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Experts! Speak English! Podcast

Coco's Communication Challenge

Conflict Cafe (Linkedin Audio Event)

Wednesday 5th October at 16.00 CEST

Connect with Jürgen Von Oertzen

Jürgen can be contacted online both via his website at (Conflict Mediation) and via LinkedIn 

He’ll also be co-hosting our Conflict Cafe Linkedin Event (Audio)

Jurgen Von Oertzen LinkedIn Profile

Jürgen offers conflict mediation both in German and English

My Podcast Interview with Jürgen Von Oetzen about Professional Conflict Resolution in Business

Corinne: Hello and welcome to a new episode of Experts Speak English! My name is Corinne Wilhelm and I’m helping non-native speakers to become the very, very best in their career by focussing on their communication and intercultural skills. And as you can imagine, working in an international team has its fair share of conflicts. So, in this miniseries, we’re talking about conflict and today I can welcome a special guest.

Today I have Dr. Jürgen von Oertzen with me and he is an expert at resolving conflict. Not just any old conflict, not just corporate conflict, but family business conflict. And he has a fabulous definition for what conflict is.


Corinne: So, Jürgen, tell us, how do you define conflict?

Jürgen Von Oetzen's Definition of Conflict

A SIMPLE Definition of Conflict

Corinne: So, Jürgen, tell us, how do you define conflict?

Jürgen: Hi, Coco. Thank you very much. I got a little bit annoyed when I read all these very elaborate definitions of conflict. I couldn’t do anything with it. So, I thought, “What’s the simplest form of defining a conflict that really is useful in day-to-day work?”. And that seems to me the case when two or more people have different needs or different opinions of something and at least one of them is in a bad mood because of that.


Corinne: Oh, yes. If somebody feels off-kilter like they’re upset or angry or frustrated, any of those kinds of emotions, that’s the sign?


Jürgen: That’s the sign if it is combined with something these people have to do with each other, for example, being colleagues or being married or whatever. And in that case, I would call it a conflict. So, two aspects of a conflict: different ideas of doing something and a bad mood. Being a little bit annoyed to being really furious. And that makes conflict more difficult, more escalated. And of course, the matter at hand can be something easy, like having the window open or closed. Or it can be something difficult like running a business.


Jürgen: As a mediator I first would say there’s something important for you that makes you behave in that way. I believe this particular person has, for some reason, decided not to attack the conflict at the moment.


Corinne: Right. So maybe the timing is wrong?


Jürgen: Maybe the timing, the framing, some kind of self-protection. In most cases, if someone is suffering but not trying to solve a problem, it’s some kind of self-protection. So I would try to work out with that person how to protect yourself and at the same time, attacking the conflict.


Dealing with resistance

Corinne: Great. So how do people react then, Jürgen, when they’ve got some external expert, somebody who doesn’t know the business, they don’t know them, they don’t know the situation, they don’t know anything. Who’s this guy? How is he supposed to help me? How do you deal with that? I mean, some people vocalise it, some people are just thinking it but what do you do then?


Jürgen: Yeah, it’s much easier if they vocalise it, of course. I try to explain that I’m an expert in conflicts in general and each and every conflict has a very similar structure. And I’m an expert in identifying and working with that structure. In the end, it’s not important if you have a quarrel with your husband or with your boss. The basic aspects of the conflict remain the same. There’s something to be solved, and you are in a bad mood or you are angry or annoyed or something.

A Great Conflict Resolution Activity to Try Out

Corinne: So, Jürgen, I’m curious, do you have like a favourite activity or something that you can share with us? Something that lets people relax and, you know, let you in?


Jürgen: Listening actively. So, active listening is that I’m listening, yes, as we always try to. But I’m active in the way that I’m going to repeat what you said to make sure that I understood it right and to give you a feeling that you actually reached me with whatever you said. Active listening is what you proposed in the last episode of Getting Distance Between You And The Conflict. I don’t try to answer if you say something. I first try to summarise what you said. I’m not agreeing, but I’m summarising.

Man deep thinking during the conversation with the woman, touching his mouth with a hand

Summarise their message

Corinne: So do you say “What I’m hearing you say is”, you know, these kinds of phrases just to let them know it’s not your opinion?


Jürgen: Right, if I’m part of the conflict, yes. If I’m the external expert, if I’m the mediator, it’s normally obvious that I don’t have an opinion about it.


