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Disagree better

Disagree better

By Tammy Lenski
Conflict resolution insights for ongoing personal and business relationships from professional mediator and conflict resolution teacher Dr. Tammy Lenski. Podcast formerly called The Space Between.
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Disagreeing in front of others? Take it offline

Disagree better

7 tried-and-true ways to safeguard the space between
The fact that we disagree — even strongly — isn’t what damages personal or professional relationships. It’s how well we make use of practices that buffer our vital relationships from the detrimental effects of conflict. In other words, it’s how well we safeguard “the space between” through the way we disagree. Find show notes and links here. To receive transcripts of new episodes automatically, subscribe at
January 08, 2022
Disagreeing in front of others? Take it offline
When a disagreement in front of others gets difficult, there’s a simple remedy for avoiding two common pitfalls such conversations bring with them. Find show notes and links here. To receive transcripts of new episodes automatically, subscribe at
November 30, 2021
To reduce defensiveness, build up the social bond
Deflecting blame, denying responsibility, and minimizing negative impact are defensive behaviors that make problem-solving conversations frustrating. To reduce defensiveness and increase their willingness to take responsibility, use this research-supported approach when you confront. Find show notes and links here. To receive transcripts of new episodes automatically, subscribe at If you like my work, please consider supporting this podcast to help it stay ad-free.
November 02, 2021
Conflict resolution is like driving at night in the fog
Better conflict resolution habits don’t start with learning a new approach and then trying it in your next difficult conversation. Just as you wouldn’t start running and try a marathon the following week, better conflict resolution habits begin with a slow, steady build. Here are some ways to start strong and build from there. For show notes, please visit To receive transcripts of new episodes automatically, subscribe at If you like my work, please consider supporting this podcast to help it stay ad-free :)
September 02, 2021
Three threads at the heart of every argument
When we argue, and particularly when we argue with loved ones and colleagues — those with whom we are in ongoing relationship — the argument has three threads at its core. It doesn’t matter what we’re arguing about; those three threads are there. When we attend to those three threads, we set the stage for a much better conversation. For show notes, please visit To receive transcripts of new episodes automatically, subscribe at If you like my work, please consider supporting this podcast to help it stay ad-free. See how you can help at
July 19, 2021
The non-comeback comeback after an insult
Sometimes the best comeback after an insult -- the comeback that actually does something for us instead of to them -- is no comeback at all, as the following Zen koan so beautifully illustrates. Please visit for a transcript of this and other episodes.
June 25, 2021
New name for the podcast
The Space Between is now called Disagree Better
June 24, 2021
An alternative to perspective-taking when you want to reduce animosity
When we want to reduce animosity and increase empathy toward a group or individual, we may try perspective-taking, the act of trying to stand in their shoes and view the situation from their perspective. But what if there’s something even more powerful for the job? For show notes, visit To receive transcripts of new episodes automatically, subscribe at If you like my work, please consider supporting this podcast to help it stay ad-free. See how you can help at
May 21, 2021
What is the real issue?
Real is a rabbit in a bramble patch.
April 22, 2021
A conflict resolution mini-manifesto
Five ways to stop "less-than"-ing during conflict and conflict resolution.
March 12, 2021
Is a distancing spiral quietly damaging your important relationship?
Avoidance isn't always a bad idea, but when it feeds a distancing spiral it sure is.
February 09, 2021
Introducing QueryCards
Self-coaching questions for conflict resolution.
January 15, 2021
When opinions contrast sharply, practice scales
There's a whole lotta gray between the black and the white.
November 24, 2020
Three alternatives to rumination after an argument
Never has a rubber duck been more helpful.
October 06, 2020
How to be truly helpful when someone is upset
Dismissive positivity and buried empathy begone.
September 10, 2020
On the importance of knowing what really matters
And how to avoid potholes, too
August 13, 2020
Behind every criticism is a wish
Or, how to be a criticism translator
July 28, 2020
Break down listening barriers with these 4 questions
The rockstar duo: Good listening and good questions.
