Madhu Einsiedler


Madhu's Discussion Questions

Conflict resolution through a different lense.

You discuss an important topic with your peers, or you’re in a conversation with a friend. The other persons says something – and Bam! You feel attacked.

Faster than we can think (literally) our limbic system goes into its automatic mode, we re-act with our standard reflexive behavior:

  • We fight back
  • We flee – we try to placate, or we go silent, retreat in our inner world or we physically leave the room
  • We freeze – we don’t know how to react, we go numb, our brain blanks, we feel stupefied

Neither behavior offers an effective way to solve a conflict. We seldom have the control to choose before we act.
Our limbic system has developed a preference and when it takes over we lose our ability to consciously choose our re-action.

What can we do?

  1. Recognize the re-action of our limbic system; we all have a certain preference, a reflexive behavior that’s ingrained. What is yours?
  2. Feel the moment the limbic system switches on and we go into automatic mode. How does that feel?
  3. Breathe, stop thinking, feel what your body is doing.
  4. Prepare a sentence that will help you gain a moment to gather yourself and reflect quickly. You can repeat what you have heard or say something nonsensical like “Just a second”.
  5. Reflect: What words have you heard from the other person? How do you interpret them? How does that make you feel?

With a bit of training you’ll put yourself in a state that allows you again to consciously choose how to respond. And this is exactly how you make possible the fourth way – addressing the situation.

In addressing what we perceive, how we interpret it we raise the level of understanding for everyone in the room about what’s happening. Thus we create a new common ground. Examples of how to do it are:

  • Ask about the intention of the remark that you heard:
    “Why is this important for you?”, “How does that fit into the bigger picture of what we’re discussing?”
  • Ask how the comment ties back to the common goal of the conversation:
    “How can this further our common goal?”
  • Share how this makes you feel.
    “When I hear xyz I interpret that I’m not valued and I’m afraid of losing my job.”

Yes, the fourth way makes us vulnerable.
Often people are not aware what they are saying or why they are saying it. Often they are not aware what their comments do to other people.
Making ourselves vulnerable helps everybody involved to acknowledge and feel what’s happening in the conversation and shifts conversations onto a more productive and meaningful level.

The important part is that you gain control over your actions again and choose deliberately what you say and how you say it.


What is your preferred reflexive re-action – Fight? Freeze? Flight?
Remember conversations that got you started – what did you hear and how did you interpret it?

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