Corinne: So do people ever get agitated by hearing what they’ve said being repeated? I’ve been in a situation before – it wasn’t a conflict management situation, it was actually a coach – and she was using a similar approach where she was repeating what I was saying and I found it a little bit annoying after a while. Do people get a little bit irritated by it?


Jürgen: Hopefully not. I’m quite convinced that if I do it with the real idea of understanding you and of giving you the feeling that I understand you it will not get annoying. Sometimes people speak for three or four minutes and I can summarise it in one word.

Corinne: Right. So, you’re a super summarizer, I like it!

The Impact of 'Active' Listening

 Jürgen: In a way, yes. They feel listened to and they feel taken care of in a way and they really are. (Corinne: Yeah.) And then do the same thing with the other conflict partner and for the people involved it’s sometimes a very great experience to see that there is someone, the external expert, who is able to understand her as well as the other one.


Corinne: Yeah, I mean, that’s pure empathy, isn’t it? Pure like in the moment, all there for that particular person, for this particular part of the conversation. And then you turn to the next and you apply equally that kind of dedication and focus and attention. I think that’s very powerful.

Jürgen: It is.


Overjoyed millennial female student in headphones look at laptop screen study online from home.

How to frame the process

 And if you want to do it as the person who is involved – and I recommend to try that – you should probably frame it somehow.


“Listen, Coco, I will first repeat what you said to really make sure that I got it. And after that, I’ll give you my point of view. Is that okay for you?”.

Something like that.


Corinne: So people know what to expect?


Jürgen: Yes

Half length shot of brunette cheerful young woman keeps hands on chest, demonstrates sign of gratitu

Signs of Progress?

Corinne: Right. Great. And what are the signs then that you’re making progress? Because sometimes you might be stuck like it might feel like it’s just like wading through mud, and you just like (…) you’re just not getting anywhere. And then there’s a glimmer. What could that glimmer be? That glimmer of sunshine? (a symbol or idea that you are making progress)


Jürgen: Sometimes it’s a smile. Sometimes it’s the feeling that you want to smile but you don’t dare yet. (Corinne: Okay.) Sometimes with the conflicts which are more important to you, it’s crying.


Corinne: Okay. And that’s okay too, right? It’s okay to cry.


Jürgen: Definitely. Even in a business context.


Corinne: Even for the men.

How do you deal with tears in a conflict situation?

Jürgen: Even for the men. Many men have problems if women start crying.


Corinne: Right, yes.


Jürgen: They start to appease them or to get help themselves instead of just taking them seriously, “Oh, I can see you’re crying, that means it’s really important for you”.


Corinne: Okay. Right. Yes. It would be very tempting for a male colleague then when somebody starts crying to kind of backtrack a little bit and stop being as honest and open because it upsets them that they see somebody crying.



Depressed businesswoman crying at office building. Portrait of disappointed girl

Jürgen: What I recommend instead is to take this as an invitation to be empathetic and stick to your point at the same time.


Corinne: Right. So, tears are a sign to be empathetic and stick to your point. I like that.

Man proving point in argument

Coco's Aha Moment ...

Jürgen: Something like “Please, believe me, I like you, I like you BUT…”. And it doesn’t change if I say “Yes, yes. You are right. You’re right AND…”. I mean, that’s the same.

Corinne: It’s the same, yeah. (Thank you Jürgen, that was an aha moment for me – much appreciated!)

How to be 100% empathetic?

Jürgen: That’s really the idea of authentic communication. Communication is a two-way thing, right? (Corinne: Absolutely.) “Yes, I do hear that this is difficult for you. And I understand that your interest is to do this and that and at the same time, please note I am of a different opinion. And that’s not because I don’t like you. It’s because of…” – and you start explaining.


Corinne: And I loved your use of “and” instead of “but”.


Jürgen: I try to.


Corinne: I notice that when somebody says something followed by “but” – it completely eliminates whatever they said before.


Jürgen: Yes, it does. That’s a Toastmaster rule, isn’t it? (Corinne: It is, yeah.) Don’t use “but” too much. But I sometimes get annoyed if people avoid “but” and use some other phrases meaning the same.


Corinne: Right.



Communication - A Two Way Process

Jürgen: The thing is to really think of it as a two-way thing. “It’s important for me to understand you because you are important to me AND before or after, it’s important for me to get my point across”.


Corinne: Yeah, because that’s the only way you’re going to really get through this by seeing both sides, right?


Jürgen: That’s the idea of communication, isn’t it?