June 26, 2020
Five uncomplicated ways couples can turn arguments into discussions
Like having a mediator in the living room with you.
May 13, 2020
3 reasons they won’t change their behavior–and what to do about it
Changing our minds is exhausting.
April 21, 2020
Upstream conflict resolution
Get ahead of acute or chronic conflict.
February 17, 2020
How to stop ruminating at night (other times too)
Go ahead, cozy on up to it.
January 29, 2020
Spark a shift in perspective with this question
A good one for your favorite questions list.
December 19, 2019
How to disagree better
Have better disagreements in your personal and professional relationships.
November 20, 2019
Choosing the right conflict resolution tools
3 questions for choosing the right tool at the right time.
October 02, 2019
Every conflict contains a bid to be seen
I matter.
September 03, 2019
How to influence the way people act during conflict
Beliefs can and do create social reality.
July 23, 2019
A way to turn anger into curiosity
We'll call this the George Takei method.
June 04, 2019
Start with a small yes
Use the psychology of agreement to start your conversation right.
May 10, 2019
Slow down and be the Bedouin
It's all about frame of reference.
April 23, 2019
Do the next right thing
The best kind of experiment.
April 09, 2019
How to politely stop long-winded talkers
"At what point do I get to be the one to talk?"
March 26, 2019
Control emotions better by labeling them
For once, labels are a good thing.
February 27, 2019
Blame vs contribution (and how to make the shift adroitly)
Intention matters.
February 13, 2019
Flip the problem to illuminate hidden solutions
Prevent your natural negativity bias from hijacking your smarts.
January 16, 2019
4 handy principles for deciding when you can’t agree
Fallback criteria save the day. Again.
November 27, 2018
Is the Einstellung effect interfering with your problem solving?
Another cognitive trap just waiting to spring on you.
November 14, 2018
5 bad listening habits and how to break them
Listening is not just waiting to talk
October 30, 2018
Doubt your conflict story
It'll steer you wrong.
October 16, 2018
The type of problem that makes conflict resolution harder
That damn gravity.
October 02, 2018
A visualization for letting go of things you can’t change
Find a quiet spot for two minutes.
September 18, 2018
3 ways to turn adversaries into problem-solving partners
Stop trying to wrangle people into things. It's way too much work.
September 05, 2018
How to express a concern without making things worse
A soft start is just the ticket.
August 03, 2018
Ask yourself this kind of question when an argument rattles you
Use a centering question to get your balance back.
July 02, 2018
Fighting in a relationship: The gift of anger
I blew my top and my friend surprised me.
May 08, 2018
This common (but faulty) reasoning leads to bad decisions
Don't fall for the sunk cost fallacy.
April 24, 2018
5 impactful questions for handling difficult moments
Don't go it alone. Take these questions with you.
April 10, 2018
Is the overconfidence effect sabotaging your communication?
The signal sent may not be the signal received.
March 27, 2018
An effortless way to discern others’ emotions
Less is more.
March 13, 2018
How to backpedal after saying the wrong thing
When your mouth gets ahead of good judgment.
February 27, 2018
Can this key ingredient protect your marriage from relationship conflict?
Psst: It's not about "resolution."
February 13, 2018
The communication method that makes disagreements worse
Move away from that keyboard.
January 30, 2018
The Picasso trick for better problem solving
Love is blind.
January 02, 2018
When it seems trivial, pay close attention
Sit up straight. You're missing something.
December 19, 2017
You make me so angry!
Just because they happen to be the one standing in front of you...
December 07, 2017
4 quick techniques to help you think straight in an argument
Access your good skills when you need them most.
November 21, 2017
The question that brings hamster wheel debates to a standstill
Some debates, arguments, and bickering go on and on, without leading anywhere (except to more frustration). If you find yourself in this kind of debate, or are trying to stop others caught in one, here's a single question that's almost magical in its power to help.
November 07, 2017
Future-proof an agreement with a premortem
No DeLorean needed.
