Conflict, Repertoire, and Agility

Conflict Happens
Repertoire Creates Options
Agility Accelerates Action

Every time I read Susan David’s newsletter called “Emotional Agility,” I think about my time as a principal of over 35 years. When teaching beginning leadership courses at the university level, on the first night of class I ask, ‘how do you feel about dealing with conflict?’ As some of the prospective leaders start squirming, I say, “I didn’t ask you if you like it, I asked, how do you feel about dealing with it?”

So, if your desire is to be liked all the time, please do yourself a favor and find another line position you will be more comfortable. Smart people disagree. At some point leaders will make unpopular decisions. AND, you will have to make them. That is why I wrote my latest book, “Responding to Resistance.”

What I started to realize in the 80s, there will be conflict with students, teachers, and parents as well as every combination. If conflict cannot be managed effectively and efficiently, time is diverted from learning to dealing with the emotional energy. This saps time and focus away from learning strategies.

In the early 90s I met Bob Chadwick. Even though he has since passed away, I am grateful to Bob for changing my perspective on conflict. He taught me to deal with conflict directly, immediately, and specifically. The DIS acronym came later from Jathan Janove and his book, “Hard-Won Wisdom.” Book summary at

As I added to my repertoire of strategies to deal with conflict situations, I was able to save time and the emotional costs of conflict that can permeate organizations. (I didn’t say this was easy). When I read Susan David’s book, “Emotional Agility,” it really struck a chord. You can read a book summary of Susan’s book at

Yes, conflict happens, having a repertoire gives a person more options to navigate conflict, and being able to have the agility to respond is the next step. By reducing the destructive emotional part of conflict, more time can be spent on the cognitive part of legitimate differences of opinions.

One of the Billisms, colleagues tell me I say is, “What we think divides us – what we feel unites us.” Everyone I know can identify with how it feels to be mad, sad, glad, scared, rejected, etc. When people feel listened to, taken seriously, and know that you have a genuine interest in how they think, progress is possible. (I didn’t say this was easy).
Dealing with conflict can be very scary. I honestly don’t know how to deal with conflict other than getting the people involved together and create a safe place to talk. Highly charged situations can be threatening. BUT, how do you solve or manage conflict without talking.

Here are a few learnings from Susan David’s book I found helpful.
The more rigid we are, the less agile we become. Emotions can blind us from someone else’s reality. When dealing with racial issues I sometimes refer to it as “white blindness.” This is similar to being in a snowstorm and now seeing where you are or where you are going. (I didn’t say this was easy).

Show up and be fully present. Whether you are facilitating or a participant in a conflict situation, show as a fully human person and help others to be fully human as well.

Step out or go to the balcony. Try to detach enough to see another’s point of view. Ask questions rather than make judgments. When I started reading about microaggression, being a white male, I didn’t understand. I talked to my daughter-in-law and two superintendents I knew well and asked them to teach me. I was amazed at what I learned. I had no idea of the concepts they taught me. I was blind. I am less blind now. Thank you to those who trusted me enough to teach me.

Learn and move on. Knowledge is important and insufficient (Billism). Learning is one thing and putting the information to use is another. Without positive significant actions nothing much change.

To quote Karen Clark, “Life is change, growth is optional, choose wisely.” My adaptation is life has conflict, growth requires repertoire, show agility in managing conflict. (I didn’t say it is easy).

David, Susan. (2016). Emotional Agility. New York: Penguin

Janove, Jathan. (2017), Hard-Won Wisdom. New York: AMACOM Publishing

Sommers, William. (2019). Responding to Resistance: 30 Ways to Manage Conflict in Your Schools. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.