Tell Me All Of Your Problems

Letting Go Of Conflict!

Adorable angry man in formal wear is swearing on the road

Corinne: How do you prevent yourself, then, from being pulled in so emotionally that you’re taking the conflict home with you? I mean, I’m assuming that you have enough conflict of your own from time to time at home. You don’t need somebody else’s conflict. Do you have any strategies to help you kind of create like a buffer zone or do you do sport? Do you listen to music? What do you do?


Jürgen: These are all great ideas. Let me try to offer you an order to do things. When I get angry or frightened or something myself, first thing is to accept myself. There’s a good reason for that feeling and I do accept myself for being frightened or for being angry or aggressive or something. Second, get rid of surplus aggression. Somehow find something to beat. And I’m not telling you somebody to beat up, find something to beat at. Use a big stick in the woods and throw it against a tree or something like that.


Corinne: Nice.

Aggression - A release of Tension

Jürgen: Or even something small, like hammering your fist on the table. Sometimes in meetings, people get frightened if someone uses his fist.


Corinne: You mean like banging their fist on the table?


Jürgen: But I recommend to be relieved when something like that happens. Probably, that person is getting rid of his or her surplus emotions and after that, they’re easier to talk to.


Corinne: I guess it’s like the valve, you know like “sshht”?


Jürgen: Something like that. I’ve got these sticks at home with a kind of foam around them, which I actually use to hit the ground with them or something and I really feel better after that. And I do not feel weak, I feel stronger. It’s much easier to call somebody and tell him or her that I’m not really satisfied with what he or she did.

So, accept yourself, get rid of surplus aggression and then make some kind of decision, as you’ve very skillfully elaborated in your previous podcast. Decide whether you want to do something now or later; if later, put it aside. And if you have to go home now from your office, you may want to find a place on your way which marks for you the difference between work and home – some crossing or some tree or something. And after accepting yourself, after getting rid of surplus aggression, after deciding what you’re going to do with the problem, then leave it there at that tree or at that crossing. Look forward to your family or whatever it is you are looking forward to at home.

Conflicts in Family Businesses

Corinne: That’s true, because the family can’t do anything about it. Nothing to do with them. Fantastic. Having grown up in a family business, I know only too well how this can be particularly tricky with roles of being the daughter and the successor or, you know, I might think, “Hey, I’ve got this great idea with social media. Let’s do this”. And the parents are like, “Oh, really? Just get off the phone, will you?” It’s complete age divide, isn’t it?


Jürgen: Yes. There’s a lot of things coming together there. Each change of leadership in the company is a problem. It’s a change. It’s normally a change in strategy and maybe some people get fired or get promoted or something. And there are always some kind of quarrels between parents and children as well. And in the case you were stating with the family business, these two intertwine/combine each other in a dangerous way. So if I’m the older one and you are my daughter, you never know whether I am speaking to you as my daughter or my successor or in many cases, the daughter is a kind of employee as well.


Corinne: Yeah.


Jürgen: So as your boss and you are the employee, I may give you an order to do something. As my daughter, I might ask you to do me a favour. And as my successor I might decide whether I want to involve you or not yet. And if this gets mixed up and I’m telling you something as your boss and you are receiving it as my daughter, you might get angry at me. Or, if I phrase wish to my daughter but she, as a new employee, may be someone who doesn’t know exactly what to do yet, wants precise orders – that gets mixed somehow. We sometimes work with different chairs in the mediation.

Family business, problems with ordering online, covid-19 quarantine and production error
Grandfather with son and daughter on the picnic
Which role, pick a chair.

Using chairs to define roles for this specific conversation

Jürgen: So as your boss and you are the employee, I may give you an order to do something. As my daughter, I might ask you to do me a favour. And as my successor I might decide whether I want to involve you or not yet. And if this gets mixed up and I’m telling you something as your boss and you are receiving it as my daughter, you might get angry at me. Or, if I phrase wish to my daughter but she, as a new employee, may be someone who doesn’t know exactly what to do yet, wants precise orders – that gets mixed somehow. We sometimes work with different chairs in the mediation.


Corinne: You physically use different chairs for different roles then?


Jürgen: And ask the founder whether she wants to speak as a founder or as the boss or as the mother right now. That makes it much easier to digest.


Corinne: Yeah, it’s certainly very complex and that’s all the more reason to have clarity, right?


