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This is the magic PIL for handling conflict with toxic people

We’re always looking for the magic pill to solve all of our problems, right? Well, I decided to be dorky and offer you an acronym that represents what I believe are the magic steps we can take to really eliminate conflict from our lives – or, even better, use the conflict in our favor.

On the one hand, I think that if we are trying to make the world conflict free before we can feel safe in it, we’re up for a very, very difficult situation. On the other hand, we’re never taught how to deal with conflict, and so it makes sense that many of us feel frozen or terrified when it comes up.

Take Megan, for example. Megan was an assistant, and in general she liked her boss. He had a temper, but usually it was good-humored, and she knew he meant well. Every time he asked her to change one of her regular processes, though (which he did quite frequently because he loved change, while she hated it), she froze and panicked. She could see how changing the process would change her entire work environment, but she didn’t know how to handle it. She felt she either had to do exactly what he said and pretend she liked it or furiously explain why he put her in an impossible situation.

She stayed stuck, pretending she liked his suggestions because she was too afraid her temper would get her fired if she was honest.

Megan was stuck thinking about her situation as though she only had two options – pretend everything was okay or freak out. When she did nothing, her boss, who was normally nice, started yelling at her. She blamed herself for his yelling, believing she should just do what he said, but also feeling more defensive about the way it would ruin her work experience.

There are always other options than pretending things are okay or freaking out, but when we’re stuck reacting, it’s hard to see them. Does this sound familiar?

Here’s the magic PIL I suggest for getting out of that stuck place:


We usually look at conflict like this:

I’m confident that my graphic is abundantly clear to you because it’s SO AWESOME, but in case it is not – we see ourselves as the powerless person being attacked by a more powerful lightning-bolt thrower. Anything we do is just trying to shield ourselves from the conflict.

Then, even hours or sometimes years later, the conflict can look like this:

Again, I’m sure my beautiful visual is perfectly clear, but just in case, the point is we think about the situation over and over again picturing ourselves being in the powerless place and defending against an attack.

Even when Megan was blaming herself for her boss yelling at her, that was only like more thunderbolts pointed at her. More evidence that there was something wrong with her and her response to the conflict.

The first step in addressing this kind of conflict is to create some kind of pause and mental space around around it. Whether you are able to do this in the moment and slow down reactions while the conflict is happening, or whether it is only possible hours later, create some silence and space.

Look at the conflict (even if it’s only going on in your mind hours later) as though you are a fly on the wall watching it.


Question the assumptions you have made about your power and even about the nature of the conflict. Some people use spiritual practices or meditation in order to question the conflict and look into it.

The best tools I have found for inquiring into conflict are through life coaching. Whatever tool is right for you, look at the difference between your thoughts about the conflict and the basic facts everyone can agree on.

Do you want to continue as things are or do you want to make a change? Who would you be without your story (about yourself or the other person)?


If you assumed you were the most powerful person in the conflict situation, how would that change things? Any conflict is a chance to step into leadership. Leadership requires us to:

If you are a leader, you will run into difficult people, and that’s exactly where your skills will shine. Everyone has the capacity to become a leader. We just were not taught how. What would change in your conflict if you assumed you had power and chose to take a leadership role?

(More on how to lead and what LEAD stands for next week.)


If you know someone going through a conflict situation with a toxic person, encourage her to reach out. I offer a handful of strategy sessions every week, and I'd love to see if I can help. She can sign up here:


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