October 24, 2017
Anxiety about a difficult conversation? Try this.
What a good use of 10 minutes.
October 09, 2017
The space between
There's a space that changes form and scale as we navigate our personal and business relationships. It's the space between us, narrowing and softening when things are going well, widening and hardening in times of tension. The quality of our relationships, the degree of our happiness, and the success of our solutions are all influenced by The Space Between.
September 28, 2017
Why you should make a habit of repeating this question
Our solutions are only as good as our understanding of the problem. There’s a good question we can use to help discover a problem’s roots. And we can turn it into an even better question by employing it liberally — more liberally than most of us naturally do. Legendary Toyota executive Taiichi Ohno wanted employees […]
September 18, 2017
A good way to overcome resistance
Stop trying to persuade them out of their resistance.
September 06, 2017
Fear is the enemy of apology
One reason apologies feel hard to offer is that they're colored by fear -- fear of feeling shame, fear of feeling judged, fear of offering an olive branch that is not returned. To apologize, we must find ways to anticipate not only what will go wrong, but what also what could go right.
August 22, 2017
A surprisingly effective way to handle behavior problems
What would Bart Millar do?
August 08, 2017
When negotiations get stuck, be sure you do this
It’s not news that understanding the other person’s key interests is a crucial skill for your negotiation skills toolbox. I knew that when I went into the contract negotiation in the following story…and I almost blew it anyway. It took a question born out of desperation to teach me that some interests can be elusive, […]
July 25, 2017
Walking a mile in their shoes may not be such a good idea after all
There seem to be two routes to empathy. One will tax you more.
July 11, 2017
5 counter-intuitive conflict resolution habits worth developing
Skills alone will only get you so far.
June 13, 2017
How category errors make conflict harder to resolve
We put people, places, things, and ideas into categories. Categories help us navigate the world and it’s natural to categorize. We categorize in conflict, too. But the tension of conflict increases the chances we’ll make category errors — and category errors can really get in the way of conflict resolution. It’s two o’clock in the […]
May 29, 2017
A super simple method for regaining self-control
Just a trip down memory lane.
May 16, 2017
When the win-win solution is obscure
Learn from my pathetic post-grad school salary negotiation.
April 18, 2017
Sweeping conflict under the rug
What is that bump under the rug?
March 21, 2017
A remarkable tool for neutralizing the ravages of marital conflict
If 21 minutes of your time could make the difference between a marriage that’s crumbling and a marriage that grows stronger, would you do it? Hell, yeah. The following research-based writing activity can have a remarkably powerful impact on marital conflict. It’s free. It’s simple. And you don’t need anyone’s help to do it. We’ve […]
March 07, 2017
We could all use a Russell in our lives
We seek out allies when we're in conflict because allies make us feel strong and right and reasonable. But in trying to be helpful, our allies may actually help perpetuate the conflict by boosting our certainty. When we're being tested by a conflict, what we want isn't an ally, it's a loving provocateur.
February 28, 2017
De-escalate anger with this straightforward invitation
Anger is a signal, not a defect.
February 21, 2017
One intriguing reason blame feels hard to take
The next time someone declines to take responsibility for words or actions that had a bad impact, don’t immediately assume it’s a flaw in their character. Maybe it’s just their protective brain doing its job. We flip a light switch and the light turns on or off. We experience agency in that moment — the […]
February 07, 2017
How to say no persuasively
Being able to say no is essential for good day-to-day negotiating. Yet it can evoke anxiety about appearing obstructive, unkind, or unhelpful. If you want a way to keep yourself from saying yes when you really do need to say no, pack this research-supported technique in your toolkit.
January 31, 2017
2 smart principles for resolving everyday disagreements
Not all disagreements require long talks to resolve them sufficiently. Sometimes you can use a pre-agreed principle to get them done and get on with your day. Here are two worth considering for your workplace team or family.
