Bill Watterson

5 Hard Questions to Ask Yourself During a Conflict

Julie Zhuo
Apr 16, 2013 · 6 min read

1. Do I actually disagree with what the other person is saying?

4 times out of 5, when I ask myself what’s truly bothering me, it’s not that you and I can’t agree about the specifics — whether this particular design needs better hierarchy or a tighter execution, whether I’ve been late to a lot of meetings recently, whether I’ve been letting the dishes pile up in the sink. If I’m to be perfectly honest, I know that this isn’t my best design, and I’m always late, and Thursday’s dishes are pretty disgusting to still have around on Sunday. All of these things are true.

2. Can I fairly articulate the other person's point of view?

If my first inclination during our disagreement is to call up a friend and begin a rant with, “He’s bat-shit crazy. I have no idea why he’d say/do that, clearly he’s smoking something or he maybe he just possesses the IQ of a snail” — it’s a sign I have absolutely zero context on why you’re doing what you’re doing and have not stopped to think about it or ask you. So instead of overdramatizing the 2,395 ways you might be insane, why don’t I try and understand what's actually making you tick?

3. Did I make myself clear?

Just like it’s hard to solve a conflict if you don’t understand the other side, the same is true in reverse. If you’ve left any room for misinterpretation or ambiguity in your point of view, fix it. Write an e-mail. Shoot over a message via chat. Set up some time to talk in person. Be exceptionally clear.

4. Would I be comfortable saying what I'm saying to the other person in front of a group?

If the answer is “no,” I need to stop talking. Now. Immediately.

5. What would happen if I lost?

Be honest. If the answer is “nothing, but my ego would be bruised— and there is little to no negative impact of not getting your way — ask yourself: Is the argument even worth it?


The Year of the Looking Glass

A collection of essays by Julie Zhuo on design, building products, and observing life.

    Julie Zhuo

    Written by

    Product design VP @ Facebook. Author of The Making of a Manager https://amzn.to/2PRwCyW. Find me @joulee. I love people, words, and food.

    The Year of the Looking Glass

    A collection of essays by Julie Zhuo on design, building products, and observing life.