Why I Feel Like Olivia Pope When Solving Conflict

Ritu Bhasin

Like a lot of Scandal fans, I secretly want to be Olivia Pope. Yes, she has incredible clothes, handbags, and shoes. But far more importantly, she is a badass. She’s inspiring, powerful, and fearless. On the show, she’s known for her incredible skill in diffusing tough situations—she can take the messiest and most complicated of conflicts and resolve them. (Ok, some of it is kinda out there, but you get my point!)

I may not be diffusing political fraud and murders, but I do share Olivia Pope’s grit and intensity when it comes to one skill in particular: solving interpersonal conflict.

Over the years, in both my personal life and professional life, I’ve found myself facing a lot of tough interpersonal conflict—whether with clients, employees, friends, or family members. You can’t be a fearless and authentic badass without conflict coming up! With experience, I’ve grown particularly adept at pushing through difficult and awkward situations that would have others either running for the hills or sucked into a vortex of drama.

Confidence in my ability to skillfully diffuse conflict has made me a more effective leader, a better friend, and a better family member.

How I Diffuse Conflict

  • Using Mindfulness

I’ve learned to use mindfulness to slow myself down during conflict—just pausing to breathe is incredibly powerful. As with many stressful situations, interpersonal conflict tends to send many of us into amygdala hijack—in other words, a state of fight, flight, or freeze. When this happens, we often don’t take the time to pause and really consider our perspective before reacting. But mindfulness allows me to reflect on my own part in a conflict before engaging. How am I feeling right now, physically and emotionally? Why am I having this reaction? Am I in the right, or have I contributed to the problem? What do I really need from this interaction?

  • Being Empathetic

Once I check in with myself about my own perspective, the empathy kicks in. Even if my view on the situation is unequivocally “I’m right and you’re wrong!” I focus on setting aside my ego and putting myself in the other person’s shoes. I ask myself a few questions: How might this person be receiving my behavior? What is their frame on this situation? What hurt and pain are they bringing to this moment? What power and privilege do I bring to this relationship dynamic? Empathy allows me to cultivate a more neutral perspective on what’s happening in a conflict, so I can better understand how to diffuse it.

  • Using Open Communication

After taking a moment to consider all sides, then comes the hard part—communicating tough thoughts and feelings. It may not be easy, but it’s where the magic happens in conflict resolution. I begin by checking in with how the other person is feeling and why they are feeling that way. I ask open ended questions like, “What do you need from me?” and, “What would you like to have happen here?” Then I sit back and listen—and, as much as possible, I try to listen without interrupting. Mindful listening is a huge help here. Once I understand where the other person is coming from, then I share my own perspective.

  • Committing to Honesty and Authenticity

    It’s critical to be both honest and authentic if you truly want to diffuse tension and get through a conflict intact. Although I am generally a very direct communicator, I find it harder to be direct during conflict because I don’t want to hurt the other person. Mindful pauses help me to be as honest and authentic as possible while choosing my words carefully.

I also use “I statements” during conflict. Rather than expressing something as an objective truth, I acknowledge my own subjectivity by saying “I feel like X” or “I think X.” By the same token, I avoid absolutes like “always” and “never” which are rarely accurate and only serve to inflame situations. Laying bare honest feelings in an authentic way also helps to create trust with the other person.

  • Admitting My Mistakes and Saying Sorry

    This just might be the most important part of effectively resolving conflict. I’m very comfortable owning where I’ve gone wrong, and I apologize every time—even if it’s just to say, “I’m sorry that we’re in this place.” You will never run out of apologies (we’re not born with a limited number of available apologies to share), so give out apologies generously!

Next time you experience conflict, try the methods above. Leave your ego at the door, channel your inner Olivia Pope, and courageously go deep to solve the conflict. I can tell you from personal experience that this ability will come in handy in just about every area of your life!