January 24, 2017
Think with your hands for better problem solving
New research is challenging the notion that thinking, problem solving, and decision making take place strictly in the head. And finally giving me some credibility after years of placing interactive toys in the middle of my mediation table. How do you put 17 animals in four pens in such a way that there is an […]
January 17, 2017
How to show you’re really listening without interrupting
Want to break the advice-giving habit but aren’t sure what to do instead? Want someone else to stop giving you unsolicited advice all the time? Here’s a good question to ask in those moments and a simple alternative to giving advice when what they really want is someone to listen. When someone tells you about […]
December 13, 2016
Weaving the narrative of a conflict
Conflict takes root in the space between our narrative about what happened and theirs. One way to understand conflict resolution is as the act of weaving a new joint narrative, one that includes the most valuable threads in each story A fan approached bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert at a book signing. The woman said, “Eat […]
November 29, 2016
Want someone to calm down? Don’t do this
I’ve written that anger is a messenger that won’t shut up until its message is heard and understood. But if the anger is so big or so loud you can’t hear straight, there are things you can do to help someone calm down. And a few things you shouldn’t do…like these five missteps. I’ve written […]
November 22, 2016
How to ask questions like a pro
Questions are your stock-in-trade.
November 15, 2016
Want more self-control during conflict? Try appealing to your future self
Conflict can rob you of two precious mental faculties useful for sorting things out: The ability to view the situation from the other person’s perspective and the ability to check your impulses. New research suggests that your future self can help you recapture those abilities. Confrontations and conflict require self-control to resist the tempting words […]
November 08, 2016
How totalizing makes conflict more grueling
Resist that all-or-nothing language and thought
November 01, 2016
Kintsugi and the art of mending relationship conflict
Conflict in personal, professional and business relationships leaves permanent cracks and breaks behind. What if, instead of trying to ignore or hide the damage, we revered it, understanding that “better than new” is more valuable than "good as new"?
October 25, 2016
5 impactful phrases to interrupt habitual yelling
Some people do conflict loudly, whether due to familial or cultural roots, habit, or a low boiling point. When you want to interrupt someone’s habitual yelling during conflict, try to make the request without contributing to the fight. Someone screamed and yelled at me in public recently. Her anger had flared and yelling is her […]
October 18, 2016
When conflict is real but not true
How one momentary pause can transform your conversation.
October 11, 2016
Friction with a colleague? Ask for a favor
When friction enters a working relationship, sometimes the best path through isn't to dissect it and talk about it. Sometimes the best path through is an indirect one -- ask for a favor from them. Just like Ben Franklin suggested.
October 04, 2016
The key to handling arguments about respect
Feeling dissed? Here’s how to raise concerns about disrespect in a way that increases dialogue and decreases pushback. Twenty-seven years ago this past summer, I met my husband. Sometime in those first months of dating, he casually dropped a conversational bomb one day: Tammy, he said, you don’t treat me with respect when we disagree. […]
September 26, 2016
You want this mental device in your relationship conflict toolbox
Thinking about the future helps couples overcome relationship conflict and view the situation in a more reasoned and positive light, according to new research. Here’s how to use the researchers’ simple mental exercise to create psychological distance from a conflict and dial down the heat of an argument. A University of Waterloo study found a […]
September 20, 2016
The real message anger is trying to deliver
During conflict, focusing mostly on anger’s behavior instead of on anger’s real message is like burying the lede in a news story. It was the first day of high school journalism class for American journalist and filmmaker Nora Ephron. The subject of the day was how to write a lede. He began with a set […]
September 13, 2016
Be a better listener with these 3 everyday practices
It’s hard to get better at listening during conflict by practicing during conflict. If you want to be a better listener, practice outside of a difficult conversation. The stakes will be lower and it’ll be easier to be on top of your game. Here are three simple ways to practice being a good listener in […]
September 06, 2016
30 seconds to better conflict resolution
Strengthening your conflict resolution chops isn't about learning a new skill and then trying to use it in your most difficult conversations. Just as you wouldn't start running and try a marathon the following week, acquiring more successful conflict resolution habits is about a slow, steady build. Start with 30-second chunks. Note: An updated version of this episode is available here. 