Jürgen: Clarity is the one and only with all conflicts. Don’t be afraid of clarity. It’s much easier for the other one to accept and to answer to a clear complaint than to some “Well, I’m not 100% sure this is everything, the way I want, blah, blah, blah”, don’t rabbit on and on.

Rabbit Ongo on and on, repeating yourself time and time again

Coco's Cultural Observation

Corinne: Yeah, I think that’s a big problem between, for example, my dad’s German and I’m English. This was a big problem between my dad and I when I was growing up in a family business and he would speak to me very directly and I think, “Whoa, that is just…, oh my goodness, you’re so rude”. And he was saying, “I want you to know what the situation is”.


Jürgen: That reminds me that what I just said is a very German way of looking at things and that cultures are different. I’m not an expert for other cultures.


Corinne: Do not fear, that is coming up in another episode very soon.


Jürgen: However, I dare say that whatever your culture is, you need to know what the other one is thinking and feeling.


Corinne: Yes, and you can be transparent in a respectful way. You don’t have to be rude or loud or aggressive. You can try and take some of that energy out and try and communicate in a way that you will have more success getting through.


Jürgen: Yes, you can. Everybody can. One of the most important things is to distinguish between the outer world and the inner world. Your feelings are part of your inner world. No one can know them before you tell them.


Corinne: That’s right.

Teenage girl victim of bullying
In the English language the verb 'hurt' is used differently

You can hurt yourself physically or you can feel hurt. Someone else can hurt you intentionally or without even realising that they have hurt you.


Jürgen: And the only one responsible for them is you yourself.


Corinne: And I think another point that is very important is that emotions are true. If I feel hurt, that’s real. I think in a conflict situation, it’s very easy to say, “Oh, you know, you don’t feel like that. How can you feel like that?”, a feeling is true.


Jürgen: Yeah, especially with the English word “hurt” – it’s really difficult because you use the same word for “I feel hurt” and “you hurt me”.


Corinne: You can hurt somebody’s feelings, or you can hurt somebody physically.


Jürgen: Maybe it was not your intention to hurt someone, but they feel hurt. And that’s a very, very important difference. I may have said something that makes you feel angry or frightened or whatever but it’s not me who made you angry. I may not have intended to, more often the other one did not intend to make you frightened or angry, but he did something – that’s the outer world, the other one does something – that makes you in your inner world frightened or anxious or angry or whatever. And you have to process that and come to a conclusion and bring that conclusion back out in the world: “What you just said that really frightens me. I get really anxious. It feels like I’m not safe here anymore. Could you please lower your voice?”.


Corinne: Yes, that’s true.

Fantastic. I think that is a really great introduction to how a mediator can work with either a company or a team or even in politics, as you were doing yesterday, to really get to the root of the problem and maybe defuse it a little bit. But sometimes it has to get loud and crazy before you get to that.


I think the three words that I’m taking out of today’s show are:


·        authenticity,

·        observation and

·        acceptance.



A Mini German Lesson

Before we go, I would just like to tell you that helping you to come to an agreement in German is called “Einigungshilfe”. And that’s exactly where you can find Dr. Jürgen von Oertzen. Just go to and I will put that in the show notes and I can spell it out for you, it’s E I N I G U N G S H I L F E . de

Jürgen's Final Conflict Avoidance Advice - Power of the Crowd

Corinne: Okay. So, is there anything that you would like to share with our listeners?


Jürgen: Over the coming months which might be difficult in many ways, I really wish you that you have someone or a group of people you can share feelings with. I just read an article “It’s hard times, but at least we can have hard times together” and I really hope that everybody finds someone or a group to feel at home at so we can get over these difficult months ahead with not more conflict than necessary.

Coco's Communication Challenge

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Corinne: That’s right. Yes. Now, as you know, in every episode, we have a communication challenge for you. And this week we’re trying something new, something new for me and new for Jürgen. We are going to set up a little LinkedIn audio event on Wednesday, 5th, where you can join us in a conversation about conflict.

Connect with Jürgen and myself on LinkedIn and you will get the full details then. We will let you know exactly where to register for the Conflict Café. There’ll be a link to join us in the show notes, you just go to englishspeakingexperts/139.

Corinne: Well, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure having you here both to you, Juergen, and to my wonderful listeners. Here’s hoping you have a conflict-free week.

Have a fabulous week! We have a long weekend here in Germany. Be the very best communicator that you can be!

It’s Corinne Wilhelm from Experts! Speak English!

Goodbye for now.