observations in plain language versus opinions, labels, words with emotive force…

Talking logic first lets you start the conversation with things that no one can likely argue with… You will be using words that shouldn’t get anyone emotionally charged.

Stay in GREEN.

In the case where you are starting to sense a conflict coming on (based on what someone else says to you) “lay it down” would mean “lay it down” from the other person’s perspective. Liane Davey talks about how we should tell their truth first: We want to validate what the other is saying.

The A is for ATTUNE. defines attune as “to bring into accord, harmony, or sympathetic relationship; adjust…”

Merriam Webster defines attune as “to bring into harmony, tune…”

Why do you think I use the word attune when I very well could have used adjust?

Harmony… Sympathetic relationship…

This encompasses more than just “adjust” would. This keeps us in green…

You ATTUNE the conversation… You attune your mindset, attitude, and perspective…

During the L step… You laid down some logic and clear cut observations…

Now you add soft language from your point of view… Sprinkle it in… Make sure you are both still in green…

Hard language would be “You made me feel…”

There is a lot of advice that says to focus on the I language rather than the YOU language…

This is indeed softer. “When you blah blah blah I feel blah blah blah…” or “It makes me think that blah blah blah…”

This isn’t bad advice, however the best advice I’ve heard comes from the ex-FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss.

He uses “it…”

Like “it seems,” “it sounds,” “It feels.”

Attune your focus, mindset and thinking as well:

Did you know that at any given moment there are millions and millions of stimuli bombarding us? We can only focus on a teensy bit of this. And what helps decide what our brains let in? Choice. Choose what you want to see. It sounds kinda crazy, but you when you look at the neuroscience it’s true. By focusing in 1 area, we are making soooOosooosooo many other things invisible… And they are right there.

Remember that:

  • you have an accountable mindset — you can stay “above the line” (see the Ladder of Accountability here)
  • you are solutions-focused
  • you are relationship-focused
  • you know that there is abundance rather than lack (check out Steve Covey’s “abundance mentality” or “abundance mindset”)
  • you know that there is possibility (there can even be something better than your best case scenario)

When you feel like you are cornered or choosing an impossible choice, remember this quote from Harvey Spector in the show Suits “What are your choices when someone puts a gun to your head?  What are you talking about? You do what they say or they shoot you. WRONG. You take the gun, or you pull out a bigger one. Or, you call their bluff. Or, you do any one of a hundred and forty-six other things.” (Of course he is speaking metaphorically.)

Another favorite go to for me is “Everything is figureoutable,” from Marie Forleo.

Other ways that attunement helps you is to think about where you are in the Choose Your Focus Model… What kind of thinking are you in?Never heard of this? Check out the book Quiet Leadership by David Rock. Here’s a good summary.

Also, check in with the Accountability Ladder. Where am I? Where should I be? (Here’s a diagram.)

More ways to attune yourself…

  • Avoid anchoring… anchoring is when we hold onto our first interpretation – don’t anchor, be open!
  • Beware of confirmation bias – this is when we look for evidence (and thus only see and hear evidence) that supports what we already believe.

It’s fascinating: Brain scans reveal that when we hear info that disproves what we believe, the emotional centers become active. We would expect that our cognitive centers would light up, because, you know, information and learning, but no… we get emotional… We start to get defensive and angry about this!

Another super-cool tool that you can use is the teachings from the book QBQ – Question Behind the Question. Because our brain is 1st and foremost focused on SURVIVAL, a lot of the things that we see that help us survive are negative. They are important because they help us live, but they are negative. Fear, anger, disgust… In QBQ, the author points out that our brains typically first ask a negative question. We think “Why is this dude so ridiculous?” So IGNORE that question and get to the question behind it… The one you control in all your awesomeness… “What is the solution here?” “How can I help?”

Remember, that when resolving conflict, your shared mission, purpose, or goal needs to be bigger than your collective and individual b.s.

You need to be resolving the RIGHT conflict… Solving the RIGHT problem.

You also want to attune your conversation and behavior based on where the other party is at. Are they in GREEN?

How can you tell? Well, there are clues… Cognitive, physical, and emotional cues…

Here are some signs that your partner in conflict resolution is leaving GREEN.

Cognitive cues:

  • black and white wordings, “drama” language (these indicate black and white thinking and drama thinking, respectively)
  •  lack of logic
  • they seem stuck or rigid… like they don’t see a lot of options… they are narrowing themselves in

Emotional cues:

  •  they get angry
  •  they withdraw or get extra quiet
  •  they get fearful

Physical cues:

  • look at their body language… there are telltale signs of anger, withdrawal, fear

It’s good to note that without emotive force (like if you are dealing with task conflict only and all parties seem pretty matter of fact) or if you are the person mediating the conflict that others are having, attuning can also include the onion… When you attune the onion, you are dialing in on the interest underneath the position… and perhaps even to the need under the interest.

