A Daily Dispatch from the Front Lines of Leadership.


When a Conflict Is Intractable

Not all conflict can be managed or resolved. On rare occasions, the struggle between people arises from profound distaste, disrespect, or mistrust.

Conflicts are thought to be intractable when the parties can’t be in the same room without emotions running high, even weeks and months after the last clash. In those instances, normally rational people think and act like deranged fools when it comes to discussing the conflict or the other party involved. A conflict is intractable when there is no positive outcome or solution to address it.

Time, as they say, can heal, and giving an intractable conflict the space of time for hard feelings to soften can sometimes work. In many cases, it takes months or years for the perceptions of hostility and enmity to fade. In the meantime, creating separation for the two parties is usually the best course of action. The less contact the better. Rather than creating a healthy interdependence between the parties, it is independence that allows time to work its magic.

Those naïve souls who attempt to mediate the conflict by talking things out and reaching a workable solution generally make matters much worse. The parties involved can’t come to appreciate or understand the others’ views precisely because they refuse to negotiate with the devil, as they see it. So, any attempt to bring the parties together usually winds up stoking negative emotions and solidifying already hardened views.

Knowing when a conflict is intractable is the key. When both parties see the other as flawed in an unacceptable way, a conflict without resolution exists. In that rare case, severing all communication and contact prevents unnecessary hostility and unhappiness. There exists nothing so intractable as antipathy in conflict. Until time works to erase it, the best anyone can do is to uncouple the couple.

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