August 30, 2016
The art of dealing with insults
A traditional Zen koan, or story.
August 23, 2016
How to navigate the “not my problem” problem
When you're at the edge of a cliff, sometimes progress is a step backward.
August 16, 2016
A quick little phrase to stop bickering in its tracks
Bickering, an argument about trivial matters, is one of those everyday bad habits that feeds the growth of destructive conflict in a relationship. When you teach yourself how to stop getting sucked into bickering, you give yourself and your relationship some fresh air. Here's a short phrase that can help.
August 09, 2016
5 uncomplicated ways to gain psychological distance during conflict (and why you should)
When you're stuck on a problem or feeling angry, briefly distancing yourself psychologically from the current circumstances can give you emotional relief and actually help you solve the problem. Here are four simple and potent ways to gain psychological distance (and help others do the same) when you're spinning your wheels in a conflict conversation.
August 02, 2016
How starting a difficult conversation is like opening Fibber McGee’s closet
Starting a difficult conversation (or negotiation or mediation) can feel like opening Fibber McGee’s closet — chaotic, overwhelming, and hope-sucking. But don’t run. A colleague shared the closet metaphor with me years ago and I’ve passed it along to countless others since. The messy, over-filled hall closet was a running gag on the 1930s-1950s radio […]
July 26, 2016
How to confront someone without being confrontational
Confronting is an essential negotiation, conflict resolution, and problem-solving skill. Being confrontational, though, will usually do you more harm then help. Here’s a mediator’s tip for how to confront someone and raise an issue for discussion without being aggressive or argumentative. When I want to confront someone about a concern but don’t want to come […]
July 19, 2016
A good rule of thumb when responding to difficult behavior
Under-match the behavior.
July 05, 2016
How to deal with difficult people
How to deal with difficult people? It’s one of the most frequent questions I’m asked in my workshops and by readers, friends, and grad students. Here’s my strategy for dealing with difficult people and why it so consistently works. Occasionally I am difficult. I don’t set out to be difficult and I may not even […]
June 14, 2016
The secret to de-escalating loud, angry conflict
Take it from a mediator: When someone is angry and loud, trying to control them is not only an exercise in futility, but can also have an unintended consequence — it can escalate them. Here’s one powerful alternative. The bailiff unlocked the small courtroom. After telling me to make myself at home, he pointed to […]
June 07, 2016
Conflict resolution terms defined
A dispute is not the same as a conflict. Mediation is different from facilitation. I've had repeated requests for the language I use to describe and define common conflict resolution terms like these, so here's the language I use and a PDF download suitable for printing.
May 31, 2016
9 ways to defeat cognitive overload during conflict resolution
The brain’s working memory appears to be very limited and conflict places a lot of demand on that already-restricted capacity. But there are ways to reduce cognitive load during conflict resolution and free up the working memory needed for concentration, reasoning and good decision making. Working memory is like a mental workspace where we hold […]
May 24, 2016
How “being with” is a powerful way to help
What does it mean to hold the space for someone who’s trying to get somewhere different in a conflict? And how do we hold that space, whether we’re a friend trying to help, a manager trying to intervene, or a mediator trying to find a path to resolution? Brilliant writer, teacher, and social activist Parker […]
May 17, 2016
Learning from Maori tradition: Whakawhanaungatanga
Whakawhanaungatanga is a Māori process for establishing relationships and connection. I explore whakawhanaungatanga with New Zealanders Hilary Unwin and Pereri Hathaway in this audio interview. […Read on...]
