Ryan Harris and his friends in front of a horse mural.

The Simple Strategy I Learned to Resolve Conflict without a Fistfight

First, it was a veteran testing my tolerance for hazing. Fistfight.

Then defensive players with an extra push in practice? Fistfight.

A fellow offensive lineman trying to “initiate” me to the team in my 10th year? FistfIght.

Every year when I was in the NFL, I got into a fistfight with a teammate at some point. Even though I dearly loved and respected him, we would fight because somebody transgressed. That’s how you handle conflict in the NFL.

When I retired and shifted into the corporate world, however, I couldn’t exactly bring that practice with me. I had to do a lot of self-education, fast, so I went on a journey to find the best practices for handling conflict.

The one strategy that made the biggest difference for me was training myself to recognize the value that the other person brings to the situation.

Finding this tactic was a watershed moment. Not only did it help me as a broadcaster and in answering questions speaking, but using this skill also helped me to recognize members of my team who were working hard despite disagreement.

Most of all, finding even the slightest value with an adversary puts you on the path to finding a solution that resolves the conflict. Solutions are good for both sides. I’ve broken it all down into three steps so you can find value in disagreement too.


In the NFL, even with a fistfight and cuss words, once the fight was over, it was over. Done. And everybody knew it. The big rule was: “Don’t take fights from the field into the locker room. It’s over on the field.”

They’ve got that right. In the corporate world, however, I see people letting conflict linger. Even in NFL front offices. You have to develop the mentality to resolve conflict immediately, wherever you find it.

Tip: How Does Anger Manifest with You?

Confrontation is unavoidable. The number one way that I’ve found to be less confrontational myself is to consider, “How does anger manifest itself with me?” That’s not a question we often ask ourselves, but try it. Ask, “What are my actions when I’m upset?” When you learn to watch yourself, you can identify when you are angry and what is bothering you. That’s the first step to resolving it.

RELATED: 5 Rules that Improve Employee Engagement


The key skill here is to look for value anywhere you can: in what the other person is saying, in what they want, in what they bring to the table, or in who they are. Maybe it’s in their attitude or in what motivates them. Even in conflict, it is possible to find value. And it is necessary.

This will not always be easy. When you’re upset, it’s going to be tough to find something beneficial in what the other person is saying (which is probably why you have a conflict, right?)

Some people don’t know how to articulate their anger or frustration. They fight badly, and when they get frustrated, it’s going to sound confrontational. That means it’s up to you to be clear-headed. Find their value.

In one of the first conflicts where I used this method, I recognized that the other person cared very deeply about quality. Whether he had the right words to say that, or whether he was at a place in his personal development where he could articulate his priorities politely was not the point. He wanted quality. He cared. And he wanted quality out of me too.

When I figured that out, I could see the conflict from his side, and that really cut down the noise of the words that were being said, and the way things were being said. Finding value cuts right through the conflict.

Tip: It’s Not About Being Right

The biggest fight I ever had in the NFL was when a coach told me I was wrong. I got so mad because I knew he was wrong.

Conflict should never be about being right. No one ever listens when you say, “You’re wrong.”

So don’t bother to say it. Lose the right-or-wrong mentality. It’s about getting on the same page. How can you get there? Through clarity and communication.


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Once you find the other’s value and see things from their perspective, acknowledge that in your response. Feed their value back to them. This helps make you less confrontational yourself.

You can say: “Listen, I know quality’s really important to you. I agree with you.” Right away, you’ve diffused the conflict.

Let’s say one of your employees is late and you’re p*ssed. You ask them what happened. You might hear, “Well, my child is very sick, and work just has to wait.” Where is their value? Family. They valued family over work. Then you can acknowledge that: “It sounds like family is important to you. I appreciate that…”

RELATED: 3 Rules of Leadership that Bring a Team Together

Tip: The Art of Compromise

The third step is about meeting that person where they are. What can you offer that helps them maintain their value and creates resolution? Maybe you could move your staff meeting back a half hour in case something goes wrong with their family routine again. It’s also OK to ask, “What can I do to help you, and still get my goals met?”

You want people to know you recognize the value they’re bringing, and you want to find some solutions so you can resolve this conflict and move on.

Propose a compromise. One of my corporate clients says, “In a negotiation, I know when we strike the right deal because no one is happy.” That is my favorite idea of compromise—where no one’s 100% happy, including yourself. Everyone should give a little.

Tip: The 24-Hour Wait Rule

A world-championship baseball team exec I know told me that if he’s upset, he waits 24 hours before he says something back. What’s your process when you’re upset with an employee or a friend or anyone you’re in a relationship with?

A cooling-off period is a way to be less confrontational, less judgmental, and calmer. That’s the state of mind that gets you to resolution faster.

In every relationship you have, at home or at work, learning how to resolve conflict without a fight will be highly productive and rewarding. To help all your relationships succeed, master the art of finding value in anyone’s contribution. Let me know how it works for you!