You can also start to harmonize all of this with shared goals.

That’s a lot of attuning right? This is less of a STEP in the CLASSY process and more of something you do through and throughout.

Let’s recap what we can attune:

  • Attune the conversation to your point of view, but softly
  • Attune your own mindset, body language, thinking, etc – that is to say: stay in GREEN
  • Attune the conversation based on watching for signs that the other person is slipping into YELLOW
  • Attune the focus – Is this the right conflict? The right problem? Are we using the right thinking here?
  • Attune the onion… move from positions to interests and maybe to needs as well

When you think of attuning think of fine tuning and harmonizing.

Sometimes a nice segue from the A in CLASSY to the S is to:

Ask questions that force empathy… This is another tip from Chris Voss. By asking “How is my team supposed to achieve blah, blah, blah?” or “How am I supposed to do that?” You are forcing the other person to empathize with your point of view…

Because guess what? The next part is a lot about THEIR point of view.

The S is for SLEUTH.

Here’s where you seek to find out about their point of view, their “side” (though it’s not really about sides but SOLVES), their story, stance, etc.

Now you can use the Choose Your Focus model and the Accountability Ladder to see where they are at and gently nudge the conversation into healthier territory. Make sure you both stay in green.

Listen to understand. A lot of times we listen to respond.

  • Be empathetic.
  • Listen for potential solutions.
  • Listen for the potential of the other party to collaborate with you.
  • Use your active listening skills.
  • Listen for ways to peel back the onion.
  • Think RCA – root cause analysis


  • Ask questions to draw out interests–
    “That’s interesting, can you tell me why that position is important to you?” “What would blah get you?” “And why, at the heart of it, do you want that… or need that…?
  • Open ended questions help draw out more information…
  • Peel back that onion from position to interests… Peel this back so you can better find solutions
  • Chris Voss recommends FIRST asking a question where the answer will be NO. “Would you be totally opposed to me shadowing someone on Mike’s team?” There’s a psychological reason for this. Have a listen at 32:39.

Again, make sure you are both in GREEN. If you mosey on out of green, stop talking about what you are talking about and get back into GREEN. You need your social engagement system and higher order thinking turned on. You need theirs on as well.

However, keep in mind that expert Liane Day does always point out the importance of emotional data. For example, in the article linked here, she writes “It’s not the emotions you’re really interested in, it’s the next layer. Emotions come out when values and beliefs are violated.”

You may even find it helpful to bring some of the models with you. It’s not a bad idea to reference the Choose Your Focus Model, Accountability Ladder and Onion with each other. Why not?

S is for Solve

When your individual interests and shared goals are known you can start to talk about what a win-win would look like…

Seek common ground – you may not even agree on what the conflict is at first, so that is a good place to start

How does solving this conflict tie into a shared goal?

Seek objective criteria for the solution – this will help you both to spot a clear-cut winner

Seek those win-wins… What does a win look like for you? What does a win look like for them?

Brainstorming will help. A writer friend of mine once advised to separate the writing process from the editing process. When you write, don’t edit… Wait and edit later. The same is true for brainstorming… Just dump all your ideas… get them down. You don’t need to evaluate them as you go… Do that as a second step. In the course on Creativity they mentioned that during the 1st twenty minutes our brains come up with the low hanging fruit ideas. When we get to the 20 minute mark (or thereabout) we start to have the more juicy ideas. It’s okay if your brainstorm ideas suck at first. It’s all part of the process. You may notice too, that if you take your mind off of a problem you sometimes have the answer magically appear. There’s also brainwriting and brainswarming. What’s the difference between these? Check out: brainstorming brainswarming, and brainwriting. 😉

Seek your best outcome… Yes a win is the best outcome… How about your runner up? This is called a BATNA – best alternative to negotiated agreement…

Use the objective criteria you have come up with solve the conflict at hand

  • When you solve it, make sure you know who owns what and when you will check in to make sure the solution is in effect

And the Y is for Yeessss? (“Yes? No? Maybe?” Self-check-in)

Yessss?? Heh, this is a tentative question… A reflection… A retrospective… Did you get to yes? How’d you do? What would you do differently next time? Is the relationship ok? Better? What results did you get? What should you personally start doing, keep doing, and stop doing? What did you do well?

Confidence can be thought of as the tendency to take action.. Did you up your confidence? Did you take action? Did you find yourself holding back when you could have or should have taken action?

Taking the time to assess how it all went down will help you. No losing… only winning and learning.

We aren’t taught to deal with conflict in a healthy way. It shows up as a SURPRISE! on our doorstep when we were hoping for a pizza. It sends us on the fast train to YELLOW. These are all skills… Arguably unnatural skills at that! As long as you showed up and did your best, were fair and ethical and compassionate… then you did a good job! Most run from conflict. Taking your best action is a win.