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Harnessing the Power of Conflict in Teams: Conflict Hooks

June 14, 2017


Conflict Hooks – What are they?


Have you ever said: “That person just presses my buttons?” If you’re human, your answer is likely, yes!  Even the most enlightened, secure, experienced leader has felt this way at one time or another. We each have our own hot buttons, which when they’re pushed provoke an emotional, even visceral, reaction in us. These are ‘conflict hooks.’


We say it’s something ‘they’ are doing to ‘us,’ but the truth is that these conflict hooks come from within us. It’s about us, not the other person who pressed our button. We ‘hook ourselves’ into the reaction. Conflict hooks are based in our identity, background and makeup, and relate to how we perceive a threat. It may or may not be a real threat – but it’s real to us in that moment. We feel the threat whether or not the other person even intended it or was aware they were triggering it.


Why recognize conflict hooks?

Picture for a moment that you are about to lead a team meeting with a full, high-stakes agenda. Picture each of the 12 people on your team sitting there with their own version of conflict hook tendencies. It’s only a short leap to imagine the misunderstandings (or worse) that could escalate, and block any meaningful progress at the meeting. You can see (perhaps can already identify examples in your workplace) how unconstructive conflict can happen.


Understanding your own conflict hooks helps you see conflict in a new way, for yourself and for your team. We become able to see our response as an observer, and make a choice as to how we want to respond, rather than suffer from the outcomes of our emotional reactions. We can choose how we react when we’re about to get ‘hooked.’


The Tool: 6 Common Conflict Hooks

Our client work with conflict hooks draws from Dr. Stella Ting-Toomey’s six identities humans commonly have which represent parts of ourselves so important to us, that we are on a constant (subconscious) lookout for someone to threaten them. In our client workshops, attendees determine which identities might describe their own conflict hooks, as well as which ones might be ‘hooking’ their fellow team members.


1. Competence – You’re hooked when you perceive that someone is questioning your intelligence or skills.


2. Inclusion – You’re hooked when someone appears to be excluding you in some way (from a group, event, committee, etc.) or implies you’re not a good companion.


3. Autonomy – You’re hooked when someone appears to be trying to control you, impose upon you, or threaten your self-reliance.


4. Status – You’re hooked when you perceive that someone is threatening or dissing your tangible and/or intangible assets, including power, position, economic worth, and attractiveness.


5. Reliability – You’re hooked when you perceive that someone is questioning your trustworthiness or dependability.


6. Integrity – You’re hooked when someone appears to be questioning your moral values or integrity.


The first step in the workshop would be to lead the exercise I’m going to describe here, to give you a further understanding of how one or more of these common hooks may show up.


A. Think through 2-3 past interactions or situations where you got hooked. Times when you found yourself in a conflict headed for negative outcomes, and had some pretty strong feelings/emotions around it. Something that pulled you in. Take time to remember what happened, who did what, what it felt like at the time, and maybe what it feels like now. Write a brief description of each “conflict story” so you remember what they were.


B.  Go through the list of common hooks and, with each of your conflict stories, identify which one (if any) was most responsible for hooking you. Which was the hook that pulled you in? If there was more than one, note them. If you don’t relate to any of the six, describe your own. Write down the name of the hook(s) next to each story.


There is, of course, deeper exploration in a professionally facilitated setting to follow an exercise like this, i.e., which one of the hooks gets you most often, where these hooks came from, what hooks you can identify in others on your team, how to get ‘unhooked.’  However, this awareness tool will help you begin to understand the skills that can be developed to build the kind of conflict competency which fosters trust, innovation, creative thinking, productivity, and strong team outcomes.



Mark Batson Baril is a Conflict advisor and the Founder of Resologics. Resologics provides services to organizational teams that enhance their abilities to work with conflict. Resologics fully engages with each team to understand their needs and the opportunities for boosting team performance. Through a modularized approach, a unique engagement plan surfaces that is an ideal match to each team.



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