4 Quick Techniques to Help You Think Straight in an Argument

Conflict Zen Blog by Tammy Lenski

When we feel overwhelmed by a difficult conversation, we can get emotionally swamped and lose access to our good conflict resolution, communication, and problem-solving skills. Here are four quick techniques you can use when conflict muddles your thinking and you want your good skills back.

It was the World Open Chess Tournament in Philadelphia and chess master Adam Robinson had a strong opening advantage. His opponent was squirming.

Then Robinson blundered, losing a rook for a knight. He lost one of his stronger pieces for one of his opponent’s weaker pieces, giving his opponent the edge.

Suddenly, Robinson could see he was going to lose the game.

As he stared at the chess board, angry at himself, someone whispered from behind him, “You can win this position.”

Robinson spun around, surprised, because of course, no one is permitted to do such a thing at a chess tournament.

There was no one there.

The voice had come from inside, his unconscious mind figuratively tapping him on the shoulder.

Robinson turned back to the game and began studying the board very closely. And there it was: A set of moves, an incredible combination that would change the outcome.

He won the game.

Regaining access to our good skills

Robinson later said that it was only when he quieted his conscious mind that he could hear his unconscious mind and what it already knew from his extensive study of chess.

The noise in our heads during conflict is probably not unlike the noise that started up in Robinson’s head when he made a foolish mistake and then grew angry with himself about it. Noise like that threatens to overpower the signals our good skills are trying to send.

Use these techniques on yourself or teach them on the fly to your client, your employee, your teenager, or anyone else who could use them:


Tammy Lenski

Dr. Tammy Lenski helps individuals, pairs, teams, and audiences navigate disagreement better, address friction, and build alignment. Her current work centers on creating the conditions for robust collaboration and sound decisions while fostering resilient personal and professional relationships. Her conflict resolution podcast and blog, Disagree Better, are available at https://tammylenski.com/archives/… MORE >

Featured Mediators

View all

Read these next


National Provider Listing Now Available at Mediate.com

Mediate.com National Provider Listing Full information is at www.mediate.com/National See All National Provider Listings With your Mediate.com National Provider Directory Listing, your organization's listing prominently appears on EVERY "results page"...

By Mediate.com Staff

The Evolution and Future of Mediation: Reconnecting with our Activist Roots

Special thanks to Elisa Sneirson for her assistance with this articleThe purpose of this article is to recount some of mediation's past, consider its current state, and offer a few...

By James Melamed, J.D.

“A” is for Asshole: the ABC’s of Conflict Resolution

You recognize this guy. He’s the  one who stole your parking place. He cut you off in traffic. Just last night at the Olmstead’s party, he interrupted your story about your...

By Victoria Pynchon

Find a Mediator