Nipping in the bud; a way to manage conflict? By Alison Love

January 14th, 2019

This expression is most often used in a way that suggests conflict should be “nipped in the bud” as early as possible.

The meaning of the expression itself refers to “putting a stop to something while it is still in its early development.” The phrase derives from cutting back plants and flowers to prevent flowers forming; often following a frost, and to promote new and stronger growth. It has been used in literature to refer to suppressing amorous feelings before they can cause too much trouble.

Is it the right thing to do?

In conflict situations is “nipping it in the bud” the right thing to do? As with all things relating to conflict and human relations there are no hard and fast or black and white rules; the real answer is that it depends on how and when it is done.

Conflict is a difference of perspective or a difference of viewpoints; it is all around us all the time and is neither positive or negative. It is the way that we respond and react that either creates positive, healthy conflict or destructive and damaging conflict.

By nipping all signs of conflict in the bud too early, any challenge or alternative thinking will be discouraged and viewpoints will not be shared or explained sufficiently to promote greater learning and understanding of each other.

Similarly, if a different viewpoint is cut off too quickly, not heard or cut off in a way that is hurtful, that hurt will remain and often fester, leading to greater problems in the future. To use the plant analogy, the plant will not grow to be a strong and healthy specimen and may be killed off. In the context of conflict, it will potentially damage the relationship.

If conflict is unresolved and beginning to cause difficulties, then some intervention will almost certainly be better than none; we all know that avoidance in such circumstances is not the best policy. If “nipping it in the bud” can equate to having the difficult conversation that we should have in such situations, then this can help. If done in the right way (that is not too deep a cut) it will improve relationships and understanding.

A better way?

Rather than nipping things in the bud, perhaps a better way to think about encouraging positive conflict and an environment in which differences can be resolved before they damage relationships, is to provide individuals with the right tools to respond. That is to respond in a way that encourages respectful communication and that seeks to understand the others point of view. The skills that are needed here are communication, use of appropriate language, deep listening skills and learning to manage our emotional responses. Using our gardening analogy, it is about equipping individuals with the right tools and giving them an understanding of how and when to use them safely. That is a pair of secateurs and the understanding of where and when to prune to promote stronger growth to follow.

For any further gardening or pruning advice; Terry Walton who reports from a hillside in the Rhonnda Valley on the Jeremy Vine show is one of our favourites. YouTube videos here for the uninitiated.

For further conflict skills guidance we have:-

  • In-house training courses on a range of conflict resolution skills (see here for further details)
  • A free bite size taster session “Words Matter” on 14th March 2019 (details here).

To discuss any training requirements please contact us on 07808 829545/01446 760993 (Wales) 07766562730/0117 3739192 (England) or email us at [email protected]



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The report was very professional, it dealt with all the issues raised and was particularly thorough. It clearly took the time to fully understand all of the issues and background. It was complex but the report really helped to break it down and I’m hoping we can progress in a positive manner following the recommendations.

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