May 10, 2016
Making peace with the conflict groan zone
“Get me outta here!” That’s the thought a lot of people have during workplace conflict. It’s the thought you have if you’re uncomfortable with conflict: I don’t like this. It’s messy. Maybe even painful. Get me outta here! It’s the thought you have if you’re too comfortable with conflict: This is going nowhere good. I’m […]
May 03, 2016
The key ingredients of an effective apology
New research has identified six elements to an apology, and the more of those elements you include, the more effective your apology. But not all six elements are equally valuable. Two are particularly crucial to having your apology accepted. In 2008, Annie Wilson of Dallas, Texas, got a pretty memorable telephone call from her gardener. […]
April 26, 2016
A loving letter to my mediation clients
My friend, There are some things I want to say about mediation with me, things I hope you'll ponder before we gather, things I hope will guide you as we talk. I may mention them a time or two during our time together. […Read on...]
April 19, 2016
When tension continues after conflict seems resolved
Even after a dispute is resolved, conflict and tension can linger. Here's how to find out what is stopping someone from letting go and moving on after conflict. […Read on...]
April 12, 2016
Overcoming resistance: Work with people, not on them
People are experts in their own experience
April 05, 2016
Want to influence behavior? Stop telling and ask this type of question instead
Positive affirmations may be popular, but if you want to influence behavior, questions trump statements. But not just any old questions. One type of question in particular can create powerful psychological leverage for changing your own and others’ behavior. “Stay calm,” you remind yourself in difficult moments. “Don’t drink and drive,” say the public service […]
March 29, 2016
Overcoming an “empathy deficit” in conflict
The stress of conflict has ramifications we’re only just beginning to understand: We can apparently “catch” someone else’s stress physiologically. Acute stress can desensitize us to another’s pain. And stress from the presence of a stranger may reduce the ability to empathize. But 15 minutes of shared experience might just help. Many years ago, I […]
March 15, 2016
One powerful way to help ease the suffering in conflict
Conflict and suffering are confederates working in painful alliance, each feeding the other as if to ensure its own continued existence. If I turn away from the suffering in conflict, I deny a part of my clients’ experience. If I try to fix suffering, I assume a task that is not really mine to shoulder. […]
March 08, 2016
Before you start solving a problem, be sure you do this
Design thinking is helping designers, engineers, and entrepreneurs solve problems more successfully and develop better products. Here's how conflict resolvers can use one of design thinking's most powerful steps to achieve better outcomes.
March 01, 2016
Keeping yourself (and others) out of conflict corners
It's tempting to feel triumphant when we successfully back our nemesis into a figurative corner. But it's ill-advised triumph. Here are ways to address and prevent cornering in your own and others' conflicts. […Read on...]
February 23, 2016
Your memory about what happened is probably wrong
Memory doesn't exist to help us perfectly recall things in our lives. It's there to help us survive. And to do its job properly, memory must evolve. Here's a quick recap of the ways memory is flawed and why arguing about the accuracy of memories is like running on a gerbil wheel and expecting to get somewhere new.
February 16, 2016
Quick to blame but slower to give credit? Beware of this thinking error
When an action has bad impact, how you think about that impact can play a significant role in triggering and escalating blame and conflict. And despite how rational you believe you are, there’s a thinking error that can lead you down a very irrational path. It’s called the Knobe Effect. Cognitive (thinking) errors are thought […]
February 09, 2016
How to email someone after a falling out
What’s the best way to re-establish communication with someone after a falling out? Here’s how to write an email that will help you reconnect after no contact and set the stage for talking in person or by phone. A reader wrote me with the question, What is the best way to email someone after a […]
February 02, 2016
Conflict resolution activities: A mental trick for getting out of our own way
When we need to get out of our own way, there’s a simple yet powerful exercise we can use to help. It doesn’t take much practice — just commitment for a few minutes. Here’s one of my favorite conflict resolution activities for changing emotional state and tricking my mind into being more helpful in the […]
January 27, 2016
One ridiculously simple way to be more persuasive
Failing to ask effectively for what we want is the stuff of low-grade irritation that, over time, can become a source of chronic tension. Here's a ridiculously simple way to ask more effectively, be more persuasive without manipulating, and increase the odds a small favor will be granted.
January 19, 2016