Getting Unhooked from Interpersonal Conflict

Getting unhooked from interpersonal conflict is not unlike freeing yourself from a barbed wire fence.

There you are, squeezing between two rows of barbed wire, on your way to reaching a beautiful flower you wish to photograph, and the wool sweater your grandmother knitted you inadvertently becomes snagged. You are thwarted in your attempt to continue on. There is no going forward until you free yourself.

You’re familiar with hooks: Hooks for hanging coats, hooks for fishing, hooks for crocheting, hooks in computer programming, hooks in barbed wire. They share a kindred function: To intercept and snag, to catch and hold.

When it’s barbed wire, you know that continuing to pull will only result in damage. Your beloved sweater will be ruined, or worse, you will render yourself bloody when the barbs snag your skin.

No, don’t pull. Instead, you must attend to the hook. You must lessen your distance from it to gain your freedom. You must stop pulling and tugging and move closer to the hook so that you have wiggle room to free your sweater’s fibers. It can be tricky to achieve, even require a contortionist’s skill the first time, but with commitment you can achieve your freedom without damage to something you love.

Interpersonal conflict is similar. There you are, going about your business and suddenly, something hooks you. It grabs your attention, probably not in a good way. Because there’s a person in front of you the moment you’re hooked, you erroneously suppose they are the cause. Blame is like that, so tempting, so easy. But that would be like blaming the flower in the field.

No, don’t blame. Don’t try to pull away; you already know there could be damage. Instead, you must attend to the hook, to your conflict hook. You must stop trying to ignore it, stop trying to avoid it, and you must move closer to it so that you can examine it and understand it and figure out what to do with it. You must turn your attention away from the person present when you were snagged and toward the inner hook that’s holding you fast.

For more on conflict hooks (and there will be more coming, as my latest book moves closer to seeing the light of day), try these:

Your conflict resolution magic wand
What are your conflict hooks?
Introducing the conflict pivot


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… MORE >

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